Federal judge allows open phone line during execution of Cincinnati killer Robert Van Hook

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A federal judge will allow an open phone line to his courtroom during the execution of a Cincinnati killer scheduled for next week.

The decision by Judge Michael Merz again permits a system created last year when defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to stop an execution based on the inmate's reaction to the lethal drugs.

Under the order, attorneys for death row inmate Robert Van Hook and an assistant attorney general will be on the line with the judge in case something goes awry.

The 58-year-old Van Hook is set to die Wednesday for the strangling and stabbing death of David Self 23 years ago. He has run out of appeals.

Authorities say Van Hook met Self at the Subway Bar in Downtown 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.

His attorneys had asked the parole board for mercy, saying he experienced a "homosexual panic" of self-revulsion before killing Self. He 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.

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

Five years ago, the American Bar Association urged governments to pass laws limiting the "gay panic" defense, saying a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity should not be blamed for a criminal defendant's violent reaction.

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