The 41st Execution of 2010
Ohio has executed a man who bludgeoned his live-in girlfriend to death, threw her body in a river and stole her ATM card to buy crack cocaine, according to the Associated Press.
Michael Benge's lethal injection at 10:34 a.m. Wednesday broke the state's record of the most executions in a year since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. He's the eighth person Ohio has put to death since January. The previous high of seven came in 2004.
Ohio's highest number of executions came in 1949, when 15 men died by electric chair.
The 49-year-old Benge was executed for the 1993 murder of Judith Gabbard. He beat her to death along the Miami River in Hamilton, their hometown in southwest Ohio.
Benge later told authorities he and Gabbard, who were white, had been attacked by two black men.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported, Michael Benge glanced at members of his victim’s family watching from a windowed room, then at his attorney and a prison chaplain, the two witnesses he chose for his execution Wednesday at the Death House at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.
Excerpts from the Enquirer article are below:
Strapped to the lethal injection table, Benge spoke with a clear voice into a microphone to begin his final statement at 10:13 a.m.
He first praised God, then acknowledged the pain he has caused the family of his victim.
“I can’t apologize enough. I hope my death gives you closure,” he said. “Praise God, and thanks.”
Shortly after, in an adjoining room, Benge’s unseen executioner released the five grams of thiopental sodium into his veins that would kill him.
Benge murdered his girlfriend, Judith Gabbard, 38, on the shore of the Great Miami River in Hamilton on Feb. 1, 1993, when he bludgeoned her to death with a tire iron, dumped her body into the river and stole her ATM card to buy crack cocaine and snacks.
At his clemency interview in August, Benge told Parole Board members that he accepted full responsibility for his actions. He said he had brought guilt and shame upon himself, and stated that his family and Gabbard’s family deserved to know what happened that night.
The two spent the evening at Riverview Bar, Benge said. At some point in the evening, Gabbard left her jacket unattended and Benge took her ATM card.
They left the bar after midnight and argued over Benge’s drug use. They stopped at the river to discuss the issue. When Gabbard stopped the car, she reached into her coat pocket for cigarettes and discovered her ATM card was missing. She demanded it back, Benge refused, and she slapped him.
He became enraged and slapped Gabbard, then pushed her when she exited the car, causing her to fall to her knees. He followed her out of the driver’s side and beat her with a tire iron, striking her head seven to 10 times, and weighted her body down in the river with a rock. He later used the ATM card to make two withdrawals of $200.
When police apprehended Benge a day after the murder, he was in possession of Gabbard’s ATM card, which he dropped to the ground. He initially told police that two black men robbed the couple and beat Gabbard to death as he swam across the river. Then, he admitted to police that he killed Gabbard, but said he did so after she tried to run him over with her car. Benge used that version when he testified in his own defense at his trial.
For his customary special meal on Tuesday, Benge requested a large chef salad with chopped ham, turkey and bacon bits; a slab of barbecue baby back ribs; two cans of Planters salted cashews; and two bottles of sweetened iced tea.
Benge woke Wednesday at 4:13 a.m. to use the restroom and went back to sleep before getting up at 5:30 a.m., officials said. For breakfast, he selected French toast with syrup and butter, and two milks.
He spent his early waking hours with his mother Juanita Babb, sister Barbara Reid, sister Vicky Rauf, son Michael Benge, daughter Tabitha Saunders and uncle William Chandler. The visits were described as very emotional. Babb took Benge’s personal possessions, except for his Bible, which he gave to his son. Benge declined a sedative.
At 9:45 a.m., Warden Donald R. Morgan read the death warrant to Benge.
Monitors in the witness viewing room flicked on at 10:02 a.m. Benge was splayed on a gurney as prison workers inserted shunts in his arms, which were taped to boards.
Benge took the 17 steps into the death chamber and climbed onto the injection table at 10:13 a.m.
The victim’s witnesses, Gabbard’s brother Frank Nistler, daughter Candy Gabbard and son Steve Gabbard watched impassively.
At the conclusion of his final statement, Benge spoke quietly with Morgan and a prison guard until his eyes closed slowly at 10:17 a.m. His hands relaxed. He gulped several times and his chest heaved for a short period before his body ceased moving at 10:18 a.m.
A worker checked Benge’s pulse with a stethoscope at 10:25 a.m. and heard something that compelled prison officials to take a second reading five minutes later.
The curtain closed at 10:33 a.m., indicating that death had occurred. A coroner behind the curtain confirmed that Benge was dead.
When the curtain reopened, Morgan was facing the gallery. “Time of death, 10:34 a.m.,” he said.
While imprisoned at Mansfield Correctional Institution, Benge worked as a barber, material handler and porter. After his transfer to the Ohio State Penitentiary, his work assignments included library aide and porter. He earned a GED in 2001 and participated in community service projects while incarcerated, and actively participated in religious services.
He was disciplined four times during his 17 years in the prison system. He was involved in a prisoner uprising in 1997 at Mansfield, where officials determined he set up a corrections officer to be overpowered by other inmates in the death row unit. The other offenses involved the improper use of property, disobedience and possession of contraband.
Benge, born Aug. 7, 1961, said he starting drinking alcohol at age 11, smoked marijuana at 13 and began using Quaaludes shortly after that. He began using cocaine in 1989, and crack cocaine a few months prior to murdering Gabbard.
His public defenders said Benge suffered from brain impairment due to his extensive drug use at an early age and physical abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of stepfathers. His sisters confirmed that he and they were abused, prison records show. A psychologist said Benge had a cognitive disorder that made it difficult for him to control his behavior when confronted with stress.
Kathy Johnson, Gabbard’s sister, spoke after Benge was dead and said her family has been waiting for the execution for 17 years.
She thanked all who helped her family, in particular Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper, who as an assistant county prosecutor tried Benge’s case.
Johnson didn’t believe Benge was sorry.
“I don’t really feel like Mike Benge was ever remorseful,” Johnson said. “I don’t think anything he ever said was true, and I truly do not believe he was sorry for what he did.”
Of the execution, she said, “It makes us feel that there was justice for my sister, and that’s what this was all about."
“It has just been too long, and now my sister can rest in peace.”
Benge is the 41st person executed in Ohio since 1999 and 1,229th executed nationwide since 1976.
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