Before execution, Cincinnati killer Robert Van Hook apologizes to victim's family

Deters: Man executed today was 'no-good SOB'
Posted at 12:26 PM, Jul 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-18 17:50:22-04

LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- Ohio has put to death a killer sentenced to die for stabbing and strangling a man he met in a bar in 1985.

The execution of Robert Van Hook by lethal injection was carried out Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. The time of death was 10:44 a.m.

Van Hook, 58, was sentenced to die for killing David Self in Cincinnati. Prosecutors say Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.

Van Hook, weeping, told his victim's brother, sister and brother-in-law he was sorry. 

“I’m very sorry for taking your brother’s life," Van Hook said. "I’m no good. I hope that you now have some peace. I pray one day you will be reunited with him and your mother as well."

Van Hook then recited a poem from a movie and sang with his eyes closed until the drugs started to kick in at about 10:29 a.m.

Van Hook had seven people present, including an uncle and several spiritual advisers. About 20 protesters rang bells outside shortly after 10 a.m. until after he was pronounced dead. 

WCPO's Evan Millward was in Lucasville to witness the execution on behalf of the public. You can see his tweets from the execution below (if you cannot see them click here):


The following report contains details of the 1985 murder for which Van Hook was convicted that some readers will find disturbing.

Van Hook once admitted from death row he knew his many appeals were futile in the long term. They weren't about proving his innocence, he said -- they were about saving his life for another year, another week, another day.

"It's about delaying," he said. "Buying as much time as you can and trying to stay alive and survive for as long as you can."

Although 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.

Van Hook died at age 58, after a meal comprising a double cheeseburger, french fries, strawberry cheesecake and grapefruit juice, and become the first man executed by the state of Ohio in 10 months.

Van Hook was sentenced to death for fatally strangling and stabbing Self after picking him up in a bar in Cincinnati in 1985. He had made a habit of luring gay men into private locations and then robbing them, according to prosecutors.

Although his attorneys argued he was a victim of childhood abuse and "gay panic" -- a supposed state of being so disconcerted by same-sex flirtation he became violent -- Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said the scene of the crime reflected a viciousness impossible to explain away.

"He strangled (Self) to unconsciousness," he said. "He took a knife and stuck it in the back of his brain and twisted it, then literally gutted him, opened him up. I mean, the liver was visible."

Police found a bottle and a cigarette butt inside Self's open abdomen, he added. As far as Deters is concerned, Van Hook "is a no-good S.O.B." about to receive an overdue cure.

Self's family also supports the execution, telling the parole board last month that their slain loved one is missed every day. Self's sister, Janet Self, said her brother had been reduced over the years to "a gay man in a bar," when he in fact he was so much more.

"He had a great personality, was very smart, wickedly funny, and a good conversationalist," she said, according to the parole board account of her testimony.

The few who support a stay of execution do so on ideological grounds. Allison Reynolds-Berry, an activist with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, said she and fellow opponents of the death penalty would pray for Van Hook as well as his victim.

"Our stance is really to stand in abolition of a system that is not fair and not justly used across the state," she said.

Deters disagreed.

"The reality is that Ohioans want justice, and sometimes justice is eliminating that person, their crimes are so horrible," he said. "People that say, ‘Oh, I'm against the death penalty.' We catch Osama bin Laden, what are you going to do? Really, you're just going to feed him for the rest of his life? Treat him great? Really?"

View a timeline of the execution below: