COLUMBUS - Ohio's first execution in six months can proceed - that of a Portage County man - a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying the state had narrowly demonstrated it was serious about following its own lethal injection procedures.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost ends an unofficial moratorium dating to November, when members of the Ohio execution team deviated from the official injection procedures when putting a Cleveland man to death.
The moratorium also included the delayed execution of Charles Lorraine of Warren, who was originally scheduled to die of lethal injection Jan. 18.
Instead of the execution, Frost came down with the decision and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift a stay after Ohio's Attorney General's Office last-minute emergency request to allow Lorraine's execution.
The changes in the protocol were minor, failing to properly check a box on a medical form, for example, but they angered Frost, who had previously criticized the state for failing to follow its rules.
The judge's decision followed a seven-day trial over the state's lethal injection process last month.
The ruling paves the way for the April 18 execution of Portage County death row inmate Mark Wiles, who stabbed a 15-year-old boy to death during a farmhouse burglary.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins on Wednesday applauded Frost's ruling and permitting Wiles' execution to go forward.
''It gives finality for the victims,'' Watkins said Wednesday.
Watkins also said he is hopeful that the stay in Lorraine's execution will now be lifted. He said the Attorney General's Office is confident that even if Wiles' case is appealed, the state will be successful in any appeal.
A new execution date will have to be sought in Lorraine's case and Watkins said at the moment, it's unclear whether Lorraine's execution would be set after the final scheduled execution date Jan. 16, 2014, or whether a date would be set in any open month before that time.
Lorraine, 45, was convicted of stabbing Raymond Montgomery, 77, five times with a butcher's knife and then stabbing his wife, Doris, 80, nine times before burglarizing their Warren home in 1986.
Frost said Wednesday he is "admittedly skeptical" about Ohio's ability to carry the execution out properly, but said he's ruling in favor of the state, while warning officials to get it right.
"A past pattern of consistent inconsistency does not invariably mean that Ohio can never get its act together," Frost wrote. "The factual landscape can always change, both for the better and for the worse. Wiles has failed to preclude the conclusion that the former scenario applies here."
Wiles' attorney, federal public defender Allen Bohnert, said he couldn't immediately comment or say whether he would appeal.
The way Ohio puts inmates to death has been under scrutiny since 2009, when executioners tried unsuccessfully for nearly two hours to insert a needle into the veins of Romell Broom, sentenced to die for raping and killing a 14-year-old Cleveland girl. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, eventually called the execution off, and Broom remains on death row, arguing in court filings that Ohio shouldn't be allowed a second try at executing him.
Frost has never found Ohio's execution process unconstitutional, meaning the delays have been based on technical questions about lethal injection.
Wiles, 49, had been out of prison on a previous aggravated robbery for less than a year on Aug. 7, 1985, when he killed 15-year-old Mark Klima, a straight-A student who wanted to be a doctor, in a Portage County farmhouse, according to Ohio Parole Board records.
Mark Klima, the son of Wiles' employers, was found by two girls who were staying at the farm, according to the parole board. The knife in his back had been used to cut a birthday cake the day before.
A report by the parole board also said Wiles had suffered a head injury in a bar 12 days before the slaying, and a doctor testified that tests indicate he may have an injury to part of the brain that regulates impulse control. Another doctor agreed that Wiles has a brain injury and said he also has a substance abuse problem and personality disorder.
The parole board ruled unanimously March 23 against mercy for Wiles, saying he exploited the family's kindness and his remorse didn't outweigh the brutality of the crime.
Wiles' defense team had argued he should be spared because he confessed to the crime, has shown extreme remorse and regret and has a good prison record.
Gov. John Kasich has the final say on mercy for Wiles.