NEW CONCORD, Ohio (AP) — At age 87, Norman Stout may not have a lot of time left to witness the execution of the man who killed his wife more than three decades ago. He’s determined to be there if possible.
“I want to make damn sure that it finally is accomplished,” Stout said.
The state of Ohio wants the execution to happen, as well, and says it finally has the means to put condemned killer John Stumpf to death after years of trying to obtain lethal drugs.
Whether that three-drug combination is constitutional is before a federal appeals court whose ruling will help decide whether Stumpf’s execution — now scheduled for November of next year — can take place at last.
Stumpf was sentenced to die in 1984 for the slaying of Mary Jane Stout, shot four times at the couple’s home outside of New Concord in eastern Ohio, about 70 miles east of Columbus.
Of the more than two dozen Ohio inmates with active execution dates, Stumpf has been on death row the longest — more than 12,000 days. Six presidents have served. More than 30 new countries have come into existence. The population of the U.S. has grown by a third.
Stumpf’s situation is not unique. Six Alabama inmates have been on death row more than 30 years, including one inmate who arrived there in 1979. Texas houses more than a dozen inmates whose capital crimes occurred more than three decades ago. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson cited long delays faced by victims’ families when he pushed for eight executions in 11 days in April. Ultimately, four men were put to death.
As has been the case elsewhere, court appeals and Ohio’s struggle to find lethal drugs have helped delay Stumpf’s execution. That includes a reprieve from Gov. John Kasich in May when he moved Stumpf’s execution from January of next year to November to allow more time for legal arguments over Ohio’s new lethal injection process.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments Wednesday for and against that process and is expected to rule soon. Ohio’s first execution in more than three years is set for late next month.
Seemingly endless appeals and roller-coaster rulings are a hallmark of death sentences in the U.S., frustrating proponents who say capital punishment moves far too slowly to ensure justice. But, opponents argue, those same appeals protect suspects’ constitutional rights and sometimes free the innocent.
Complicating matters, drugmakers and distributors have put the drugs used for decades off limits, setting off a scramble to find alternatives and often delaying executions while they search and argue in the courts.
At issue in Ohio is the effectiveness of the first drug in the state’s three-drug method, a sedative called midazolam that has been used in problematic executions in Arizona, Arkansas and Ohio in which inmates didn’t appear fully sedated before the second and third drugs took effect.
“More politics,” said Norman Stout, recalling his reaction when he heard of the latest delay.
Stout is waiting for a conclusion to the events of May 14, 1984, which he recalls as if they happened yesterday. He and his wife, Mary Jane, had just finished dinner when two men came to the door asking if they could use the phone. Once inside, they announced a robbery. As Stumpf held the couple at gunpoint, Clyde Wesley ransacked the house, according to court records.
When Norman Stout made a move toward Stumpf, the gunman shot him twice in the head. Five fragments of lead remain beneath his skin.
After Stout regained consciousness, he heard two male voices in the next room, then the four shots that killed his wife. Stumpf, sentenced to death by a three-judge panel, has always maintained Wesley shot Mary Jane Stout.
Wesley is serving 35 years to life. The driver of the car that day, Norman Edmonds, served about 10 years before being paroled to his home state of Texas.
At Wesley’s trial, prosecutors argued Wesley shot Mary Jane Stout, while Wesley testified it was Stumpf. Wesley received a life sentence with parole eligibility; his next hearing is in 2027.
Over the years, courts upheld and later rejected Stumpf’s argument that it was improper for prosecutors to argue that Stumpf shot Mary Jane Stout yet contend at a separate trial that Wesley was the triggerman.
Stumpf, now 56, has no current appeals pending, said David Stebbins, his public defender, who declined to comment further.
Norman Stout met his wife while stationed at the now-closed Sampson Air Force Base in western New York state. After a teaching stint in Rochester, the couple moved to Ohio, where Norman Stout was a heavy equipment operator until the shooting.
Mary Jane Stout was an avid collector of Holly Hobbie memorabilia. Norman Stout expanded her collection in her honor and now maintains a gallery in New Concord full of hundreds of Holly Hobbie figurines, plates, greeting cards, puzzles and board games.
Showing a visitor around, Norman Stout speaks evenhandedly of his shooting and his wife’s death. But it’s clear he has little sympathy for arguments about the risk of execution to Stumpf.
“I can’t imagine the pain that my wife went through when she was shot,” he said. “I want him to feel some pain.”