CINCINNATI -- "It's total nonsense," Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said Tuesday, that he'll be relitigating the case of serial killer Anthony Kirkland beginning July 23. To him, the death sentence Judge Charles J. Kubicki handed down March 31, 2010, is an appropriate punishment for a "monster" -- and the remark Deters himself made to prompt the imminent resentencing hearing was an appropriate comment to the jury.
He might even say it again.
"Frankly, I think he is a monster," Deters said. "He killed five girls, two of which were 13 and 14 years old respectively, and if the death penalty is not applicable to Anthony Kirkland, I don't know who the person would be that should get it."
The case touches a personal nerve for Deters: His daughter was the same age as Esme Kenney in 2009, when police discovered the 13-year-old performing arts student's body in a wooded area near her home. Kenney had been raped, strangled and set on fire after leaving home for what her mother believed would be a short jog around the nearby water tower.
Police found Kirkland less than 100 yards away with her iPod and purple watch in his hands. Hours after his arrest, he would confess to killing her as well as three other women found dead in similar states: Fourteen-year-old Casonya Crawford, 45-year-old Mary Jo Newton and 25-year-old Kimya Rolison, all killed in 2006. He had previously been imprisoned for 16 years after killing and burning his girlfriend, Leola Davis, in 1987.
He received a sentence of life in prison for Newton and Rolison's murders in 2010. Deters said defense attorneys argued that ought to be enough for the case of Kenney and Crawford the same year. He deserved a life sentence, which he had already received; he did not, they said, deserve to die.
Deters responded: "So I guess Casonya and Esme are just freebies for him?"
Jurors recommended a death sentence, and Judge Charles J. Kubicki agreed. However, Deters' closing comment became an element of Kirkland's case for appeal.
Citing the 2015 case of Hurst v. Florida, in which the United States Supreme Court said Timothy Hurst's death sentence was issued in a way that violated his Sixth Amendment right to due process, Kirkland's attorneys argued Deters' prosecution had been prejudicial and inappropriate in a way that violated his right to a fair trial.
Four of Ohio's seven Supreme Court justices agreed and granted Kirkland a resentencing hearing.
"It is improper for prosecutors to incite the jurors' emotions through insinuations and assertions that are not supported by the evidence and that are therefore calculated to mislead the jury," the decision said. "Although the crimes Kirkland is alleged to have committed are horrific, due process requires that a jury be free from prejudice before recommending the death penalty."
Deters doesn't buy it.
"I'm not happy that we have to redo this because I think the court lost its way on their decision, but that's the rules we work under, and we'll do it again," he said. "What I said was totally appropriate, and I can tell you right now -- I am very confident in this -- with the makeup of the Supreme Court today, that would never happen."
All of the murders haunt him, but details of Kenney's resurfaced multiple times as he discussed the upcoming resentencing: The all-consuming guilt of her mother, Lisa, who declined an invitation to jog with Kenney that afternoon and later ran barefoot on a gravel road to search for her; her slight stature and naivete; Kirkland's confession that he'd watched her tear at the dirt with her fingernails while he killed her.
They haunt Kubicki, too. He arranged for jurors to receive counseling after the initial trial because he believed it was a rare case in which "the reality was worse than what your imagination could come up with," he said.
"I feel very, very sorry that there's going to be a new set of people that are going to have to go through this and see and hear the things that other jurors did," Kubicki said of the resentencing. "I've never seen as many people affected by it that were connected with the trial."
Even more profoundly affected than the jury were the people required to give testimony a second time, Deters said. Kenney's mother refused to return to Cincinnati to do so. She gave her account of the murder in Seattle -- nearly the farthest place one could move from Cincinnati within the continental United States.
"She has been in Hell this entire time," he said.
Deters said he believes the members of this jury will swiftly reach the same conclusion as their predecessors, and the hearing might even be over by the end of the week.
Kirkland's pleas for clemency resemble those of convicted killer Robert Van Hook, whose execution is scheduled for Wednesday. Both men's attorneys defended them with stories of abusive childhoods, and both received the death penalty. Van Hooks appeals failed to sway his sentence; Kirkland's fate is not yet written.
Deters said he saw another commonality between the two cases: A public and legislature squeaismh about enacting the death penalty.
"If people don't want the death penalty, get rid of it, but stop playing these games," he said, referring to the appeals, before continuing without pause. "We got rid of the electric chair because everyone was wringing their hands, 'Oh, it's horrible, you know, we've got to bring in lethal injection.' Then we get lethal injection. 'We can't find a vein. He was breathing hard when we killed him.'
"We are executing people. This is killing someone. If you don't want to kill somebody, then get rid of the death penalty. The reality is we're killing somebody, so bring back the firing squad. That's constitutional -- very constitutional. Just buy a rifle and shoot him, and then it's over. No one has to worry about 'The drug companies won't sell us drugs' and 'We can't find a vein on the guy.' Just shoot the guy."
Kirkland's resentencing will begin Monday. Deters said jury selection is scheduled for Thursday.