Ohio Justice Pfeifer's concern over DP grows

August 31, 2001

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer is using a pair of Hamilton County cases to underline his ongoing concern over capital punishment. 

While a majority of the court on Wednesday upheld death sentences imposed in separate 1997 murders, Pfeifer voted to overturn both while chiding prosecutors for their zeal. 

"Prosecutors should be exercising their discretion to look for reasons to spare persons from the death penalty rather than to shoehorn cases into the death penalty scheme," Pfeifer wrote about the case of Richard Nields. 

"I believe that Ohioans thirst for justice, not blood," said Pfeifer, who is personally balking at capital punishment amid worries the death penalty often is unjustified and does not fit the crime. 

Of the 202 inmates on Ohio's death row, 47 were sentenced from Hamilton County - 1 less than the 48 from Franklin and Cuyahoga counties combined. 

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen bristled at Pfeifer's comments. Jury decisions in capital cases should be respected, he said, and "when a jury sentences someone to death and a judge approves, that should be respected as well. Those reviewing the sentence ought not to substitute their personal beliefs for what the jury has found," he said. 

Pfeifer also was in the minority in the 4-3 ruling Wednesday to deny Cincinnatian John Byrd Jr. a hearing on his claim of actual innocence in the 1983 murder of Monte Tewksbury. Byrd's execution is set for Sept. 12. 

Pfeifer lashed out as the court rejected appeals to set aside the aggravated murder convictions and death sentences of Nields and Ahmad Fawzi Issa in 6-1 and 5-2 decisions, respectively. 

Pfeifer, a Republican, was the lone dissenter in the case of Nields, an alcoholic convicted of beating his girlfriend, Patricia Newsome, in her home and later returning to strangle her. 

Nields should not be executed because he stole travelers' checks and drove away in the victim's car - aggravated robbery offenses that made him eligible for the death penalty, said Pfeifer, who as a state senator co-sponsored the law that reinstated Ohio's death penalty in 1981. 

Nields' crime was one "of passion imbued with pathos and reeking of alcohol," Pfeifer wrote. 

Pfeifer also voted to overturn the death sentence of Issa since he was not the "principal offender" in the shooting deaths of Westwood convenience store owner Maher Khriss and his brother, Ziad, in the store parking lot. 

Issa was convicted of recruiting and paying the gunman, Andrew Miles, and providing the gun. Miles, who was spared death by 2 holdout jurors, was sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Pfeifer affirmed Issa's conviction, but said his death sentence should be reversed because it was excessive compared to the term of life imprisonment handed the killer. 

"If ever a sentence of death deserved to be vacated because of proportionality, this is it," Pfeifer wrote. 

(source: Cincinnati Post) 

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