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Published: Friday, 11/7/2008

Killer of 2 at trucking firm is sentenced to death

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Calvin Neyland, Jr., said in a long, rambling statement that he will appeal his sentence because the jurors didn't know all the events that happened on the day of the killings. Calvin Neyland, Jr., said in a long, rambling statement that he will appeal his sentence because the jurors didn't know all the events that happened on the day of the killings.
POOL PHOTO AARON CARPENTER/SENTI / POOL PHOTO AARON CARPENTER Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN - A week after Don Smith got the devastating news that his son, Doug, had been murdered, he decided that his son's killer deserved to die.

"He took two lives unnecessarily and he should not live - in fact, the shorter the better," Mr. Smith said yesterday after hearing the verdict for which he'd waited 15 months.

The same jury that found Calvin Neyland, Jr., guilty last week of the aggravated murders of Douglas Smith, 44, of Sylvania Township and Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa., recommended that Neyland be sentenced to death for his crimes.

After hearing testimony from family members of the two victims and from Neyland, Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex accepted the jury's recommendation and imposed the death penalty.

"I do feel relief that the jury and the judge came back with what they felt was fair for the defendant," Shirley Lazar, widow of Mr. Lazar, said afterward.

The couple's son Tommy and daughter Larissa, who both told the court how much they loved, respected, and missed their Dad, said much the same.

"I believe in the jury. I trust that they made the right decision," Larissa, 26, said.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Lazar were shot to death Aug. 8, 2007, at Liberty Transportation on Reuthinger Road, where Neyland had been employed as a truck driver.

Mr. Smith planned to fire Neyland that day, and Mr. Lazar, a re-tired Pennsylvania state trooper who worked as corporate safety director for Liberty, had come to Perrysburg to assist with what Mr. Smith feared would be a troublesome encounter.

Yesterday, the court learned about the victims' personal lives - how Mr. Lazar was involved in coaching and umpiring in the community, how Mr. Smith loved to take his grandchildren fishing.

"Our son was a good, kind-hearted man who did not do anything to merit a death like this," Mr. Smith's mother, Charlene, told the court.

His fiance, Cindy Collins, fought back tears as she told how inconsolable she has felt.

"He was my rock. He was my everything, and he is gone," she said.

Mrs. Lazar said her husband was active in the Pennsylvania community where they lived.

"He was a lovable and peaceful man," she said. "Everyone loved him. He did everything he could to help people."

Judge Pollex concluded that the mitigating factors in Neyland's case - lack of a significant criminal record, a relatively successful work history, and his diagnosed personality disorder - were not enough to outweigh the aggravating circumstances of the crime.

Neyland, 44, told the court he would appeal and felt confident his case "would not withstand the scrutiny of a higher court."

He admitted no guilt, expressed no remorse, but instead delivered a long, rambling statement in which he spoke about his family and childhood. He said the jury was not given all the facts about the day of the murders.

"I cannot say that I know what happened Aug. 8, but I can tell you from facts that Douglas Smith and Tom Lazar are not here to take responsibility for what they did prior to Aug. 8 and what led up to Aug. 8," Neyland said.

His attorneys, who tried early on to have Neyland found incompetent to stand trial, maintained that he is mentally ill.

"He's deteriorating. He's not getting any better, and the isolation of death row is just going to compound the problem," defense attorney Adrian Cimerman said after the hearing. "He'll be full-blown [insane] before they put any needles in him."

Mr. Cimerman predicted that even if Neyland did not prevail on appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, it was unlikely he would be executed because of his mental state.

"Given the length of time between today and the possible carrying out of the death sentence, it's almost certain he's going to be legally insane by that time and the law is you can't execute the insane," Mr. Cimerman said. " What we're talking about is spending a lot more money and a lot more time and ultimately getting to the same place."

Gwen Howe-Gebers, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, acknowledged Neyland had a personality disorder but refuted the claim that he's mentally ill.

"Just because a person has a personality disorder does not make him mentally ill," she said, adding that Neyland is "an intelligent individual" who has the ability to make choices.

Jurors, who were sequestered at a local hotel during the sentencing phase of the trial, deliberated a total of 10 hours over three days before they reached their verdict about 10 a.m. yesterday.

Barbara Johnson of Bowling Green was among the jurors who said she was torn between life in prison and the death penalty.

"We thoughtfully went over everything - his background, his personality, his work history, everything we could take into account that could have swayed us to give him a life sentence instead of the death sentence," she said.

The group wasn't prepared to render a decision after a full day of deliberating Wednesday but decided to return to the hotel for the night and sleep on it.

"None of us got a lot of sleep," Ms. Johnson said. "We spent a lot of time searching our souls and considering what we really felt was right."

In the end, she agreed with her fellow jurors that Neyland deserved death.

"We are all given choices," Ms. Johnson said. "We all have responsibilities in this country to follow the law and he purposely and with premeditation took the lives of two people."

Neyland's sentence marked the first time in nearly 20 years that a Wood County defendant received the death penalty.

In 1990, Richard Fox of Tontogany was sentenced to death by a three-judge panel for the Sept. 26, 1989, kidnapping and murder of Leslie Keckler, who was a student at the then-Owens Technical College.

Fox, who was executed in 2003, lured the 18-year-old to an interview in Bowling Green for a nonexistent sales job and convinced her to get into his car under the pretext of showing her the sales route.

When Miss Keckler rebuffed his sexual advances, he stabbed her six times, strangled her with a nylon rope, and left her body in a ditch.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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