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Ohio Man On Death Row Proclaims Innocence, Asks For Mercy

Warren Keith Henness
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation via AP

An Ohio man sentenced to death in the fatal shooting of a volunteer addiction counselor is proclaiming his innocence and asking that his life be spared, according to arguments by his attorneys a month before his scheduled execution.

Warren Keith Henness, who goes by his middle name, was convicted of killing 51-year-old Richard Meyers in Columbus in 1992. Myers, who was a lab technician at a veterans hospital in Chillicothe in southern Ohio, frequently volunteered with Alcoholics Anonymous to assist people with addictions and had been helping Henness find drug treatment for his wife, according to authorities.

The Ohio Parole Board scheduled arguments for and against mercy Thursday. Henness is set to die by lethal injection on Feb. 13 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Prosecutors said Henness kidnapped Myers, bound and then shot him at an abandoned water treatment  plant, and then stole his credit cards, checks and car.

Henness, his wife Tabatha Henness, and friend Ronald Fair drove around in Myers' car for several days afterward, forging the checks and using the credit cards, according to prosecutors.

Henness, 55, has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and did so again in an interview with the Ohio Parole Board last month.

The board will announce its decision next week. Republican Gov.-elect Mike DeWine, scheduled to be sworn in this weekend, will have the final say on clemency.

Henness' wife and their friend were also implicated in the killing and provided the only evidence of Henness' guilt, according to court records. The two pleaded guilty to minor charges of forgery and then testified against Henness at trial.

Henness' attorneys have argued he deserves mercy because of lingering questions about the others' involvement in the killing.

In addition, they say Henness' defense lawyers at the time failed to fully investigate the case ahead of trial. Henness distrusted one of his attorneys so much that he rejected a plea deal that would have spared his life, according to Henness' clemency petition.

"Even though Keith has consistently maintained his innocence of the murder of Richard Myers, he would have been eligible for parole already had he agreed to the plea terms the prosecution indicated it was willing to accept," David Stebbins, a federal public defender, said in a filing with the board earlier this month.

Henness has a consistent record of good behavior in jail and on death row, also making him a good candidate for mercy, Stebbins said.

Prosecutors argue Henness has a history of lying and refusing to take responsibility for the killing. The death row inmate is now pointing the finger at his wife "on the eve of his execution" after protecting her as the mother of their children for years, Ron O'Brien, the Franklin County prosecutor, told the board in a filing this month.

Henness' "elaborate and ever-changing stories simply do not fit the evidence in this case," O'Brien said. "Rather than show he is innocent of ... Richard's murder, his lies demonstrate a patent refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes."