Killer a product of violence, panel told
The evils inflicted by and upon Alva Campbell are almost unimaginable, but the Ohio Parole Board must weigh them over the next week.
Campbell’s life hangs in the balance.
The board, which seemed skeptical of Campbell’s plea for clemency during a daylong hearing Thursday, must make a recommendation to Gov. John Kasich by the end of next week. Kasich will then decide whether to commute Campbell’s sentence to life imprisonment, delay his execution or allow it to take place as scheduled Nov. 15.
Campbell, 69, is sentenced to die for the 1997 aggravated murder of 18-year-old Charles Dials in Franklin County.
Attorneys and advocates who are trying to stop the execution have argued that Campbell is too ill to lie flat on the execution table. But on Thursday they focused on the horrors of his childhood at the hands of a drunken, abusive father and a state system they say failed him from the time he entered it at age 10.
Campbell’s abuse and neglect by his parents were “the worst I have seen in 35 years of doing capital cases,” said David Stebbins, one of his attorneys.
Campbell was the mixed-race son of a racist, alcoholic father who would make his children watch as he beat their mother bloody and often unconscious, Stebbins said. His father also beat the children and molested Campbell’s sisters and most likely molested Campbell as well, Stebbins said.
Then, after his father was imprisoned for incest, a 10-year-old Campbell began a journey through state facilities that didn’t protect him. Lighter than 90 percent of boys his age and shorter than 80 percent, Campbell was an easy target for older, bigger boys who beat and raped him, said Bob Stinson, a psychologist who has examined Campbell.
“His only protection was acting out sexually,” Stinson said.
Campbell bounced from facility to facility in a system that warehoused him instead of trying to help him, Stinson said.
“His needs were not met in any way by the state,” Clemens Bartollas, a sociologist and criminologist, said in videotaped testimony. “It’s totally inexcusable how negligent they were in dealing with the needs of this child.”
But the violence of Campbell’s adulthood might be even greater than the horror of his childhood.
“Mr. Campbell is the most violent criminal (case) without question that I have ever worked on,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who personally handled Campbell’s death penalty case.
On April 2, 1997, Campbell was being taken by a deputy to a court hearing to revoke his parole from an earlier murder conviction when, after faking paralysis, he took a deputy’s gun and escaped. While fleeing, he carjacked and murdered Dials. He already had admitted to a string of armed robberies since being released from prison in 1992, meaning that once his parole was revoked, he’d never get out of prison.
And in 1972, when Campbell robbed and murdered William Dovalosky in a Cleveland tavern, he also was on parole — from a 1967 conviction for shooting a State Highway Patrol trooper. At 16, Campbell was tried as an adult and convicted for the shooting and yet another string of armed robberies.
“If we have a death penalty in Ohio, he’s a poster child for it,” O’Brien said, repeating a line he used at Campbell’s trial.
As they listened to arguments Thursday, some members of the parole board indicated they believed that however awful, Campbell’s childhood didn’t excuse his life of violence.
“Sadly, this isn’t the most violent upbringing we’ve ever seen,” Trayce Thalheimer, the board’s vice chairwoman, said, pointing out that many of those inmates never ended up on death row. “It’s not inevitable that because of your background that you end up doing something like this.”
The board also seemed to struggle with the question of how long an adult can continue to blame his behavior on past problems, no matter how horrific. R.F. Rauschenberg noted that Campbell was 48 when he murdered Dials in cold blood.
And the board, which regularly deals with Ohio’s worst criminals, seemed struck by Campbell’s violence.
“The level of violence we see in history is remarkable, and we see a lot of violence,” Rauschenberg said.
The family of a man who died days after he was in Columbus police custody filed a federal lawsuit against the police division Thursday seeking more than $2 million, alleging that excessive police force contributed to his death.
Jaron B. Thomas, 36, died Jan. 23 at Riverside Methodist Hospital. He had called police from a North Linden residence on Medina Avenue on Jan. 14 saying that he was afraid he was dying and he was hearing voices.
“I feel like I’m going to get shot. And I’m really paranoid because I was high. And it feels like I’m going to die or something,” Thomas told the dispatcher on a 911 call.
In a 23-page lawsuit filed Thursday, the family is seeking more than $1 million in punitive damages and more than $1 million in compensatory damages.
The Franklin County Coroner’s Office ruled that Thomas’ death was accidental and his cause of death was due to a lack of oxygen to his brain that was caused by cardiac arrest and cocaine toxicity. Because the coroner ruled it an accidental death, the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office declined to present the case to a grand jury, according to a case file from the police totaling more than 200 pages.
An internal police investigation into the incident is still pending, a spokesperson confirmed Thursday.
Thomas showed signs of excited delirium, according to the coroner’s report. That’s a medical condition in which a person becomes uncontrollable and can exert themselves until the heart stops.
“Mr. Thomas died due to excited delirium syndrome which, in response to the use of excessive force by police officers, pumped so much adrenaline into his body that it functioned as the equivalent of a heart attack or respiratory failure,” said Sean Walton, an attorney with the firm Walton + Brown who represents Thomas’ family, in a released statement.
The force used on Thomas by police contributed to his death, Walton said. According to police reports, it took at least three officers to take Thomas into custody. His injuries included abrasions and bruising, as well as a few broken ribs.
Thomas was on the ground and began kicking while officers were waiting for an ambulance. One officer took Thomas’ legs and folded them in a maximum restraint position to keep him from kicking. Another officer said, “I think the guy stopped breathing,” according to reports. Officers detected a faint pulse. Medics arrived within seconds and chest compressions followed shortly after. Thomas died nine days later in the hospital.
Thomas, a Columbus native, had three children and was a member of Mt. Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church. His family said he was a “gifted hip-hop lyricist” and a partner in 7th Sign Regime Record Label, according to the lawsuit.