Lawyers say condemned killer early victim of opioid epidemic

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has pushed several initiatives to slow painkiller prescribing by doctors

Raymond Tibbetts
Raymond Tibbetts

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. John Kasich should consider his fight against the state’s deadly opioid epidemic when deciding whether to spare a condemned killer whose life spiraled out of control after becoming addicted to painkillers, say attorneys trying to stop the killer’s execution less than three weeks from now.

Death row inmate Raymond Tibbetts was doing fine until he was inappropriately prescribed painkillers for a work injury in the mid-1990s, according to documents provided Kasich by federal public defender Erin Barnhart.

“We know now just how devastating and deadly opioid addiction can be, and our government officials are rightly working to combat this epidemic on several fronts,” Barnhart wrote Kasich last year.

Tibbetts deserves mercy because of “his addiction and unanswered requests for help with his struggle,” Barnhart wrote.

The Ohio Parole Board voted 11-1 last year against clemency for Tibbetts. Kasich, who has the final say, is expected to announce his decision soon.

Drug overdoses killed a record 4,050 Ohioans in 2016. Kasich has pushed several initiatives to slow painkiller prescribing by doctors.

Tibbetts, 60, was sentenced to die for stabbing Fred Hicks to death at Hicks’ Cincinnati home in 1997. Tibbetts also received life imprisonment for fatally beating and stabbing his wife, 42-year-old Judith Crawford, during an argument that same day over Tibbetts’ crack cocaine habit.

The 67-year-old Hicks had hired Crawford as a caretaker and allowed the couple to stay with him.

Tibbetts is not deserving of clemency in part because Hicks’ killing was “particularly senseless and gratuitous,” the parole board said in its decision last year.

One board member believed that life without parole was warranted because Tibbetts’ circumstances from the day he was born presented a “recipe for a disaster,” according to the report. The board member also noted that Tibbetts’ requests for help with mental health and substance abuse issues were routinely met with inadequate responses from social service agencies and other professionals.

Tibbetts’ lawyers have long argued his traumatic and chaotic childhood played a role in his criminal behavior.

In the new arguments presented to the governor, psychologists who examined Tibbetts say the opioid prescriptions he received in the 1990s furthered his problems.

“Tibbetts’ is a sad case of someone who was strongly biologically predisposed to drug and alcohol problems,” Bob Stinson, a Columbus psychologist and chemical dependency counselor, told Kasich in an Aug. 13 letter. “His significant trauma history almost guaranteed problems would materialize in his own life.”

Hamilton County prosecutors have argued that Tibbetts’ background doesn’t outweigh his crimes. That included stabbing Crawford after he’d already beaten her to death, then repeatedly stabbing Hicks, a “sick, defenseless, hearing-impaired man in whose home Tibbetts lived,” they told the parole board.

“In nearly every case this board reviews, inmates assert that their poor childhoods, drugs, or some other reason mitigate their actions,” Ron Springman, an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, told the board in a 2017 filing. “The mitigation in this case does not overcome the brutality of these murders.”

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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