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Friday September 22nd, 2017 6:42PM

Ohio executes man convicted of back-to-back killings

By The Associated Press
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LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man convicted of killing two people in back-to-back robberies in suburban Cleveland in 1992 was executed Wednesday as family members of his victims looked on.

Gary Otte, 45, was put to death at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville with a lethal combination of three drugs.

The prison system announced the time of death as 10:54 a.m. A prison spokeswoman said Otte didn't sleep overnight, spending his last hours visiting with his parents and calling friends and family.

In his final statement, Otte professed his love for his family, sang a Christian hymn and quoted the Bible. He said: "God is good all the time," and added, "I'm sorry." Then, he sighed deeply and began singing "The Greatest Thing," with words such as "I want to know you Lord" and "I want to serve you Lord." He stopped singing at 10:39.

Otte quoted the Bible with his last words: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they're doing. Amen." The words were derived from a Bible account of Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Otte gave a thumbs-up sign, and then his stomach rose and fell several times between 10:41 and 10:42. Two members of the state execution team did a consciousness check at 10:42. Otte's stomach continued to rise and fall a couple more minutes, then appeared to go still.

A federal public defender who witnessed said she thinks mistakes were made and tried unsuccessfully to leave the witness room to alert a federal judge.

Defense attorney Carol Wright said she believes the rising and falling of Otte's chest and tears she saw on his face while the first drug, the sedative midazolam, was being administered indicated that he was suffering a phenomenon known as air hunger. Those occurrences "indicated to me that he was feeling pain or sensations," Wright said afterward.

Execution policy should have allowed her to leave the witness room immediately, she said.

Proper security protocol was followed, prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.

"Once her identify and intention was verified she was given permission to exit the room," Smith said. "The execution was carried out in compliance with the execution policy and without complication."

Otte had unsuccessfully argued Ohio's lethal-injection method put him at risk of suffering serious pain. The rising and falling of his chest was similar to reactions in past executions when a different drug was used.

Otte was sentenced to die for the Feb. 12, 1992, killing of Robert Wasikowski and the Feb. 13, 1992, killing of Sharon Kostura. Both slayings took place in Parma in suburban Cleveland.

Witnesses on Wednesday included the daughter and brother of Wasikowski and the brother-in-law, sister and niece of Kostura.

The execution was the second in Ohio this year, following the use of lethal injection in July on a man who raped and killed his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.

That was the first execution in Ohio in more than three years, a delay caused by difficulties finding drugs to use in capital punishment

Otte's legal appeals ended about two hours before his scheduled execution when the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal contending he shouldn't be put to death because of his age at the time of the crime.

Otte was 20 when he killed Wasikowski and Kostura.

State Justice William O'Neill dissented on the Ohio Supreme Court decision. The U.S. Supreme Court had already denied Otte's attempt to delay execution.

Otte showered early Wednesday, and shortly before 7 a.m. was praying with his parents, said Smith, the prisons spokeswoman.

Otte was with his parents until about 8, with the visit conducted through the bars of his death house cell, Smith said. The three talked, prayed, laughed and held hands, with his parents crying at the end, she said.

Otte arrived at the prison on Tuesday. His last meal included a mushroom and Swiss cheese hamburger, a quart of Heath Bar ice cream and a slice of banana cream pie.

Otte unsuccessfully challenged the use of midazolam, the first drug in the state's procedure, which was involved in problematic executions in Arizona and Oklahoma.

Midazolam also has been used in executions without discernible problems, including the execution of Ronald Phillips in Ohio in July.

Otte's attorneys said midazolam may not render prisoners so deeply unconscious that they avoid suffering serious pain when the last two drugs are administered.

The state argued there was no evidence that Phillips wasn't properly anesthetized during his execution.

In Otte's criminal case, authorities said he asked to go inside Wasikowski's apartment to use the phone and then shot the 61-year-old and stole about $400. The next day, authorities say, Otte forced his way into the apartment of the 45-year-old Kostura in the same building, shot her and stole $45 and her car keys.

The Ohio Parole Board unanimously rejected a request by Otte in February, citing the heinous nature of the killings. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, also denied Otte clemency.

Otte's attorneys had argued a life sentence without parole was an appropriate alternative, saying Otte has matured and made efforts to better himself in prison.

Otte's drug addiction, intoxication and depression led to the slayings, and Otte had poor legal assistance at trial, his public defenders said in documents filed with the parole board.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor said Otte still wouldn't take full responsibility and tried to blame others, including the victims.

The killings weren't spur-of-the-moment decisions by Otte, who lingered in the victims' apartments to rob them and even turned the TV up to block out Kostura's pleas for help, county prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a Jan. 30 filing with the parole board.

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Associated Press reporter Dan Sewell contributed in Cincinnati.

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Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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