Parole board hears clemency plea
Joey Murphy on death row for killing Marion's Ruth Predmore
Sep 16, 2011
Written by Kurt Moore
The Marion Star
COLUMBUS - Representatives for death row inmate Joey Murphy asked the Ohio Parole Board to consider mitigating factors during a Thursday clemency hearing.
Murphy is scheduled to be executed Oct. 18 for the murder of Ruth Predmore, 72. He was found guilty of killing Predmore on Feb. 1, 1987, by slicing her throat with a 5-inch knife.
No one disagrees that Murphy committed the crime, but representatives for the defendant urged the parole board to take circumstances such as a troubled childhood into consideration when reporting its recommendation to Gov. John Kasich.
"I can't conceive of a more tragic background than that of Joseph Murphy," said former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herbert Brown, one of three justices who filed a dissenting opinion against the death penalty when the case came before the court.
"This is someone who has never had a break in his life," Brown said. "The State of Ohio should not be executing someone so disadvantaged."
Pam Prude-Smithers, an attorney with the Ohio Public Defender's Office, and investigators for the defense alleged Murphy was sexually abused as a child. According to one account, his father let someone have sex with him in exchange for a bottle of moonshine.
They also talked about how he grew up in poverty, first in West Virginia then in Marion, and was cast as the family's scapegoat.
"Joey's life was so far out of bounds of what we consider normal that it's shocking," Prude-Smithers said.
Cynthia Hodges, Murphy's aunt, said Murphy's mother often would make him wait to be fed, sometimes not feeding him if there wasn't enough food to go around.
Rick Ruffin, a defense investigator, told the parole board he was inexperienced when he helped with Murphy's case, and said he failed to get the information needed to convince the jury of the mitigating factors.
"The family was not willing to give up secrets," he said. "In their mind he was not worth saving."
Ruffin said he believes if he had been more experienced, he might have convinced the family to talk about rumors such as sexual abuse. He also said he would have sought the help of a sexual abuse expert.
Defense attorney Robert Wilson, one of two attorneys representing Murphy in the original case, argued that he gave incompetent representation to Murphy. He said while he had worked with death penalty cases before, the rules had changed and he didn't feel as though he was qualified enough to help under the new rules. He said a month after the trial new standards came out for representing death row inmates, and that he would not have met those standards.
Wilson said he talked to a juror afterward who told him "Joey was so bad that we as jurors felt the only way to make sure he never got out of prison was to sentence him to death."
"The jury missed the issue because I missed the issue," Wilson said. "I failed to convey what mitigation was about. I didn't give them the tools to make that decision. ... We painted him bad ... but we never told why."
Wilson said when the jury heard the original case, life without parole was not one of its options.Medical report
Neuropsychologist Dr. Michael Gelbort, who submitted a video testimony, and psychologist Dr. Robert Stinson told the parole board about Murphy's low IQ score of 74, and how he was mildly mentally handicapped. They said he hadn't gotten through elementary school and could read only at a second-grade level.
"His brain is broken," said Gelbort, who said Murphy had trouble telling right from wrong. "He's got an 80 percent brain."
He suggested Murphy shouldn't be given a "100 percent punishment" such as execution, and joined others in suggesting life without parole.
Stinson said Murphy had been exceptionally needy ever since he was a baby, and was the son of an alcoholic father and lacked family support.
He said Murphy had once been left in a burning house, and told the parole board that a brother had once "put a knife in Joey's head because he thought it was funny."
"This is extreme abuse by any standards," he said.
Stinson referred to signs of sex abuse such as Murphy hanging a dog, cutting chickens' heads off to watch them run around and abusing other animals. He said setting fires is also a sign of abuse.
Peg Predmore-Kavanaugh, a great-niece of the victim, offered a video testimony. She did not agree that Murphy should be put to death, and suggested instead life without parole.
Representatives for the state said she had previously supported Murphy's death sentence.'A just decision'
Marion County Prosecutor Brent Yager and Brenda Leikala, representing the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said the original jury had heard about the mitigating factors.
"That jury made a very difficult decision," said Yager, who was assistant prosecutor during the original trial in 1987. "It was a just decision."
Yager said Murphy had confessed to the crime and demonstrated how he had killed Predmore.
"It's like he was describing buttering his toast for breakfast," Yager said, going on to say how Murphy described wiping the blood from his eyes before he looked for money.
He said Murphy does not fit the legal definition for mental retardation, and told the parole board that the crime was "cold and calculated."
"I'm a prosecutor so I deal with facts," Yager said. "There is one fact that's sometimes lost. Miss Predmore's life was snuffed out by a violent and senseless act."
Leikala spoke about Murphy setting his elementary school on fire as a child and his abuse of animals, describing them as signs that he was a sociopath. She said Murphy had set relatives' homes on fire, suggesting he set the fires to distract them so he would not get in trouble for other things he had done.
"That's manipulation," she said. "He does what he wants to get what he wants."
Leikala said that, by hiding the evidence of his crime, Murphy showed he knew the difference between right and wrong.
"If he doesn't understand it's wrong, why hide it," she said. "Why? Because he does know."
She and Yager said three justices dissented, but a majority of the Ohio Supreme Court justices upheld the death penalty.
The parole board will make its recommendation to Kasich on Sept. 23.