WARREN - Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said he hopes Monday's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal from local death row inmate Sean Carter will ''put an end to years of endless appeals at taxpayers' expense.''
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear Carter's case along with another death penalty case out of Arizona. Attorneys general in both states filed objections last year to the federal court-ordered delays for Carter and the Arizona inmate, who both claim serious mental health issues.
''I'm thankful for our Ohio Attorney General's Office getting this matter heard,'' Watkins said. ''Sean Carter's guilt is beyond all doubt.''
Carter, 33, currently on death row in Chillicothe Correctional Institution, was convicted on Sept. 14, 1997, of raping and murdering his adoptive grandmother.
The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled last May 26 that Carter's latest appeal should be sent back to the district court level and action postponed until the convicted murderer's competency is restored.
In late 2007, Carter was transferred from death row to Oakwood Correctional Facility because of a declining mental condition. Oakwood is a psychiatric prison. He has since been transferred back to Chillicothe, where most death row inmates are incarcerated.
Originally, former Federal Judge Peter Economus dismissed prosecutors' filing to have Carter returned to death row. Economus ruled that the action - called a habeas corpus filing - could be re-filed when competency was restored.
Ohio appealed that decision, which resulted in a split decision from the Sixth Circuit and leading to the filing with the U.S. Supreme Court.
In making his ruling, Economus wrote, ''(Carter) has been disoriented and unable to comprehend or respond to communications from others. His daily functioning, while previously restricted, also has deteriorated with extremely poor personal hygiene and lack of consistent sleep habits due to nightly, persistent screaming and laughing.''
Watkins and assistant attorney generals argue that the appellate decision goes against precedent, and appeals can remain ongoing while any inmate's competency is restored by professionals. They say the delay tactic is holding up other appeal issues.
The prosecutors maintain that competency can be litigated at trial and before a death row inmate is executed, but not during a habeas action.
Assistant attorney generals are prepared to argue that Carter's federal claim can go forward whether he is competent or not since his input and understanding of the proceeding isn't as crucial as it is at trial.
''This is another example of a brutal convicted killer tip-toeing through the tulips of injustice,'' Watkins said.
Carter blurted out in front of a jury that he was guilty at the start of his trial and who lunged at Judge W. Wyatt McKay in chambers during a sidebar conference.
McKay had Carter undergo psychological testing for competency and sanity before trial. Experts found him competent at that time, including experts hired by defense attorneys.
Carter was serving time for auto theft in Geauga County Jail before the murder of Veader Prince, 68, who had adopted Carter at age 9. She was found in her Southington home, beaten stabbed and raped. He also stole money when he fled from the house.
Carter, then 18, confessed to the crime shortly after being arrested by Pennsylvania police.
Carter was the seventh of 10 Trumbull County death row inmates sentenced to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated by Ohio. Three of the 10 have since been executed and a fourth death row inmate, Charles Lorraine, was scheduled to be executed Jan. 18 until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow that execution to go forward.
Lorraine's case is delayed by federal courts over concerns that the state continues to deviate too often from its written rules for lethal injection.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that federal courts must monitor every Ohio execution "because the State cannot be trusted to fulfill its otherwise lawful duty to execute inmates sentenced to death."
The court upheld an earlier decision by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost that chided Ohio for not following his warnings to adhere strictly to his policies. The ruling has delayed any execution since Lorraine.
Lorraine, 45, of Warren, has spent years unsuccessfully appealing his death sentence. Lorraine stabbed Raymond Montgomery, 77, five times with a butcher's knife and stabbed his bedridden wife, Doris Montgomery, 80, nine times before burglarizing their Trumbull County home in May 1986 after befriending the couple he did odd jobs for.