Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
August 23, 2013
Life ended recently for two men on death row, one in Texas the other in Ohio. The deaths — very different — occurred less than a week apart and demonstrated the inequities of the death penalty.
On the last day of July, Texas executed Douglas Feldman, a former financial analyst and magna cum laude graduate of Southern Methodist University, who at age 40 gunned down two people.
A few days later, Billy Slagle hanged himself in his cell at the Chillicothe, Ohio Correctional Institution. He was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Aug. 7 for the murder of Mari Anne Pope in Cleveland, Ohio.
Pope was babysitting her neighbor’s children when Slagle broke into her home. He beat her and stabbed her 17 times with a pair of scissors.
Slagle was an 18-year-old high school drop-out when he committed the drug- and alcohol-fueled murder. “He was severely addicted to alcohol and drugs. He grew up in a very chaotic environment,” Allison Smith of Ohioans to Stop Executions told CityBeat of Cincinnati.
Slagle told the Parole Board he was deeply sorry for killing Pope and that he understood the effect that his crime had upon her family.
Feldman took a very different approach. He mimicked a judge as he awaited his lethal injection. He announced a mocking verdict, using the names of his victims and declaring he had found them guilty of crimes against him. He said, "I have sentenced them both to death. I personally carried out their executions."
Feldman was riding a motorcycle the night of Aug. 24, 1998, when Robert Everett allegedly cut him off in his 18-wheeler on a Dallas County freeway. Feldman took out his 9mm pistol, pulled up alongside Everett’s truck and shot him to death.
He testified at trial that he was still angry about 45 minutes later when he spotted Nicholas Valesquez, a gasoline tanker driver filling up at a Dallas service station, and shot him.
"It feels wonderful to cause their death and to watch their pain," Feldman said in a letter he wrote to a former girlfriend while awaiting trial.
The Ohio Parole Board did not recommend Slagle for clemency, and Gov. John Kasich denied Slagle’s request to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison. That is not unusual. Feldman's attorney filed a clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole that was turned down only days before his execution.
However, what was unusual about Slagle’s clemency petition was that prosecutors and defense attorneys both asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare Slagle’s life.
The new Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty wrote to the parole board that under his leadership the office changed its approach to capital punishment.
McGinty wrote that it was unlikely that his office would have sought a death sentence against Slagle if his case were tried today. He alluded to the fact that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is now a sentencing option, though it was not 25 years ago; Slagle was 18 when he committed the crime, the death penalty is no longer an option for those convicted under the age of 18; and Slagle had a history of adolescent alcohol and drug abuse.
Did these two very different men — one repentant, the other defiant; one a middle-aged killer, the other a teenager; one educated, the other a high school drop-out — deserve essentially the same fate?
In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty — the Court found that the imposition of the death penalty had become arbitrary. Today, with the death penalty reinstated, there are 143 inmates on death row in Ohio, 716 in Texas and 3,103 nationwide. With only 23 executions so far in 2013, can an argument be made that the death penalty is again arbitrary — this time upon those whom it is carried out?
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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