Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Lone survivor watched execution of William Garner
LUCASVILLE, Ohio – Rod Mack was 13 years old when he escaped a Cincinnati apartment fire amid the screams of his sisters and the sound of his best friend collapsing to the floor.
He alone survived the fire, which killed five other children. It was started by a man to cover up the theft of a television, a VCR, a telephone and a radio. More than 18 years later, Mack planned to watch the arsonist's execution by lethal injection Tuesday.
William Garner, 37, was executed this morning at the southern Ohio prison that houses the state's death chamber.
So many people wanted to witness the execution on behalf of the young victims that prison officials planned to open a second viewing room, prisons spokeswoman Julie Walburn said. Six people could be accommodated in the witness room facing the execution chamber, and another three would have to watch on closed circuit TV in the spillover room, she said.
On Monday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied Garner's request for postponement to allow him a chance to argue that his death sentences should be thrown out because he had the mental age of a child when he set the fire.
Earlier Monday, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear a similar mental-age argument, and Gov. Ted Strickland denied clemency.
Garner's attorney, Kelly Schneider, said no additional appeals would be filed. She had argued in a court motion that Garner's "developmental disabilities, limited IQ, and the horrors of his life" caused him to function on the level of a 14-year-old.
It wasn't long after his 19th birthday when Garner, in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 26, 1992, gained access to Addie Mack's apartment by stealing keys from her purse while she received care in the emergency room of a nearby hospital. Her son Rod Mack was the oldest of the six children who were home alone at the time, including his sisters, his friend and a cousin. The youngest was 8.
Garner told police that he had noticed the bedroom "full of girls" and that one of them had asked him for water, which he provided, according to a report by the Ohio Parole Board. He also said he had been in another bedroom where the two boys slept.
Garner admitted throwing a lighted match on a couch in an attempt to destroy evidence of the burglary and said he thought the children would escape.
Only Rod Mack made it out alive. He climbed out a window, barefoot and crying in the bitter cold.
Besides Rod Mack, his mother and seven other relatives of the children planned to witness Garner's death.
Garner was moved Monday morning from death row at a central Ohio prison to the southern Ohio prison that houses the execution chamber. He received a special meal that included a porterhouse steak, onion rings, fried shrimp, barbecue ribs and wings, potato wedges, sweet potato pie, chocolate ice cream and Hawaiian Punch.
He spent his final hours watching television and talking on the telephone with a friend and with his twin brother. He visited with relatives, including his mother, as well as with spiritual advisers and his legal team. His niece and lawyer and an investigator planned to watch the execution on his behalf.
Garner has said a secondary motivation for setting the fire was to draw attention to the children's squalid living conditions. His attorneys also have argued he should be spared the death penalty because he has a brain impairment from lead poisoning and was a victim of violence and sexual assault as a child.
Garner would be the sixth person executed in Ohio this year and the 39th put to death by the state since it resumed the practice in 1999.