State executes seventh man in four years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

LUCASVILLE (AP) - Joe Byrne has moved on with his life, remarrying and moving to another state.

But he stepped back into his frightful past Tuesday, returning to Ohio to witness the execution of the man who killed his first wife. He felt it was important to her memory.

The state executed David Brewer, 44, by chemical injection at the maximum-security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He was the seventh inmate put to death since Ohio began carrying out the death penalty again in 1999.

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Authorities said Brewer sexually assaulted and beat Sherry Byrne, 21, in a suburban Cincinnati motel room on March 21, 1985, after luring her there on the pretense of meeting him and his wife, Cathy. He then abducted her and drove around with her in the trunk of his car for several hours.

Police said passing motorists had reported seeing a piece of paper with ''help me please'' written in lipstick shoved through the crack in the trunk of a car.

Byrne was killed after she tried to escape in suburban Dayton, about 40 miles from the motel. Police said she was chocked with a necktie and stabbed 15 times.

Joe Byrne, who now lives in Bridgewater, N.J., witnessed the execution for his late wife.

''I'm happily married. I've got three great kids. I've pulled myself together,'' Byrne said. ''I couldn't have looked myself in the mirror if I didn't stand up for Sherry. She fought so hard to get back to us. I had to fight for her.''

Brewer's execution was delayed about 10 minutes because the execution team had a problem fitting into his arm the needles that would carry the chemicals to his veins. He was pronounced dead at 10:20 a.m.

Brewer walked briskly into the death chamber and lay on the table, wearing a white V-neck T-shirt, blue pants with orange stripes and tan boots.

Asked by Warden James Haviland if he had a last statement, Brewer said the state should do something about prisoners on death row who don't belong there.

''I'd like to say to the system in Ohio as far as the death row inmates are concerned, there are some that are innocent. I'm not one of them, but there are plenty that are innocent. I hope the state recognizes that. That's all I have to say,'' Brewer said.

After hearing his final statement, Byrne said softly: ''Where's the remorse?''

Although Brewer confessed to the slaying, his attorneys had argued that he deserved mercy because he had no criminal record before the killing and has been a model prisoner. He had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity and was convicted of aggravated murder and kidnapping.

Gov. Bob Taft denied Brewer clemency on Friday, and no other appeals were filed.

Brewer stared at the ceiling while the chemicals were released. After closing his eyes, he yawned, his chest rose sharply once, then his breaths became shorter until he lay motionless.

Sherry Byrne's mother, Myrtle Kaylor, said she will never stop grieving for her daughter.

''I hope that David Brewer today saw my daughter's face and her plea for mercy as he left this world,'' she said. ''The punishment he received is much more humane than what he did to her.''

Brewer, who lived in Centerville, near Dayton, and managed a rental appliance store, was a friend of Joe Byrne from their days at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. He later told police he was attracted to his friend's wife.

Brewer was at peace when he died, said Thom Miller, a nondenominational pastor who was Brewer's spiritual adviser.

''We were able to spend some very meaningful time with David. We were strengthened by the strength he has found in Christ Jesus,'' Miller said.

Miller comforted Brewer's brother, sister and an uncle who witnessed the execution.