COLUMBUS, Ohio – The mother of a murdered 18-year-old is fighting his killer’s attempt to escape a death sentence by claiming he’s too young to die on death row.
"I won't let him die in vain," Stacy Cates said about her son, Justin Back, after attending an Ohio Supreme Court hearing Tuesday.
The lawyer for convicted killer Austin Myers asked the state’s highest court for a new trial or new sentencing hearing for Myers, who was 19 when he plotted Back’s 2014 murder at Back's home outside Waynesville.
Another 19-year-old, Timothy Mosley, stabbed Back to death while Myers held the victim, but Mosley took a plea deal in 2014 and got life without parole in exchange for his testimony against Myers.
Attorney Timothy McKenna said Myers, the second youngest person on Ohio's death row, was too young to consider the consequences of his actions.
"What I'm asking the court to do is to consider the rationale that they used in these cases as to someone when they are going to not have the mental ability or mental maturity to make decisions as an adult would," McKenna said.
Cates is determined to keep her son's memory alive and to see that Myers does "not live" another day.
So is Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell, who argued that Myers was just as guilty even if he wasn't doing the stabbing.
“Austin Myers made the decision to convert this into an aggravated robbery and an aggravated murder. Austin Myers is on video purchasing the intended murder weapon," Fornshell said.
Cates agreed. She said her son and Myers knew each other from middle school.
"He's just as culpable if not more because he chose Justin,’" Cates said. “He knew Justin. Justin tried to help him when they were in eighth grade. Justin tried to befriend him when he was going through a tough time."
Cates worries the focus on Myers means her son is being forgotten.
Back, a 2013 Waynesville High School graduate, was killed just as he was about to enter the Navy.
"Everything is about Myers and nothing is brought up about Justin,” Cates said. “You know, the victim is an afterthought. And so it was very hard to sit there and hear the defense not even say Justin's name. They may say Back or the deceased. Well, Justin has a name and Justin was a living person and Justin was an innocent, great living person."
A decision on whether to overturn Myers’ death sentence is expected in about six months.