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Baston finally admits to slaying of Toledo man

Killer slated to die Thursday in Lucasville


Johnnie Baston, who long insisted that he was not the man who pulled the trigger of the gun that killed a Toledo merchant, made a surprise confession in recent days that he did indeed kill Chong-Hoon Mah during a 1994 robbery.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- Convicted murderer Johnnie Roy Baston arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution Wednesday in preparation for his execution Thursday, just days after making a surprise confession that he did indeed kill downtown Toledo merchant Chong-Hoon Mah during a 1994 robbery.

Baston's family and lawyers had arranged for a lie detector test in hopes of improving his chances for gubernatorial clemency, when he apparently confessed to something he has denied for 17 years.

"He admitted to the murder," said Carlo Loparo, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Assistant Public Defender Rob Lowe, one of his attorneys, declined to comment after conferring with Baston.

Baston has insisted that he was present for the robbery but was not the man who pulled the trigger of the 45-caliber gun that killed Mr. Mah in the back of his store, Continental Wigs 'n' Things. In recent days, members of his family have been working to prove the existence of "Ray Ray," the man Baston maintained had shot Mr. Mah using a gun owned by Baston's father.

"They will not give me any deposition relating to the confession," Baston's older adoptive brother, Richard, said Wednesday. "He said he's not making a statement, and I won't believe a word until he says it in a sworn deposition."

Johnnie Baston had claimed that "Ray Ray" came to Toledo from Chicago to recruit for the Vice Lords gang and that this robbery was to be his initiation. But Baston had the gun on him when he was arrested soon afterwards while attending a church retreat in Columbus.

Police also found clothing stolen from the store in an apartment Baston was sharing with a friend after his adoptive mother, his biological aunt, had thrown him out of the house for taking the gun.

Baston had stuck with his version of the events over the years, including during interviews with the Ohio Parole Board in January and recently with The Blade.

John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County prosecutor's office, said he was aware that the polygraph test was taking place, but didn't know about the confession.

"In January, he had the opportunity to tell the truth to the parole board, and he decided he'd try to lie to them, to try to bamboozle his way out one last time," he said. "It didn't work then, and nothing should work now."

Baston is scheduled to die at 10 a.m. at the Lucasville prison. He arrived at the prison at 9:52 a.m. Wednesday after being transported the roughly 250 miles from death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary near Youngstown.

"He doesn't want [today] to happen, but he understands," Mr. Lowe said.

No one from the Mah family is expected to be there to hear any apology that Baston might offer, said JoEllen Smith, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

The Mah family had presented a united front urging the parole board and Mr. Kasich to commute Baston's sentence to life in prison without parole, a legal option that was not available when Baston was sentenced in 1995. It is an option Thursday.

Although opposed to the execution, the Mah family always believed that Baston was the killer, the parole board was told.

Baston will become the first inmate to be executed using a massive overdose of pentobarbital, a powerful anesthetic that has been used to induce coma in heart patients and for assisted suicides. Ohio decided to make the switch after the maker of its prior drug, sodium thiopental, ceased its production after it merged operations with a plant in the United Kingdom, which has abolished capital punishment.

No other state has used pentobarbital as part of a single-drug protocol. Oklahoma has used it as part of a three-drug cocktail similar to one Ohio once employed.

No court action is pending that could stop the execution, but a recent federal court settlement will give Mr. Lowe greater access to the process when the intravenous shunts are inserted in Baston's arms. Ohio has experienced problems with this process before, resulting in then-Gov. Ted Strickland ordering a halt to an execution after it had begun in 2009.

Shunts are inserted in the inmate's arm while he's in a cell before he takes the roughly 17 steps to the death chamber. The process is viewed by witnesses, including the condemned's attorney, via a video monitor without sound. That changes under the new protocol.

"The shunts will be placed while he's on the [execution chamber] table rather than in the back room," Mr. Lowe said. "If something goes wrong, I'll have greater access to a phone. That has not been the case in the past."

Mr. Lowe would still have to watch the process on the video monitor like other witnesses, but Baston would be just a few feet away behind the window and curtain that separate the witnesses from the execution chamber. Baston could be heard if he calls out for his attorney.

The curtain would be opened after the shunts are in place. Mr. Loparo confirmed that the new protocol will be observed for future executions.

In addition to Mr. Lowe, Richard and Ron Baston are expected to witness the execution of their adoptive younger brother and biological cousin.

Baston declined a special meal, making do with the macaroni casserole, spinach, peas, fresh fruit, wheat bread, and beverage served to all inmates Wednesday. He will also have the opportunity to receive the normal breakfast served this morning at the prison.

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.

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