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COLUMBUS — The cost of executing Calvin C. Neyland, Jr. for two 2007 murders at a Perrysburg trucking company represents an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and state resources, his attorney argued today in urging the Ohio Supreme Court to set aside his death sentence.
“So your argument is that, because it’s so expensive, the alternative should be imposed of life without parole?” asked Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
“Exactly,’’ said Toledo attorney Spiros P. Cocoves.
The argument didn’t seem to resonate with the justices.
“There’s certain actions by the government that are appropriate for the government expenses,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “For example, the penal system itself is a very expensive proposition, but that’s one of the functions of government. There’s not a private entity to do that. ...
“So I don’t understand how the expense issue becomes something that we need to take into consideration,” she said. “Isn’t that a policy decision for the legislature?”
His attorney did not dispute that Neyland, 49, fatally shot his former boss, Douglas Smith, 44, of Sylvania Township, and a company employee, Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa., during a meeting at the trucking company on Aug. 8, 2007. Neyland initially was a valued truck driver, but his behavior had become increasingly erratic to the point that customers were complaining.
The meeting was called to fire him. Mr. Smith had worried aloud about the meeting and had asked Mr. Lazar, Liberty’s corporate safety director, to be present. Witnesses from a nearby business saw Neyland leave Liberty after the gunshots.
Mr. Lazar died from multiple gunshot wounds while Mr. Smith was killed by a single gunshot to the head at close range. Neyland is Wood County’s sole death row inmate.
The justices seemed far more interested in the issue of whether Neyland suffered from a mental illness.
“There are facts in this defendant’s behavior leading up to the murders in question that, it would seem to me, would merit coming to our attention,” Justice Paul Pfeifer said.
Several professionals at trial diagnosed Neyland as suffering from paranoid personality disorder, a condition falling short of mental illness. But one doctor did make a diagnosis of mental illness. There was also reference to a 1999 diagnosis of mental illness when Neyland was in the court system on bad check charges.
Neyland’s paranoia was only exacerbated during the trial by the unwarranted decision to put leg restraints on him, likely making him that much less cooperative with his defense.
He said Neyland’s illness festered over time.
“It wasn’t until these tragic homicides that it finally came to somebody’s attention to get him treatment,” he said.
But Chief Assistant County Prosecutor Gwen Howe-Gebers argued that Neyland functioned reasonably in his daily life — holding down a job and paying his bills.
“It was a more a mental condition than a mental illness,” she said.
But Justice William M. O’Neill pointed to the 1999 diagnosis.
“I’m troubled when we’re asked to ignore the record of mental illness and accept only the record of a personality disorder,” he said. “Clearly, he has a personality disorder because he killed two people.”
The court did not immediately rule.