Ohio Parole Board votes against clemency for condemned Cincinnati killer Robert Van Hook

Only governor can save him from July 18 execution
Posted at 2:21 PM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-01 18:21:41-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Parole Board has voted 8-1 against recommending clemency for condemned Cincinnati killer Robert Van Hook, the board announced Friday. 

Van Hook, sentenced to die for killing a man he picked up at a downtown Cincinnati bar in 1985, faces execution July 18 unless Gov. John Kasich pardons him. 

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.

Authorities say Van Hook, 56, met David Self at the Subway Bar on Feb. 18, 1985. After a couple of hours they went to Self's Hyde Park 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.

Last month, Van Hook's attorneys asked the parole board for mercy, saying he experienced a "homosexual panic" of self-revulsion before killing Self. Van Hook then fled to Florida, where he was arrested and confessed.

At the time, 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 argued.

"Bobby, at the age of 4 to 5, was witnessing his mother having sex with men she brought home in the middle of the night," attorney Randall Porter said. "At the age of 11, he and his father started sharing sexual partners together."

He also was "troubled by increasing questions about his own sexual identity," his federal public defenders said in a May 17 filing with the parole board.

They also said he was improperly questioned by a Cincinnati police detective after he was arrested in Florida, and should have been provided an attorney.

Prosecutors dismissed Van Hook's "panic" claim as nonsense, saying he made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.

"This is a man who had cynically manipulated homosexuals for years. He posed as a gay; he frequented bars that were gay and he preyed on vulnerable victims who were gay," the Hamilton County prosecutor's office said in a filing with the board.

Prosecutors also noted that Van Hook has an extensive history of violence while incarcerated, including stabbing a fellow death row inmate in November.

In a written statement, Van Hook declined to be interviewed by the parole board. He asked Self's family for forgiveness.

"If not, I accept their desire not to do so," he said.

The so-called "gay" or "homosexual panic" defense has come under fire in recent years. Five years ago, the American Bar Association urged governments to pass laws limiting the defense, saying a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity should not be blamed for a criminal defendant's violent reaction.

Earlier this year, Illinois became the second state after California to prohibit the defense. The Rhode Island House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to ban it.