A 19-year-old man sentenced Thursday to die for murdering a childhood friend during a robbery in Warren County will be the youngest person on Ohio’s death row.
Despite Austin Myers’ youth, Judge Donald Oda II ruled during a hearing in Warren County Common Pleas Court that Myers should be executed for the murder of 18-year-old Justin Back during a January robbery at Back’s home outside Waynesville.
“The sentence of death shall be imposed,” Oda said, after weighing a list of factors ranging from Myers’ youth and lack of prior criminal record to his lack of remorse and the lead role he played in planning the murder and robbery.
Myers and co-defendant Timothy Mosley, 19, both of Clayton, each faced the death penalty until Mosley testified against Myers, his former schoolmate at Northmont High School.
Mosley admitted stabbing Back 21 times but testified that Myers was the lead planner during almost two days of preparation leading up to the murder and disposal of the body, dumped in woods in Preble County.
Myers took a long pause before pleading his own case.
“Although I made a horrible mistake, I’m only 19 years old. There’s a lot of good things I can do with my life if you let me keep my life,” he said.
Myers, who will turn 20 on Jan. 4, is more than four years younger than the next youngest death row inmate, Mark Pickens, 24; more than 53 years younger than the oldest, James Frazier, 73.
Myers and Back were friends until the 8th grade. Myers was the one who decided they should target Back’s home, unaware the family safe contained only $70 at the time.
“Without Mr. Myers, I don’t think Mr. Mosley had any real disposition to kill,” Oda said.
In exchange for Mosley’s testimony, prosecutors agreed to dismiss death penalty specifications against him. Mosley is scheduled to be sentenced today to life in prison without parole.
Back was scheduled to join the U.S. Navy in 10 days. After the sentencing, his mother said she wanted Myers to be sentenced to death but would have accepted life in prison without parole.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s justice for Justin, but it’s never going to bring Justin back,” said his mother, Sandy Cates.
Back’s parents are lobbying for Justin’s Law, which would toughen penalties for young murderers.
Myers’ mother pleaded for her son’s life in a statement read by lawyer Greg Howard. “We need him to exist, to live.” Howard urged Oda to sentence Myers to life in prison without parole.
Oda sentenced Myers to death following a jury recommendation after a guilty verdict on charges of aggravated murder and aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for other crimes, including abuse of a corpse, safecracking, tampering with evidence and grand theft of a firearm.
Myers will be transported to the state’s Correctional Reception Center in Orient. Most death row inmates in Ohio are held in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. His case automatically will be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Myers will be the 139th person awaiting execution in the state.
Executions have been stayed in Ohio, at least until early next year.
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he decided to settle for life without parole for Mosley and seek the death penalty for Myers after consulting with Back’s family.
Mosley cooperated with authorities and admitted his role, while Myers never cooperated or accepted responsibility, Fornshell said.
After the sentencing, Fornshell also pointed to evidence he said suggested Myers would have killed again.
Fornshell said Oda excluded evidence showing that Myers took $100 from Back’s wallet during the getaway and talked of using the money to retrieve his rifle from a pawn shop and kill his own mother and stepfather.
During the trial, testimony revealed that Myers considered killing Back’s stepfather.
“I don’t think he was going to stop,” Fornshell said.