By Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio moved a condemned killer to the state death house Tuesday as officials began preparations for the state’s first execution in several months.
Inmate Robert Van Hook was sentenced to die for fatally strangling and stabbing David Self after picking him up in a bar in Cincinnati in 1985. Van Hook, 58, has no remaining appeals, and Republican Gov. John Kasich rejected his request for clemency without comment.
At the time of the killing, Van Hook was suffering from long-term effects of untreated mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child and was depressed that his life seemed to be falling apart, his attorneys argue.
Kasich should have given more weight to Van Hook’s military service and his inability to receive care from Veterans Affairs for his mental health and addiction issues after his honorable discharge, according to Van Hook’s attorneys.
Van Hook arrived at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville shortly before 10 a.m., and was to begin receiving visitors late in the afternoon, said prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith.
Van Hook was “in good spirits and calm,” and a medical check found no problems with his veins ahead of his scheduled lethal injection Wednesday morning, Smith said.
His choice for a last meal, called a special meal in Ohio and served the day before, included double cheeseburgers, fries, strawberry cheese cake with whipped cream, a vanilla milkshake and grapefruit juice.
Smith says execution witnesses for the Self family will include Self’s brother and sister and brother-in-law. Van Hook’s witnesses will be an uncle; a spiritual adviser; and a priest.
The Ohio Parole Board said that despite Van Hook’s tough childhood, he was shown love and support by relatives he stayed with for long periods as a child. But that positive influence doesn’t outweigh the “gratuitous violence” Van Hook demonstrated, the board said.
Previous attorneys representing Van Hook attempted a “homosexual panic” claim in his defense, or the idea that self-revulsion over sexual identity confusion contributed to a violent outburst. Van Hook’s current lawyers say that was misguided, and overlooked his diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder from his childhood.
Seizing on that claim, prosecutors have dismissed the idea as nonsense, saying Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.
Prosecutors note Van Hook has an extensive history of violence while incarcerated, including stabbing a fellow death row inmate in November.
Self’s family support the execution, telling the parole board last month that their slain loved one is missed every day. Self’s sister, Janet Self, said her brother had been reduced over the years to “a gay man in a bar,” when he in fact he was so much more.
“He had a great personality, was very smart, wickedly funny, and a good conversationalist,” she said, according to the parole board account of her testimony.
Authorities say Van Hook met Self at the Subway Bar in downtown Cincinnati on Feb. 18, 1985. After a couple of hours, they went to Self’s apartment where Van Hook strangled the 25-year-old Self to unconsciousness, stabbed him multiple times in the neck and then cut his abdomen open and stabbed his internal organs, according to court records. Van Hook stole a leather jacket and necklaces before fleeing, records say.
While separate federal courts have ruled in favor of a retrial for Van Hook, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in 2009.
In September 2017 the state put Gary Otte to death for the 1992 murders of two people during robberies over two days in suburban Cleveland.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.
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