Sister disappointed by execution's delay



A federal judge also has a say in whether Kenneth Biros will be executed.
By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
HUBBARD -- The sister of murder victim Tami Engstrom says she was crushed to learn that Gov. Ted Strickland delayed the Tuesday execution of her sister's killer, Kenneth Biros.
But Debi Heiss of Hubbard added that the personal phone call she received from the governor Friday has convinced her that Biros will die on his new execution date, March 20.
After she experienced a few moments of grief, she sensed that the governor understood her pain.
"I know he felt terrible," Heiss said. "He could have had an assistant call. It was very personal. It touched my heart."
"This is only a reprieve," she continued. Strickland "said he needed more time to review the case. I have all the confidence that the execution will be carried out."
Biros, 48, of Brookfield, was convicted in 1991 of killing Engstrom near his King Graves Road home in the early morning hours of Feb. 8 after agreeing to take her from the Nickelodeon Lounge in Masury to help her recover from illness or intoxication by getting her coffee.
Instead, Biros admitted he had placed parts of her body in three locations after cutting off her head and part of one leg.
Heiss said she appreciated the governor's making the reprieve decision in advance of Tuesday's execution, so that she did not drive to Lucasville and spend a lot of time and money for nothing.
Heiss has previously remarked that a Jan. 4 trip to Columbus to speak before the Ohio Parole Board had been especially difficult for her and her ailing mother.
Other delays
The governor, who took office early this month, announced delays in the death sentence for Biros and two other death-row inmates.
Strickland said in a statement: " ... before I allow an execution to proceed, my staff and I will have conducted a comprehensive, thorough and searching review of the case to determine if any exercise of executive clemency is appropriate."
Heiss said she also appreciated calls from state Attorney General Marc Dann and Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins.
"We have to sit back and let him [Strickland] do his study," she said. "Kenneth Biros will not live. He will be cast back to hell, where he came from," Heiss said.
The reprieve also set back the execution dates for James J. Filiaggi from Feb. 13 to April 24 and Christopher J. Newton from Feb. 27 to May 24.
Before the reprieve had been granted, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials said they were proceeding with preparations for the execution and planned to move Biros from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to the death chamber in Lucasville. He would have been moved Sunday or early Monday.
Courts' role
Besides Strickland, the federal courts are also a factor in the execution. Judge Gregory L. Frost of the Southern District of Ohio granted an emergency preliminary injunction last month that stayed the execution indefinitely. His ruling came in response to Biros' joining a civil rights lawsuit late last year that says lethal injection as a method of carrying out the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment.
Judge Frost noted in his ruling that Biros' attorneys had presented evidence from Florida and California regarding problems with recent lethal injections there that have placed executions on hold.
The seven-member parole board unanimously recommended death for Biros. Watkins said this should send a strong message to the governor because the parole board has some liberal members on it.
Dann said he supports the governor's action.
"The governor's action does not impact the legal arguments or the merits of each case, but will give him the time to learn the facts in order to make informed decisions on whether or not to grant clemency to these three inmates," the attorney general said in a statement. "This decision is not inconsistent with the state's legal strategy."
Death penalty opponents applauded Strickland's announcement.
"We would highly commend him for such conscientious actions," said Jim Tobin of the Ohio Catholic Conference. "We would hope at the same time he would also try to look at the whole death penalty system."
runyan@vindy.com
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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