VOICES: What is owed to Norman Stout and his wife

Norman Stout is now an old man, an old man who’s impatient in a way that comes from the daily sound of the steps of one’s own mortality. He is still waiting for the State of Ohio to keep its promise of justice, made 38 years ago.

Two men had approached his home in 1984, near a highway in eastern Ohio’s Guernsey County. They wanted to use the phone, back in a day when phones were hardwired to a jack in a wall. Stout, a former schoolteacher turned highway worker, invited them in.

Once inside, the men tried to rob him and his wife, Mary Jane. One of them shot Mary Jane three times – wounds that would claim her life in front of her husband. Norman attempted to defend her and was shot point-blank between the eyes. The bridge of his metal eyeglasses saved his life, deflecting the bullet, although the shrapnel remaining in his head will outlast his body.

He willingly removes his glasses to reveal the healed wound between his eyes. The unhealed wound in his heart is visible in his posture, in the tension in his words, in the depth of his gaze.

I met Norman during a visit to Guernsey County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Angler while I was in Cambridge. It wasn’t the first time I’d listened to the pain and the heartache of a survivor’s story. Norman wore a flannel shirt, with two ink pens sticking out of the breast pocket. His fringe of white hair and bristling white mustache gave dignity to his years, and the knuckles in his hands testified to a man who knew a little something about work.

He demanded to know why the State had not carried out the death sentence that was handed down 38 years ago. Prosecutor Angler is the fourth elected Guernsey County prosecutor since his wife’s killer was convicted.

There are answers for Norman, though none of them are very good. The appeals process takes a long time, and it should. There’s no room for mistakes.

But the appeals process has been done and over for years. Every molecule of this case has been reviewed.

There’s the federal litigation challenging Ohio’s lethal-injection cocktail, although that could be resolved easily enough by the General Assembly. Then there’s the drug companies’ refusal to sell product to the State for executions. But again, there are solutions for that.

The honest answer is that we’re not carrying out the sentences for 138 defendants on Death Row because there is a lack of will to do so.

Recently a small, bipartisan group of Ohio legislators introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty. I do not support the legislation, but I am glad it was introduced. It may provide the vehicle for us to have a long-overdue discussion about our law.

In the meantime, like the families of other victims of murder, Norman holds on, day after day, hoping to live to see the day that the killer of his bride is finally held to account. If our community is going to renege on its long-standing promise of the ultimate sanction, we at least owe him the decency to come out and say it, and own the responsibility for that decision.

My preference is for justice to be done. Due process does not require overdue process, and the law should be faithfully discharged. But whether we fulfill the law or repeal it, we need our public servants to have the courage to make a public, deliberate decision.

They owe that to Norman Stout and his wife.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost was re-elected as Ohio’s 51st attorney general on Nov. 8, 2022.

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