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Baston put to death for merchant's slaying

Inmate 1st to be executed using new drug

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    Death penalty opponents gather outside Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, where Johnnie Baston, 37, was put to death using pentobarbital. It was the first time the anesthetic had been used as the lone drug in a lethal injection.

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    Johnnie Baston was executed for a 1994 slaying in Toledo.

    The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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  • BASTON-HEARSE

    A hearse carrying the remains of Johnnie Baston passes by a group of death penalty opponents as it leaves the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility after his execution.

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Johnnie Baston was executed for a 1994 slaying in Toledo.

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LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- As his brothers wept, Johnnie Roy Baston became the first inmate in the nation Thursday to be executed solely by a massive overdose of the powerful anesthetic pentobarbital.

Baston, 37, was pronounced dead at 10:30 a.m. for the March 21, 1994, robbery and slaying of Chong-Hoon Mah, a former South Korean journalist who moved to Toledo and owned the downtown shop, Continental Wigs 'n Things.

"I hope my execution, that it will be the last, that people will open up," Baston said while lying on the lethal injection gurney with intravenous shunts in both arms.

"The victims in my case didn't want me to be executed," he said.

"They wanted life without parole. That should have been respected. That should have been respected by our governor."

One of his older adoptive brothers, Ron Baston, stood, slammed his right arm against a wall, and uttered an expletive as Johnnie Baston appeared to stop breathing.

No one from the Mah family attended the execution.

EXCERPTS FROM JOHNNIE ROY BASTON’S FINAL STATEMENT


I would like to say to my family I am very sorry. I know this is not what they wanted to have happen. I hope they won’t be too bothered by what is taking place today.

It is not their doing. Just the way things go.

I hope my execution, that it will be the last, that people will open up. The victims in my case didn’t want me to be executed. They wanted life without parole. That should have been respected. That should have been respected by our governor ...

I made a bad decision and I hope my family can move on and find some comfort and peace. I would like to say I’m sorry to my family. I made a bad decision.

I want you to reach out to my children. I love them so much. I want you to tell them stories about me. I want them to know the good things about me, even through my time in prison I wanted to better myself, encourage others. Remind them of that. My daughter, she’s quiet, a lot like me. Just like me.
I want you to watch her. If she talks, listen.

I want to thank all the members of my church, my friends who petitioned, letters, faxed, Twittered, hopefully, to the governor, to show mercy.

For a long time I didn’t see a lot of value in myself. It wasn’t until this moment till I had to go through this ordeal that I have seen so much love from so many people. Letters from people all over the world, and even Ohio.

I appreciate every last letter, I appreciate every last card, every last prayer, every last encouragement.

I was hoping I didn’t cry.

Dear heavenly father, I have sinned, and I repent of my sins, I pray for forgiveness. As I close my eyes on the light of this world, I hope to open my eyes to the light in heaven.

Although convinced of Baston's guilt, the family had presented a united front to the Ohio Parole Board to ask that Baston's sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole.

The board, however, voted unanimously to recommend that Gov. John Kasich not show Baston mercy, and the governor agreed on March 4.

As the warden of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility held a microphone to his mouth, Baston fought back tears as he talked about his family and, in particular, his two teenaged children.

"I was hoping I didn't cry," he said.

"It's OK. It's OK if you cry," said another brother, Richard Baston, although it was unlikely his younger brother heard him through the glass separating witnesses from the lethal injection chamber.

Looking straight up at the ceiling, but addressing his brothers, Johnnie Baston said, "I want you to reach out to my children. I love them so much. I want you to tell them stories about me. I want them to know the good things about me. Even through my time in prison, I wanted to better myself, encourage others. Remind them of that.

"My daughter, she's quiet, a lot like me. Just like me. I want you to watch her. If she talks, listen."

While admitting to participating in the robbery, Baston had maintained for 17 years that a man he knew only by the name of "Ray Ray'' was the one who killed Mr. Mah in the back of his store.

But the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said Baston last week confessed to the murder after his family and legal team had arranged for a polygraph test in hopes of improving his chances for gubernatorial clemency.

Department spokesman Carlo Loparo said again Thursday that Baston had confessed to the murder while the polygraph expert was in the room.

BASTON-HEARSE

A hearse carrying the remains of Johnnie Baston passes by a group of death penalty opponents as it leaves the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility after his execution.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Baston did not touch on the subject either way in his final statement beyond saying he made a "bad decision."

Baston was escorted from his cell into the death chamber at 10:04 a.m.

For the first time, medical technicians inserted the intravenous shunts in the execution chamber instead of in his cell beforehand.

Although a curtain prevented witnesses from directly seeing it, a court settlement provided for it to take place in the execution chamber so that Baston's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rob Lowe, would be able to hear if Baston called out if something went wrong and would have easy access to a phone.

Baston did not call out. He appeared to demonstrate some brief discomfort during the shunt process, shown to witnesses via a video feed that lacked audio.

At the point when the drug appeared to be taking effect, Baston briefly grimaced and then fell still. He took a few deep breaths and then moved no more.

"Oh, man…," Ron Baston sobbed. "That is so barbaric, man."

His brother, Richard, held him as he sobbed.

"We'll clear his name… We'll get justice for him," he told him.

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 Baston's initiation.

Baston had the murder weapon in his possession when he was arrested soon afterward while at a church retreat in Columbus.

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

Shortly before the execution, Richard Baston denounced the contention that his younger brother had confessed, saying he still maintained he wasn't the gunman. He characterized the confession as a "miscommunication," saying his brother made the statement believing it was a test for the polygraph.

The test was never completed.

Baston-put-to-death-for-merchant-s-slaying-2

Death penalty opponents gather outside Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, where Johnnie Baston, 37, was put to death using pentobarbital. It was the first time the anesthetic had been used as the lone drug in a lethal injection.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

"He did not confess to any crime whatsoever in shooting Mr. Mah. We want that known," Richard Baston said.

He said his brother told him earlier that morning, "I'm at peace. I know what I did, and I know what I didn't do."

Pentobarbital has typically been used to induce coma in heart patients and has also been used in assisted suicides. This marked its first use as the sole method of executing an inmate in the United States.

Oklahoma has used the drug as part of a three-drug mix.

Ohio, which has employed a one-drug protocol for about a year, switched drugs after the sole U.S. manufacturer of its prior drug ceased production when it merged operations with a plant in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom does not have capital punishment.

The manufacturers of both drugs have denounced their use as part of executions.

According to the department's execution log, the signal was given to start the first of two syringes of the drug at 10:17 a.m.

Baston was checked for signs of a heartbeat at 10:28 a.m. The curtain closed for a physician to examine the body. It reopened two minutes later when the time of death was announced.

The timing was consistent with prior Ohio executions using the drug sodium thiopental, also a barbiturate.

"Dear heavenly Father, I have sinned, and I repent of my sins," Baston said in closing his final statement. "I pray for forgiveness. As I close my eyes on the light of this world, I hope to open my eyes to the light in heaven.''

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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