Ohio Gov. John Kasich granted a last-minute reprieve to a death row inmate scheduled for execution Wednesday so officials could evaluate his mental competency.
Shortly after the state Supreme Court turned down a request to postpone Abdul Awkal's execution for the 1992 shooting death of his wife and brother-in-law, Kasich stepped in Tuesday evening to temporarily spare his life. "I almost fell to the ground," said Awkal's attorney David Singleton. "We always thought we might have a shot. He came through and gave us hope."
A statement from Kasich's office said the governor was influenced by Cuyahoga County Judge Stuart Friedman's decision on Monday that there was probable cause Awkal isn't mentally fit to be put to death. Friedman's ruling was not enough to stop the execution, however. The reprieve now gives Friedman until June 20 to conduct a mental review of Awkal.
Just last week, Kasich denied a request for clemency for Awkal who killed his spouse, Latife Awkal, and brother-in-law Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz at a Cleveland courthouse during the couple's messy breakup. Authorities said the killings were motivated by a custody dispute over the couple's daughter who was a toddler at the time.
Attorneys for Awkal have argued that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to use the death penalty against Awkal. An affidavit from psychiatrist Dr. Pablo Stewart, who recently evaluated Awkal, said he is "severely mentally ill" and has "delusions that prevent him from having a rational understanding of the reason for his execution."
Starting in 2001, Awkal began writing letters from prison to the CIA and the White House, claiming to have valuable intelligence about terrorists. Awkal, according to Stewart's evaluation, believes he received coded messages from the CIA and the president via TV shows on CBS and NASA's channel. He diagnosed Awkal with schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, and said both were possibly the result of a childhood spent with an extremely violent father in war-torn Lebanon.
"The question is not whether you are competent then, but whether you are competent now [at time of execution]," said Singleton, also the head of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center. "He's got substantial delusions ... He thinks he's the hero trying to save the world."
Before Kasich intervened, Awkal's attorneys suffered a major setback in state Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon. The justices denied a request to delay the execution so that Awkal could receive a more thorough mental evaluation.
But despite Stewart's evaluation, two other evaluations filed by doctors who examined Awkal before him determined that he was mentally competent.
"Although Mr. Awkal delusionally believes that the CIA has orchestrated measures to harass him in prison, his delusional beliefs do not currently interfere with his ability to rationally understand the reasons the death penalty was imposed in his
case," said an opinion by doctors Jennifer Piel and Phillip Resnick earlier in May.
Resnick, however, has wavered in that view since reading Stuart's report, according to Singleton.