Ohio prison officials continue to investigate how a death row inmate, set to be executed this week, managed to successfully commit suicide in prison this past weekend. Billy Slagle killed himself without knowing there was a new chance that his execution could have been stayed at the last minute. Assistant federal public defender Vicki Werneke says an appeal effort had begun Friday evening. In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Werneke says new information came from current Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim Ginty’s office to her colleague, Joe Wilhelm. Werneke explains how it could have made a difference.
WERNEKE: The original trial prosecutor, the assistant prosecutor, had informed McGinty’s office that at the time of the trial in 1988, the prosecutor then, the head prosecutor John Corrigan, had authorized a plea deal to Mr. Slagle that if he pled guilty, he would get life imprisonment with parole after 30 years. And according to the assistant prosecutor, he had told defense counsel about it and defense counsel had rejected the plea offer. And we were surprised by that, because when we had met with Billy back in May getting ready for his clemency hearing, we had several meetings with him, he had lamented the fact that if he had been offered a deal at the time of the trial, he would have taken it because he had lots of remorse and had accepted responsibility for what he had done even back at the trial in 1988.
INGLES: "And so he never knew about this at the time -- the attorneys did not tell him?"
WERNEKE: Correct. Apparently, as far as we can tell, as far as we know, Billy never knew that there was a deal offered at the time of the trial and we think he would have taken it.
INGLES: "What difference would this make now? Would you have been able to go back and get an appeal based on this or what?"
WERNEKE: "That’s what we were trying. That’s what our plans were. By the time Joe got off the phone with McGinty, it was 5:30. And I was still driving back from the prison, because it was a four-hour drive...That really got our hopes up. We were very optimistic. We were already strategizing about what we were going to be doing. And then an hour later, about 7 o'clock Friday night, Matt Meyer, assistant prosecutor, called Joe again on his cell phone and said, 'Are you going to be filing a motion for stay of execution with the Ohio Supreme Court?' And Joe said, 'Yes, that’s one of the things we immediately thought of' -- was to file another motion for stay of execution on Monday morning. And Matt Mayer told Joe, 'We--' as the prosecutors office who would be the one -- 'are not going to oppose it.' Joe and I came in on Saturday and had prepared a motion with the court, Joe had typed up what was going to be an affidavit based on the conversation he'd had with Mr. McGinty, and we were going to submit that Monday morning at the Ohio Supreme Court and request a stay of execution. And the fact that it was going to be unopposed by the prosecutors, which would be the only entity that could object, we felt rather confident that the Ohio Supreme Court would stay the execution."
INGLES: "But Billy Slagle, over the weekend never knew about this, he never knew where there was a plan that could go forward, where he would have hope for living?"
Assistant Public Defender Vicki Werneke goes on to explain to Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles how it is difficult to get communication to prisoners over the weekend so she and her counterpart, Joe Wilhelm, planned to meet with Slagle first thing Monday morning. Werneke says she had no indication at all that Slagle was thinking about committing suicide over the weekend. Slagle was found, hanging in his death row cell at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, early Sunday morning.