COLUMBUS, Ohio - Gov. John Kasich will have the final say on whether convicted murderer Donald "Duke" Palmer is executed Sept. 20 at the Southern Ohio Corrections Center in Lucasville.
The decision on Palmer's execution went to Kasich Friday when the eight-member Ohio Parole Board unanimously recommended that clemency for Palmer be denied. Palmer, 47, 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.
The board's recommendation to the governor follows an Aug. 16 mandated clemency hearing in Columbus. At the hearing, board Chairwoman Cynthia Mausser said Palmer had declined to be interviewed by the board and wished not to present any arguments requesting clemency. Assistant Federal Public Defender David Stebbins affirmed Palmer's wishes.
Donald “Duke” Palmer
Belmont County Prosecutor Chris Berhalter and Assistant Ohio Attorney General Brian Deckert presented written and oral arguments opposing clemency; family members of both victims also urged the board to not recommend clemency. Also at the hearing, Berhalter said Palmer had filed a sworn declaration with the parole board in which he claimed that co-defendant Edward Hill had no part in the murders.
In citing reasons for its decision, a board said, "The board received no information that would mitigate the offense and sentence imposed by the trial court.
There is no doubt of Palmer's guilt, and all reviewing courts have determined that Palmer received a fair trail. There is no indication of any manifest injustice, supporting the fact that the sentence is fundamentally fair. Palmer's institutional conduct has been far from exemplary."
The board's report includes the following summary of Palmer's disciplinary problems since being incarcerated Nov. 1, 1989:
- May 5, 2011 - Palmer received 15 days in disciplinary control for punching another inmate in the eye.
- March 4, 2002 - He received 15 days in disciplinary control after a fight with another inmate in the recreation cage. Palmer had to be taken to an outside hospital to get stitches. The other inmate was not injured.
- June 1, 1996 - He received 15 days in disciplinary control after testing positive for marijuana.
- Feb. 29, 1996 - Palmer was cited for threatening bodily harm to another after a corrections officer heard him say, "... shall we kill a couple of" corrections officers?
According to the report, Palmer has been written up for other violations, including disobedience of a direct order, malicious destruction, alteration or misuse of property, possession or manufacture of a weapon or contraband, possession of minor contraband items and threats with or without a weapon or use of force.
The report notes on Jan. 17, 1997, officials at the Mansfield Correctional facility received a communication from a female concerning harassing letters that Palmer had been sending her and her ex-boyfriend.
Palmer was ordered to have no contact with either person.