By ALAN JOHNSON
The Columbus Dispatch
Convicted killer Billy Slagle killed himself not knowing about an undisclosed plea deal that could have spared him from execution.
As his attorneys hurriedly prepared a last-minute appeal to file with the Ohio Supreme Court seeking a stay of execution — with the promise it would not be opposed by the state — Slagle took matters into his own hands. He hanged himself in his death row cell at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution in the early morning hours Sunday.
Vicki Werneke and Joseph Wilhelm, Slagle’s federal public defenders, are left to wonder “what if?”
“I don’t know what more we could have done,” Werneke said.
Werneke said that late Friday afternoon, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty called Wilhelm with a revelation: County prosecutors offered Slagle a plea deal at his original trial 26 years ago. If he pleaded guilty, he would serve 30 years and be eligible for parole. Slagle’s attorneys at the time, however, did not inform him of the deal; instead, he received the death penalty.
McGinty spokesman Joe Frolik confirmed his boss made the call indicating his office had uncovered information that the prosecutor at the time of Slagle’s trial, the late John T. Corrigan, offered a deal.
“We felt we had an obligation to tell Slagle’s appellate team,” Frolik said. “We said that if they applied for a hearing and stay of execution, we could not oppose them. If a court was looking for a reason to grant a stay, that would have opened the door.”
McGinty’s office previously argued at Slagle’s clemency hearing that he be given life without the possibility of parole, reasoning that the crime, under today’s law, would not be considered punishable by death.
Werneke and Wilhelm hurriedly prepared an appeal and a request to halt the execution, to be filed Monday with the Supreme Court.
They did not try to reach Slagle, thinking they did not have access to him on death row over the weekend.
JoEllen Smith of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said Slagle’s attorneys could have contacted him over the weekend in an emergency situation by calling his case-manager’s cellphone or the prison.
Slagle hanged himself with an item from his cell, but prison officials wouldn’t say what he used.
He took his life just hours before an around-the-clock observation period was to begin leading up to his execution.
Slagle, 44, was to be lethally injected Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville for the 1987 murder of 40-year-old Mari Anne Pope, his neighbor in Cleveland. He stabbed Pope 17 times with scissors while she was baby-sitting two young children.
The courts rejected Slagle’s appeals, and Gov. John Kasich turned down his clemency request.
Slagle gave no hint of his intention to commit suicide when she met with him Friday, Werneke said.
“There was no indication he was planning anything. It was a total shock to his family.”