COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state prepared to execute a condemned killer Thursday, a Nazi sympathizer who shot to death two men and a teen more than a quarter century ago on the campus of Cleveland State University in a shooting spree over several months that evolved from “hunting parties” that targeted blacks.
If put to death as scheduled, Frank Spisak would set the Ohio record for the longest time on death row before execution, at more than 27 years.
He’ll also be the last Ohio inmate to die from a dose of sodium thiopental, the scarce drug the state is giving up in favor of a more readily available substitute.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected what appeared to be Spisak’s final appeal Wednesday afternoon, turning down his request to delay his execution while he argued the constitutionality of Ohio’s death penalty law.
Spisak, 59, blamed the 1982 shootings on his hatred of gays, blacks and Jews and also claimed his crimes were sparked by mental illness related to confusion about his sexual identity. Spisak identifies himself as a woman and refers to himself in correspondence as Frances Spisak, a name his attorneys also use.
Cora Warford, whose son Brian Warford was just 17 when Spisak shot him in the head on Aug. 30, 1982, says she’s making an exception to her opposition to capital punishment after much thought and discussion with her pastor. She said Spisak’s latest attempts to avoid execution by pleading mental illness were the final straw.
“Justice has to be done, that’s all,” said Warford, 75, now retired in Cincinnati. “He didn’t care about the lives he took, and now it’s time for him to go to rest.”
Her son, who went by “Chub,” always went out of his way to help people, she recalled. “Everybody loved Brian. He was just a good kid,” Warford said.
Brian Warford’s brothers, Jeffery Duke and Eric Barnes, are among those scheduled to watch Spisak die at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Spisak was calm and reserved as he arrived at the death house at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Spisak met with his daughter over the weekend but had no visitors scheduled in Lucasville, LoParo said. Spisak selected spaghetti with light tomato sauce but no meat, salad, chocolate cake and coffee with cream and sugar for a special meal to be served at 4 p.m.
Last month, Spisak’s attorneys asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare his life, saying Spisak suffers from a severe bipolar disorder that was not diagnosed until years after he was convicted. Spisak was housed in a prison unit reserved for death row inmates being treated for mental illnesses.
The lawyers argued the information could have led jurors to consider a different sentence.
“To go forward with this execution would represent a departure from the strong societal consensus that the death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst, and that we arguably demean ourselves when we impose it on the severely mentally ill,” Spisak’s attorneys, Alan Rossman and Michael Benza, told the board.
During his 1983 trial, Spisak grew a Hitler-style mustache, carried a copy of Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” during the proceedings and gave the Nazi salute to the jury.
Both the parole board and Gov. John Kasich, making his first decision on a condemned killer’s request for mercy, rejected Spisak’s plea.
“Spisak killed three people, tried to kill at least one other, and shot at a fifth in his admitted plan to kill as many African-Americans as possible and start a race war in Cleveland,” the board said in its Jan. 21 ruling. “His victims were innocent, unsuspecting strangers.”
Spisak’s first victim was the Rev. Horace Rickerson, 57, shot to death Feb. 1, 1982, in a campus bathroom where he had rebuffed Spisak’s sexual advances.
Four months later, John Hardaway was shot seven times as he waited for a commuter train by a man he later identified as Spisak. He survived and had planned to witness the execution.
On Aug. 9, 1982, Spisak shot at Coletta Dartt, a white university employee, as she exited a bathroom stall. Spisak missed after she pushed him away and ran.
Spisak’s second murder victim was Timothy Sheehan, 50, who worked in Cleveland State’s maintenance department. He was shot to death on Aug. 27, 1982, because Spisak believed he might have witnessed Rickerson’s shooting.
Brian Warford, who was an alternative education student taking classes at Cleveland State to earn his high school degree, was Spisak’s last victim when he was killed a few days later.
Rickerson, Warford and Hardaway were black. Spisak told investigators he went on “hunting parties” to shoot black people.
Spisak was caught in early September 1982 after he was caught firing a gun out of his apartment window.