Frank Spisak is scheduled to die in Ohio's death chamber on Thursday, February 17, 2011. This past week, Governor John Kasich refused to grant clemency to Spisak and last summer the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence.
Spisak killed three people and and tired to kill two others at Cleveland State University in 1982. At the time he had grown a mustache like Adolf Hitler's, admitted to killing three people and wounding two, expressed remorse only about a victim who "wasn't Jewish like I thought he was," and said he would kill again, according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Smith v. Spisak, 558 U.S. ___ (2010)was very vivid in portraying Spisak at the time of trial. During the guilt phase of the trial, in an apparent attempt to show Spisak was not guilty by reason of insanity, defense counsel called Spisak to the stand. Spisak, 130He admitted he killed three individuals and attempted to kill two others “because he was a follower of Adolf Hitler, who was Spisak's ‘spiritual leader’ in a ‘war’ for ‘survival’ of ‘the Aryan people.’” “[H]e had hoped to ‘create terror’ at Cleveland State University, because it was ‘one of the prime targets' where the ‘Jews and the system are brainwashing the youth.’” He then described each killing: [I]n February 1982 he had shot Rickerson, who was black, because Rickerson had made a sexual advance on Spisak in a university bathroom. He expressed satisfaction at having “eliminated that particular threat ... to me and to the white race.” In June he saw a stranger, John Hardaway, on a train platform and shot him seven times because he had been looking for a black person to kill as “blood atonement” for a recent crime against two white women. He added that he felt “good” after shooting Hardaway because he had “accomplished something,” but later felt “[k]ind of bad” when he learned that Hardaway had survived.
In August 1982, Spisak shot at Coletta Dartt because ... he heard her “making some derisive remarks about us,” meaning the Nazi Party. Later that August, he shot and killed Timothy Sheehan because he “thought he was one of those Jewish professors ... that liked to hang around in the men's room and seduce and pervert and subvert the young people that go there.” Spisak added that he was “sorry about that” murder because he later learned Sheehan “wasn't Jewish like I thought he was.” And three days later, while on a “search and destroy mission,” he shot and killed Brian Warford, a young black man who “looked like he was almost asleep” in a bus shelter, to fulfill his “duty” to “inflict the maximum amount of casualties on the enemies.”
Spisak also testified that he would continue to commit similar crimes if he had the chance. He said ... he “didn't want to get caught [after Warford's murder] because I wanted to be able to do it again and again and again and again.” In a letter written to a friend, he called the murders of Rickerson and Warford “the finest thing I ever did in my whole life” and expressed a wish that he “had a human submachine gun right now so I could exterminate” black men “and watch them scream and twitch in agony.” And he testified that, if he still had his guns, he would escape from jail, “go out and continue the war I started,” and “continue to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the enemies as I am able to do.”
"Ladies and gentlemen, when you turn and look at Frank Spisak, don't look for good deeds, because he has done none. Don't look for good thoughts, because he has none. He is sick, he is twisted. He is demented, and he is never going to be any different." That was part of the closing argument presetned by Spisak's attorney Tom Shaughnessy.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Shaughnessy was ineffective and granted Spisak a new trial. The Supreme Court agreed that Shaughnessy's strategy was ineffective, the Court said "palpably deficient," but basically concluded that no one could have saved Spisak from himself.
According to the Washington Post, Justice John Paul Stevens, who agreed with the outcome of the case, nevertheless wrote separately to emphasize the "catastrophe of counsel's failed strategy," and said it was difficult to demonstrate how egregious it was "without reproducing it in its entirety."
Stevens added: "Indeed, the argument was so outrageous that it would have rightly subjected a prosecutor to charges of misconduct."
Even so, Stevens said, he had to agree with the rest of the court: "Even the most skillful of closing arguments -- even one befitting Clarence Darrow -- would not have created a reasonable probability of a different outcome in this case."
The Supreme Court concluded that, "Spisak's counsel was palpably deficient. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court easily moved to a prejudice analysis, concluding the stark facts of the murders, Spisak's delight in them and his firm purpose to commit more, all fresh in the jury's mind, would unlikely be ameliorated by a more robust defense."
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