By Julie Carr Smyth
Beacon Journal staff, wire reports
COLUMBUS: Gov. John Kasich delayed a condemned child killer’s execution Wednesday to study the feasibility of accommodating the Akron man’s request to donate his organs.
Kasich’s decision came less than 24 hours before Ronald Phillips was scheduled to die for the rape and death of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter, Sheila Marie Evans, in Akron in 1993. His lethal injection today was to be the first time a new, two-drug combination was tried in the United States.
In stopping the execution, Kasich said he wanted to allow time to study the request Phillips, 40, made Monday to see if it could help someone else. The execution was rescheduled for July 2.
Kasich said that while Phillips’ crime was heinous, his willingness to donate organs and tissue could save another life and the state should try to accommodate a donation.
“I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen,” Kasich said in a statement.
Some 3,500 people in Ohio and more than 120,000 nationally are awaiting organ donations, said Marilyn Pongonis, a spokeswoman for the Lifeline of Ohio organ donation program.
“Those people who step up to be living donors are living heroes because they really can save lives,” she said.
Ohio’s prison medical policy accommodates organ donations, but prison officials said in rejecting Phillips’ request Tuesday that he had not made it soon enough for officials to work out the logistics and security concerns.
The last time an Ohio prisoner was able to donate an organ to a family member was 1995. That year, Delaware death row inmate Steven Shelton was allowed a request to donate a kidney to his mother while in prison, though he was not facing imminent execution. Following successful appeals, his death sentence was reversed and he was resentenced to prison time in 2011.
Kasich said if Phillips is found to be a viable donor to his mother, who has kidney disease and is on dialysis, or to others awaiting live transplants of nonvital organs, the stay would allow time for those procedures to be performed and for Phillips to be returned to death row.
It appears that Phillips’ offer to donate his heart to his sister, who suffers a heart ailment, would not be possible under the governor’s directive because the heart is a vital organ.
Pongonis said a heart cannot be donated after death. The person must still be alive when the organ is donated.
“It just wouldn’t be possible,” she said. “Organ donation occurs following brain death and the organs are maintained on a ventilator. When a prisoner is executed, the oxygen stops flowing, the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing.”
Phillips made his unprecedented request after the governor denied him mercy and Phillips had exhausted his other legal options. His attorney said it wasn’t a delay tactic but an attempt to do good.
Kasich’s office would not comment on whether the wishes of the Sheila Marie Evans family, which expressed to the Parole Board in October that Phillips’ execution is long overdue, were taken into consideration.
One letter to the Parole Board questions why Phillips is still alive.
“I should not be writing this letter as a 31-year-old woman,” Teresa Marie Evans, Sheila Marie’s cousin, wrote. “I should not be wondering why justice for Sheila is so long overdue. … His execution should have taken place 20 years ago. It has been long enough.”
Another family member wrote of the execution that, “This day can’t come fast enough.”
Phillips had been moved to Ohio’s death house in Lucasville on Wednesday, but prison department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said he was being returned to death row in Chillicothe immediately after Kasich’s stay was issued to await the assessment’s findings.
Smith said Phillips was “calm and cooperative” after arriving in Lucasville.