COLUMBUS, Ohio - Donald L. Palmer made no attempt to delay his Sept. 20 date with death by execution at the Southern Ohio Corrections Center in Lucasville.
Palmer has been on death row since Nov. 1, 1989, after being convicted of the May 8, 1989, murders of Steven R. Vargo, 41, and Charles W. Sponhaltz, 43, along Belmont County Road 2 near the Jefferson County line.
At Thursday's hearing, Parole Board Chairman Cynthia Mausser said Palmer is not requesting clemency and has declined to talk to board members. She said the board would file a recommendation on Aug. 24 with Gov. John Kasich, who has the ultimate authority to grant or deny clemency.
Photo by Fred Connors
Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter, left, urges that Donald Palmer be put to death on Sept. 20. Looking on is Brian Deckert of the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
Brian Deckert, case attorney for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said Palmer and co-defendant Edward Hill were out looking for another man when they came across Vargo.
Palmer "implied the shooting was accidental, but he had a single-action pistol that required the hammer to be pulled back manually before firing," he said. "He shot both victims twice in the head."
Deckert said Palmer has been caught with marijuana on death row, has threatened correction officers, has assaulted other inmates and has harassed other people through letter writing.
Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter told the board, "We remain absolutely convinced that he received a fair trial, competent legal representation and a fair and reliable sentencing determination."
In reference to Palmer's behavior, he said, "He was a human time bomb ready to explode and he did."
Berhalter also told board members Palmer recently claimed Hill, who is serving two life sentences for his part in the crime, is innocent.
"For the first time in 23 years, (Palmer) mentions that Edward Hill is completely innocent," he said. "If that is accurate, he has allowed an innocent man to sit in prison for 23 years."
Valerie Vargo Jolliffe, former wife of Vargo, spoke to the board through a letter.
"He was a loving man and always helped people," she said. "That led to this death. (Palmer) ruined my life and my children's lives for a lot of years. He gave no leniency and he deserves no leniency."
Frank Sponhaltz, the victim's brother, said the murder devastated his family and almost cost him his own life.
"I had to wait three years for a kidney transplant," he said. "I could have had it earlier if he was alive."
Tiffany Nameth, wife of Sponhaltz at the time, said she remembers the murder as if it occurred yesterday.
"I'll never forget having to tell my children that their daddy would not be coming home," she said.
The victim's daughter, Tiffany Sponhaltz Pugh, said, "He not only took my father's life, he broke my family apart. The trial caused a lot of pain and conflict in the family. He missed my softball games, graduation and wedding. He never got to see his three grandchildren. My father deserves justice. Please, give the justice we seek."