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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Nazi sympathizer and triple murderer Frank Spisak asks Ohio Parole Board to spare his life (USA)

Lawyers for Frank Spisak, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi who killed three people at Cleveland State University in 1982, asked the Ohio Parole Board on Thursday to spare their client's life, explaining that Spisak has a bipolar disorder and is severely mentally ill.

Spisak's plea for mercy will be the first death penalty case before Republican Gov. John Kasich, who took office Monday and will make the final decision on whether to spare Spisak.

About a dozen family members of Spisak's victims showed up at Thursday's Parole Board hearing to say Spisak deserves to die. The board will make a recommendation to Kasich within a week on Spisak's request for clemency.

"He's here asking for mercy, and it's our family's position that he's had mercy for the last 28 years," said Brendan Sheehan, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge, whose father, Tim Sheehan, a CSU employee, was found shot dead in a university bathroom in August 1982.

Spisak also shot and killed the Rev. Horace Rickerson and 17-year-old CSU student Brian Warford, and tried to kill two others. He said he did it because he was a follower of Hitler and was in a war of survival "of the Aryan people," according to court records.

Aside from his Nazi devotion -- Spisak wore a Hitler-style mustache and gave a Nazi salute during his trial -- Spisak also was sexually confused. He sometimes cross-dressed and called himself Frances Anne Spisak. His lawyers referred to him as Frances on Thursday.

Rickerson and Warford were black, and prosecutors said Sheehan was a potential witness in Rickerson's murder.

His defense lawyers said Spisak murdered the three because he was mentally ill, and they asked the Parole Board to spare his life as an act of mercy.

"We're not making excuses for his behavior," Alan Rossman, Spisak's federal public defender, told the board. "If they kill him, they will be killing an extremely mentally ill individual."

Spisak, 59, is scheduled to be executed by injection on Feb. 17. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his final legal defense one year ago.

State psychiatrists and a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University working with the defense agree that Spisak suffers from a severe bipolar disorder, which is characterized by extreme mood swings.

Daily doses of lithium have leveled Spisak out in prison, yet he still shows signs of delusion and remains fixated on Germany, World War II and the Holocaust, said Dr. Chester Schmidt, of Johns Hopkins.

Despite his death sentence, Spisak hopes to earn a college degree, work at a Holocaust museum and uncover Hitler's written orders to commit genocide, Schmidt told the Parole Board.

"It's completely off the wall," Schmidt said. "It's an expression of disordered thinking."

Spisak's mental illness, prosecutors countered, is simply the latest in a long line of excuses offered to explain the shootings.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason urged the Parole Board to deny clemency "for a Nazi who has never taken full responsibility for his heinous actions."

"Now he blames his alleged bipolar disorder as the reason he committed the crimes," Mason's office wrote in a report to the board. "Spisak has not shown remorse for his murderous spree which left a campus and a city paralyzed with fear."

Although he was evaluated by numerous mental health professionals prior to his 1983 trial, Spisak, who did not the attend Thursday's hearing, wasn't diagnosed as bipolar until 1997. His lawyers said an earlier diagnosis could have prevented the crimes and played a role in his due process -- but they stopped short of claiming a proper diagnosis would have given credence to an insanity defense.

Brendan Sheehan said the jury that convicted Spisak in 1983 was well aware of his mental problems. He said those problems are now simply being labeled as a bipolar disorder.

Both Sheehan's family and relatives of Warford seemed ready for Spisak's execution, nearly three decades after he began killing.

"Those years (in prison) are enough," said Tracy Arnold, Warford's sister. "It's time for justice to truly be served."