Warren County moves toward death penalty plea sought by prison inmate

ajc.com

The case involving a prison inmate facing the death penalty who wants to leave it up to a three-judge panel to decide whether or not to execute him is moving forward in Warren County.

Judge Donald Oda II declined to accept a no-contest plea from Joel Drain, 38, during a hearing Wednesday in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

But the judge said he would take steps toward accepting Drain’s plea, leaving his fate to the mercy of the court.

“If you want to choose this course of action, I am not going to stop you,” Oda said.

Drain is charged with aggravated murder, murder and possession of a deadly weapon while under detention.

Investigators allege that on April 13, Drain murdered prisoner Christopher M. Richardson at Warren Correctional Institution.

Drain was already serving 30 years to life in prison for aggravated murder, felonious assault and theft in Hancock County.

The prison attack in which Drain allegedly beat Richardson, serving a four-year sentence for aggravated arson. with the motor from a desk fan, stomped on his throat and kicked a pencil into his head, left a cell in the prison outside Lebanon “a blood-bath,” according to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.

Ohio lawmakers are discussing abolition of the death penalty, in part due to problems in obtaining the drugs used in the state’s executions.

RELATED: 2 Warren County death penalty cases proceed even as leaders question executions in Ohio

Wednesday’s hearing was scheduled after Drain asked Oda to accept his plea — against the advice of his lawyers — in a letter to the court.

Drain also wants to waive mitigation of his sentence, during which his lawyers would bring a case against his execution - except for being allowed to make his own statement.

In response to Drain’s plea offer, his lawyers filed motions suggesting Drain is incompetent to stand trial, requesting a hearing on this issue and asking for a copy of Drain’s medical records for use in the hearing.

On Wednesday, Drain urged Oda to accept the plea during the hearing, claiming he called for this course of action at his last hearing.

“By no means am I incompetent,” he added, flanked by special state guards.

“You just want to keep bringing me down here, keep having me tap-dance for you,” Drain added during a discussion with Oda during the hearing.

RELATED: Inmate charged in prison murder he confessed to in letter to newspaper

Oda said he thought Drain understood the proceedings and was capable of assisting in his defense. Still the judge said he would have Drain examined by a psychologist versed in his case and the death penalty in Ohio, to ensure he had “a decent idea” of the potential consequences.

Oda said the case, like all those involving the death penalty, are reviewed in state and federal appeals. The judge indicated he wanted to make sure his decision would stand up to such scrutiny.

Oda also said “there’s really not a procedure” for handling such death penalty pleas and tried to convince Drain he couldn’t accept the plea during Wednesday’s hearing.

“It really doesn’t work that way,” Oda said.

MORE: Inmate facing death penalty in Warren County to draw heavy security

At one point, Defense attorney John Kaspar broke into an exchange between the judge and Drain, who he described as “one of the most intelligent people I know.” Kaspar said Drain was frustrated by the progress in the case.

Oda said he would set a hearing in 30 to 45 days to hear the psychologist’s findings.

“Then you and I will talk about what it is you want to do,” Oda said.

If Drain still wants to plead no contest and waive his lawyers’ case against his execution, Oda said a three-judge panel would be appointed to hear “an abbreviated form” of what is now scheduled for a two-week trial within 120 days.