COLUMBUS, Ohio - A condemned Ohio inmate asked the state Parole Board for mercy a third time Wednesday ahead of his scheduled execution next month for stabbing an Akron woman more than 100 times, then cutting off her hands.
Brett Hartman came within about a week of execution in 2009 before federal courts allowed him to pursue an innocence claim. When that claim failed, Hartman had a new date set last year, but that was postponed because of a federal lawsuit over Ohio's execution policy.
The parole board has twice unanimously denied Hartman's requests for clemency, citing the brutality of the Sept. 9, 1997, slaying of 46-year-old Winda Snipes and the "overwhelming evidence" of Hartman's guilt. Snipes was beaten, strangled with a cord, stabbed 138 times, had her throat slit and her hands cut off, according to records submitted to the parole board by Summit County prosecutors.
Hartman admitted having sex with Snipes sometime after midnight that day, going back to her apartment the following evening, finding her body and then wiping down anything he had touched, records show. He also called 911 about the body.
The county medical examiner testified that Snipes was killed late in the afternoon or early in the evening the same day, according to records.
Hartman's attorneys base their arguments for mercy on three points.
First, they say crucial evidence from the crime scene and Snipes' body has never been tested, raising questions about Hartman's innocence. The evidence included fingerprints allegedly found on a clock and a mop handle. Hartman also argues the evidence could implicate an alternate suspect.
Second, the attorneys argue that if the board does not accept Hartman's innocence claim, it should spare him because of the effects of a "remarkably chaotic and nomadic early childhood," including being abandoned by his mother and left with an aunt on an isolated Indian reservation.
Third, lawyers say Hartman's behavior in prison has been exemplary and shows he is a changed man. They cite his devotion to religious studies, his development as an artist and community service projects in prison.
"Hartman has done everything he can while incarcerated to improve his life and to improve the lives of people around him and society in general," his attorneys, Michael Benza and David Stebbins, wrote in their clemency petition.
The state resubmitted its 2009 argument against clemency, citing the strength of the evidence and the fact that courts have repeatedly upheld Hartman's conviction and death sentence. The state also says Hartman refuses to take responsibility and show remorse.
Snipes' watch was found in Hartman's possession afterward, his bloody shirt was found hidden behind his bed, Hartman confessed to a fellow Summit County jail inmate weeks after the killing, and DNA evidence supports his conviction, argued Sherry Bevan Walsh, Summit County Prosecutor.
"Hartman has presented no justifiable reason as why his death sentence should now be commuted," Walsh said.
The board will rule Oct. 18, with the final decision up to Gov. John Kasich.