By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer
Death row inmate Ronald Ray Phillips of Akron was denied clemency Thursday in a unanimous decision by the Ohio Parole Board in a case described as “the worst of the worst capital crimes.”
Phillips, 40, is scheduled to die Nov. 14 for raping and killing 3-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, the daughter of his late girlfriend, 20 years ago.
After being subjected to repeated physical abuse by Phillips — and the mother doing nothing to stop it, prosecutors said — Sheila Marie died of internal injuries at Akron Children’s Hospital on Jan. 18, 1993.
Summit County Assistant Prosecutor Brad Gessner went to Columbus last week to argue against Phillips’ bid for clemency. His lawyers claimed mercy was in order because he was sexually, physically and verbally abused by his father and other relatives during childhood.
“When you look at the case of Sheila Marie Evans, and the vicious, brutal beating she took, it would be hard for anyone to say that didn’t deserve a death penalty,” Gessner said in a Beacon Journal interview.
Former Summit County Coroner William Cox testified that the autopsy revealed more than 130 bruises on the child’s body.
The review of Phillips’ case, with 11 members of the parole board participating, was 11-0 against clemency on the grounds that what he did was “clearly among the worst of the worst capital crimes,” the report stated.
By the tone of the 44-page review, parole board members were shaken by the evidence and testimony, saying in the first paragraph of their conclusions: “Words cannot convey the barbarity of the crime. It is simply unconscionable.”
Near the end of the report, which will be submitted to Gov. John Kasich’s office for the final decision on clemency, one of Sheila Marie’s family members wrote this passage: “We didn’t get to see her off to kindergarten, get her driver’s license, graduate high school, get married and have a family of her own.
“Instead, we have to live with the memories of her leaving this world in fear and in pain, and the image of her tiny body in a casket is forever etched in our minds.”
If Phillips’ execution does proceed, he would be the first person in the state to die under a revised Ohio policy using one drug — pentobarbital, a sedative — as the primary method.
Pentobarbital is in short supply from manufacturers, however.
Further complicating the matter, state prison officials reported that their last dosage was used in the execution of Harry Mitts Jr., of Cuyahoga County, on Sept. 25. Obtaining additional supplies from specialized pharmacies also has proven to be a problem, according to executives at the Ohio Pharmacists Association, because the association’s code of ethics, much like that of doctors, promises to do no harm to patients.
If pentobarbital is not available, state policy allows for the use of two drugs — midazolam, a sedative; and hydromorphone, a painkiller — to be injected intravenously. But those drugs previously were to be used only for direct injection into muscle.
Ohio’s revised policy was linked to a federal lawsuit about the state’s lethal-injection procedures, making more legal challenges a strong possibility.
The warden at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, which houses death row, is expected to determine by Nov. 1 whether the state has obtained a usable supply of pentobarbital from a pharmacy.
Phillips’ late girlfriend, Fae Amanda Evans, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering for her role in the crime. She died of cancer in July 2008 at the state prison hospital in Columbus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.