Brett Hartmann has never been so close to death.
Three years ago, the condemned killer from Akron came within a week of being executed by the state of Ohio. Just last year, he came within three weeks of being executed.
While prosecutors continue to block his efforts for additional DNA testing, only the U.S. Supreme Court stands between Hartmann and his execution Tuesday in Lucasville. Hartmann contends he is innocent of the brutal slaying of Highland Square resident Winda Snipes in 1997 and his attorneys plan to continue his fight for testing of evidence until the final hours.
Prosecutors have long argued that Hartmann, 38, has already been granted his wish with additional DNA testing that only confirmed the “clear and convincing evidence of his guilt.” They say the 11th-hour appeals by Hartmann are only designed to delay his death.
Hartmann’s attorneys, Michael Benza and David Stebbins, say the courts have failed to take the testing further and examine key pieces of evidence.
Prosecutors originally sent many of the items to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the state’s forensic crime lab, but the evidence has either never been tested or never revealed, Benza said.
The items include bloody fingerprint on an electric clock in which the cord was cut and used to kill Snipes. There is also a bloody fingerprint on a chair.
The defense wants the untested prints compared to Hartmann as well as Snipes’ ex-boyfriend. They’ve been seeking the tests for years, but the state will not cooperate.
“If Brett’s not a match to the bloody fingerprints, then that’s pretty good evidence that someone other than Brett committed this crime,” Benza said.
Some fingerprints that were apparently tested, he said, were never linked to Hartmann. Other items were sent for testing. What those items were, however, were never disclosed to defense attorneys, he said.
“That’s what I find really most disturbing,” Benza said. “The prosecutors wanted it tested at trial, yet we get no answers from anybody on why there were not tested.”
Details of slaying
Snipes, 46, was found dead in her South Highland Avenue apartment. Her body was bound at the ankles, her torso stabbed more than 130 times, her neck slashed and her hands severed and missing.
Hartmann, who had a casual sexual relationship with Snipes, contends he had been with her about 14 hours earlier during a sexual encounter, but did not kill her.
It was Hartmann, then 23, who reported finding Snipes’ body. He told police he went to her apartment, discovered her mutilated body and panicked, fearing police would pin the murder on him. He cleaned up evidence of his previous visit — cigarette butts, beer cans and his T-shirt, which he said was left behind in his haste to leave Snipes after their sexual encounter.
About two hours after finding the body, Hartmann said, he made a series of 911 calls in an attempt to report Snipes’ death anonymously. He was later arrested when his bloody shirt and a watch belonging to Snipes were found in his bedroom. His semen was also found in Snipes’ body.
Years later, a federal judge ordered additional DNA testing from Snipes’ body. The DNA was linked to Hartmann. But defense attorneys counter that Hartmann had already acknowledged having sex with Snipes before her death. They want specific evidence tested before the execution goes forward.
The clock has been an intriguing untested item since the slaying in September 1997. It was found inside Snipes’ apartment stopped at 4:40. The cord was cut and used to strangle Snipes, who had been seen alive at 4:30 p.m.
Defense attorneys believe the clock stopped around the time of the murder. Phone records suggest Hartmann was at his home at 4:50 p.m.
In past appeals, defense attorneys say a former jail inmate lied at Hartmann’s original trial and the ex-con’s attorney, Tom Adgate, would confirm it — if he was granted immunity from attorney-client privacy violations.
They also allege that Snipes had an abusive boyfriend with a violent history who was never fully investigated by Akron police, lacked an alibi and likely saw Hartmann and Snipes together just before the killing.
Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh declined to comment Friday through a spokeswoman, preferring to wait until after Tuesday’s scheduled execution. In 2009, a federal appellate court granted a stay a week before Hartmann was to die. In 2011, an unofficial moratorium by Gov. John Kasich sparred Hartmann for another year.
Walsh and state attorneys have consistently maintained Hartmann’s guilt and say he has already had his chance at DNA testing.
The Supreme Court, Benza said, has granted three stays of execution in the past month to grant evidence testing to condemned inmates.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.