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Killer faces execution again

Richard Cooey is scheduled to die 22 years after murders

By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer

The summer of '86 was winding down through the Labor Day weekend.

An Akron councilman named Don Plusquellic was hitting the parade routes, making his first run for mayor. A toddler named LeBron was running toward his second birthday.

Gasoline was less than a buck, the Dow hovered around 1,900 and Jerry Lewis was raising a record $34 million at his annual telethon.

In Bath Township, University of Akron juniors Wendy Offredo and Dawn McCreery were changing from their waitressing garb after an evening serving diners at the Brown Derby.

Eight miles down Interstate 77, Army Pvt. Richard Wade Cooey was on leave, drinking and getting high with his friends.

The lives of the sorority sisters would tragically collide with Cooey and his friends just past the Copley Road exit of I-77.

Kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder ensued.

What happened that night to McCreery and Offredo — the randomness, the viciousness — shocked and offended Northeast Ohioans.

The state is poised to execute Cooey at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Cooey found himself in the same situation five years ago. He was within 12 hours of execution, his lawyers and McCreery's family gathered at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville, when Cooey won a stay.

''I'm sure there will be a lot of tears involved. Whether they're happy tears or not, I don't know,'' said Robert McCreery Jr., the victim's brother, who will witness the execution. ''I'm just looking forward to not speaking [Cooey's] name again.''

Fun weekend planned

Dawn McCreery and Offredo were on their way to the Portage Lakes to celebrate what was left of Labor Day weekend 1986.

As their black Pontiac Fiero sports car passed under the Stoner Street pedestrian bridge on I-77, a 35-pound concrete slab smashed through the windshield.

On the walkway looking down was Cooey, then 19. With him was a Buchtel High senior he barely knew named Clint Dickens, and a friend named Kenneth Horonetz.

It was Dickens, 17, who tossed the slab at the urging of his companions. The three teens saw the Fiero pull over and they went to help.

After Offredo's mother was reached by phone, the teens concocted a plan to rob the women.

''As I spoke to Wendy, I asked to speak to one of the boys. Richard Cooey got on the phone,'' Offredo's mother, Geri Muck,recalled in a 2003 interview.

''I thanked him for helping the girls, and I told him that I would meet them back on the highway at her car.

''He never responded. I said again, 'You will bring her back to her car,' and in the most unemotional voice I have ever heard, he said 'Yes.'

''I said to my husband, 'Get dressed, quickly. Something's not right. I talked to one of the boys, and his voice was so cold.' ''

National notoriety

Horonetz, 18, backed out of the plan, but Cooey and Dickens forged ahead.

The robbery turned into a kidnapping, which turned into rape, which ended in strangling and bludgeoning. An X was carved into each woman's abdomen. It all lasted more than three hours.

The women's bodies were found the next day by hikers in a field in Norton. The news went national.

''It was shocking,'' said Tammy Brown, an Alpha Delta Pi sorority sister of the women in 1986. ''For this to happen to two girls so young was awful. It's just unbelievable.''

Cooey's bragging got him arrested; he identified Dickens as his accomplice.

Dickens was tried as an adult, but was not eligible for the death penalty. He pleaded no contest and is serving a life sentence.

Cooey was given a death sentence, a move that triggered years of appeals and a string of public defenders.

Victims' stories

Dawn Marie McCreery was a North Ridgeville High School graduate who moved to Akron to study fashion and marketing at UA. Wendy Jo Offredo was a Firestone High School graduate.

Cooey was, according to his attorneys, the product of an abusive home. Chubby, freckle-faced and red-haired, he used drugs and alcohol before he entered Stow High School. His parents divorced when he was about 11 and he found comfort with his grandmother, Audrey Cooey, in Akron.

Dickens was the classic underachiever, a bright kid whose grades never matched his brains.

Cooey has claimed from prison that he does not deserve to die. He maintains it was Dickens who delivered the fatal blows to the women.

Dickens, despite no risk of an increased sentence, has refused to assist Cooey in his appeals by accepting responsibility.

Cooey's pleas to have a court reopen his case have repeatedly been denied. Most recently, his appeals have focused on the three-drug injection method Ohio uses to execute condemned inmates. Cooey contends his obesity does not allow adequate access to his veins.

One drug puts the inmate to sleep, the second paralyzes and the third stops the heart. Death penalty opponents contend the procedure causes unknown pain because of the paralysis involved.

Five losses

In the last several weeks, Cooey has lost appeals in five courts.

In 2003, a federal judge granted his stay, determining that Cooey had been without legal representation in the weeks leading up to his execution date. Earlier that year, a federal appeals court removed two of his attorneys, alleging overbilling and the filing of frivolous claims.

Dana Cole, a UA law professor and one of several attorneys now working on Cooey's case, said the appeal process is winding down. Cooey's attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

Through a five-year relationship, Cole said, he believes Cooey has changed and is not the monster prosecutors have made him out to be. He said he and Cooey have become friends.

''I certainly did not go into this with the idea of befriending Rick,'' he said. ''I was surprised by the man I discovered.''

At least two members of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority plan to be in Lucasville for the execution. Brown and sorority sister Melissa Wenk Wilkinson made a pact 22 years ago to be outside the prison when Cooey is executed.

Brown said the pledge was made to honor McCreery and Offredo. Now adults with children, the women also want to pay tribute to the parents of Offredo and McCreery.

''It started as a promise to keep their memories alive,'' Brown said. ''Now, it's more to show their mothers that we haven't forgotten their daughters.

''My pain shifted from what happened to a friend of mine to what tremendous pain their mothers must feel all the time.''

 


Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or ptrexler@thebeaconjournal.com.

 

The summer of '86 was winding down through the Labor Day weekend.

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