Family hails Biros ruling


Kenneth Biros

Mary Jane Heiss statement

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Mary Jane Heiss, Tami Engstrom’s mother, was too ill to make the trip to Columbus Monday but gave a taped statement that was played for the board. She plans to be on hand for Biros’ execution.

Biros Clemency

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Post-clemency comments to the press by Debi Heiss and Tommy Heiss, sister and brother of Tami Engstrom, Biros' murder victim.

‘Our family is so excited that we can finally celebrate a holiday,’ the murder victim’s sister said.


COLUMBUS — A Trumbull County murder victim’s sister and the county’s prosecutor say it’s time for Kenneth Biros to be the first Ohio inmate executed under the state’s new single-dose lethal- injection protocol.

A federal court cleared the way for his execution Wednesday.

Biros, 51, was convicted in the February 1991 murder of Tami Engstrom, 22, who he offered to drive home from a Masury bar. The victim was murdered, mutilated and dismembered, with parts of her body scattered in two Pennsylvania counties.

Debi Heiss, Engstrom’s sister, said Wednesday’s decision will make Thanksgiving very meaningful for her family, and Biros’ execution will allow them to finally enjoy Christmas. The execution is scheduled for Dec. 8.

“We have a lot to be thankful for, and by Christmas, he’ll be gone,” she said.

Heiss said she and her family are confident that the courts are finally closing the book on Biros and giving her family the relief it has sought for so many years.

“Our family is so excited that we can finally celebrate a holiday,” she said by phone after learning of the decision. “The holidays in the past haven’t been so good. We’re very confident that it’s going to happen. We’re making our hotel reservations.”

Biros sought federal-court intervention in his execution, arguing that Ohio’s three-drug injection process was unconstitutional.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati ruled the new execution method, announced by the state earlier this month, made Biros’ lawsuit moot, and the execution could proceed.

According to the court’s decision, “In granting a stay of execution, the district court based its reasoning on concerns related to the old procedure. Because the old procedure will not be utilized on Biros, no basis exists for continuing the stay previously in effect.”

But the court added, “Whether a stay is warranted under the new protocol is not before us at this time. Should Biros bring a new challenge on this ground, the district court and we can consider whether it has met the requirements for granting a stay, including the requirement of establishing a likelihood of success on the merits.”

Heiss said she feels the judges handling the Biros case finally have reached a point of being as tired of delays in death-sentence executions as the public. She said she thinks that attitude will carry through in case Biros’ lawyers mount additional challenges.

“We’re very confident that the judges will make the right decision — that the murderers on Death Row, that their time is coming. Guys have been on Death Row 18, 20 years, costing money, tying up the courts.”

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said he found it especially meaningful that the three judges of the 6th Circuit Court noted that Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray was protecting the state’s “interest in enforcing Biros’s sentence without undue federal interference.”

Now Biros’ attorneys will have to try to produce evidence that the new one-drug protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment if they expect to stop the execution, Watkins said.

That is unlikely, Watkins said, because Biros’ own attorneys argued earlier that the new one-drug protocol was an effective means of execution. Biros has “no credibility with the [federal] court, as he has had no credibility with every court in the state of Ohio,” Watkins said Wednesday. “That’s what the three judges are saying to the one judge: Let’s get this done.”

Tim Sweeney, legal counsel for Biros, said he would be evaluating the decision in coming days before deciding the next legal step in the process. That could include seeking a review by the full circuit court or an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Biros also has legal options related to the state’s changed execution protocol — essentially, the state’s experimentation on live human beings, Sweeney said — and the botched execution of Romell Broom in September.

Biros was supposed to be executed in 2007 and was transported to the death house in Lucasville at that time, but last-minute court actions delayed his execution.

Earlier this month, the state parole board recommended against clemency in the case, leaving the final decision to Gov. Ted Strickland. Two years ago, Strickland denied clemency, shortly before Biros’ execution was stayed by federal court action.

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