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Ohio executes transgender, one-time neo-Nazi who killed three in shooting spree that targeted blacks

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Legal Affairs Writer

LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- Ohio on Thursday executed a one-time neo-Nazi who shot to death two men and a teen more than a quarter century ago on the campus of Cleveland State University in a shooting spree that targeted blacks.

Frank Spisak, who chose to read Bible verses in German for a final statement, was pronounced dead at 10:34 a.m. following an injection of sodium thiopental at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

Spisak, 59, set the Ohio record for the longest time on death row before execution, at more than 27 years.

He was also the last Ohio inmate to die by sodium thiopental, the scarce drug the state is giving up in favor of a more readily available substitute.

Spisak blamed the 1982 shootings on his hatred of gays, blacks and Jews and on his mental illness related to confusion about his sexual identity.

Spisak identified himself as a woman and referred to himself in correspondence as Frances Spisak, a name his attorneys also used.

Spisak read the first seven Bible verses from chapter seven of the book of Revelations from a handwritten yellow paper held over his head by a prison official, speaking in a halting voice and sometimes having trouble reading the verses. "I can't read it, it's too blurry, I can't read it," he said at one point.

"Heil Herr," he appeared to say when he was finished. It was unclear what he meant, as the phrase is not used in German.

His struggles with the German drew snickers from witnesses, who included the daughter of one victim, two brothers of another and John Hardaway, a surviving shooting victim.

"Speak English, you fool," said Jeffrey Duke, the brother of slaying victim Brian Warford.

A few minutes earlier, Duke said injection was too easy and Spisak should have been hooked up to some kind of generator.

"That's what he needs. A person like that, going around killing people just because he doesn't like the color of their skin or their religion," Duke said. "I'm sorry, that's just how I feel."

Duke's brother, 17-year-old Brian Warford, was black, as was Spisak's first victim, Rev. Horace Rickerson.

After prison warden Donald Morgan signaled to start the sodium thiopental at about 10:22 a.m., Spisak's stomach rose and fell a few times, and after a minute he made several audible snoring sounds. He swallowed a few times and grew still about 10:25 a.m., his lips starting to turn blue about two minutes later.

"Oh God," Eric Barnes, another of Warford's brothers, said as Spisak died.

Barnes held photographs toward Spisak of Warford as a baby and a teen, and held a crucifix as Spisak read the Bible verses.

Spisak glanced at Warford's brothers as he was strapped to the gurney, then looked away.

Warford's mother, Cora Warford, said in a statement afterward that "justice has been served."

The family of Timothy Sheehan, a Cleveland State University maintenance official killed in August 1982, praised the justice system.

"Today, we chose to celebrate the life of husband and father, Timothy Sheehan, not the death of Frank Spisak," the statement said.

Other witnesses included Donald Nugent, a federal judge who was the original prosecutor in Spisak's trial.

Spisak's attorneys, who watched the execution, issued a statement saying Spisak committed his crimes because of severe mental illness, not out of hate.

"We have the ability to provide treatment and protect the public without killing mentally ill people who commit crimes," said Alan Rossman and Michael Benz.

Spisak spent the night resting, listening to music and watching TV news. He wrote a letter - it was unknown to whom - and slept a little. He showered at 5 a.m. and received communion in a Roman Catholic mass in his cell at 7 a.m. He declined breakfast but had a cup of coffee.

The U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday afternoon rejected his final appeal, in which Spisak asked for a delay so he could argue the death penalty's constitutionality based on recent comments by a state Supreme Court justice criticizing capital punishment in Ohio.

Last month, his attorneys asked the Ohio Parole Board to spare his life, saying Spisak suffers from a severe bipolar disorder that was not diagnosed until years after he was convicted.

But both the parole board and Gov. John Kasich, making his first decision on a condemned killer's request for mercy, rejected Spisak's plea.

Brian Warford was taking classes at Cleveland State as an alternative education student earning his high school degree when he was shot and killed in 1982.

Prior to his slaying, Rickerson, 57, was killed Feb. 1 in a campus bathroom where he rebuffed Spisak's sexual advances. The following Aug. 27, Sheehan, 50, a white man who worked in Cleveland State's maintenance department, was killed because Spisak believed Sheehan might have witnessed Rickerson's shooting.

Hardaway was shot seven times as he waited for a commuter train by a man he later identified as Spisak. He survived and had planned to witness the execution. On Aug. 9, 1982, Coletta Dartt, a white university employee, was shot at as she exited a bathroom stall. She pushed Spisak away and ran.

Spisak was caught in early September 1982 after he was found firing a gun out of his apartment window. He told investigators he went on "hunting parties" to shoot black people.

During his 1983 trial, Spisak grew a Hitler-style mustache, carried a copy of Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" and gave the Nazi salute to the jury.

Last weekend, Spisak met with his daughter. He was calm as he arrived at the death house at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville on Wednesday morning.

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