Ohio governor won't spare killer who cited mental illness

Posted at 1:24 PM, Jun 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-29 13:53:50-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Friday he won't spare a death row inmate whose attorneys cite a history of childhood abuse and untreated mental illness that led to him killing a man he picked up at a bar more than 30 years ago.

The Republican governor's announcement came in the case of death row inmate Robert Van Hook, sentenced to die for fatally strangling and stabbing David Self in Cincinnati in 1985. Van Hook fled to Florida, where he was arrested and confessed.

Kasich without comment followed the June 1 recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board, which voted 8-1 against mercy. Van Hook's execution is set for July 18.

In that decision, the 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.

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.

He also was "troubled by increasing questions about his own sexual identity," his federal public defenders told the parole board last month.

Kasich should have given more weight to Van Hook's military service and his inability to receive care from the VA for his mental health and addiction issues after his honorable discharge, Van Hook's attorneys said Friday.

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.

"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 told the parole board.

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

Van Hook's attorneys said Friday his prison behavior is controlled when he receives adequate medication and therapy "to address his mental illnesses rooted in childhood trauma."

Authorities say Van Hook, 56, 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.