After all the media coverage surrounding the execution of convicted murderer Dennis McGuire, the victim needs to be remembered, according to current Preble County Prosecutor Martin Votel.
“The focus has been on Dennis McGuire and any panic and suffering he may have experienced throughout the execution of a duly imposed penalty and very little, if any focus has been placed on the panic and terror that was suffered by the victim, Joy Stewart, at his hands,” Votel said in a phone interview last week.
“The focus needs to stay where it belongs and that’s on Joy. It was a just penalty. If the death penalty is on the books for any reason, it’s on the books for crimes just like this one and for defendants just like this one. I believe if there has been any injustice done it’s in a delay of 20 years between the imposition of that sentence by a Preble County jury, and the execution of that sentence by the State of Ohio.”
Claims that the execution may have constituted cruel and unusual punishment seems ridiculous to Votel, as is the potential for a lawsuit against the state by McGuire’s children.
“I don’t believe the State can put anyone to death using any method without that person experiencing some form of anxiety or trauma,” he said. “That’s the nature of the penalty. For them to believe that the citizens of the State of Ohio owe them damages by virtue of the manner in which this execution was imposed seems to me ridiculous. However, I’ll leave it to the courts in the State of Ohio and our laws to sort that out.”
McGuire was not crazy, Votel pointed out. “He was vicious and dangerous. He had raped and murdered Joy Morningstar, gotten away with it and then 10 months later decided he liked abducting and assaulting women at knife point so much he did it again. That was when he was caught.
Some 10 months after he murdered Joy Morningstar, “he abducted that 15-year-old at knife point, in her front yard when she was walking home from doing homework at about 11:30 at night. The girl struggled with him and he beat her and they made so much noise that her family and friends ran out the front door of the house and interceded and saved her life. She was cut with the knife that he had in his possession and she was bloodied by him beating her, and he was eventually identified as the perpetrator and jailed,” Votel said.
“It was while he was his was sitting in jail — I’m talking the first 24 hours he was sitting there,” Votel said, “He gets the brilliant idea that ‘how am I going to get myself out of this fine mess’ so he decides ‘I’ll frame my brother-in-law, Jerry Richardson for the murder of Joy Morningstar.’”
“This guy was vicious and and dangerous, and he was a predator and had he not been caught, there is no doubt in my mind he would have continued that behavior until he was caught,” Votel said.
Times have changed, and the laws protecting unborn babies have changed. “The law was different back then,” Votel explained. “Right now, if a woman is pregnant, that aggravates a lot of crimes: domestic violence, assault; and a fetus is considered a human being under law now. It was not back in 1994. So back then, what made this a capital case was the fact that he committed the murder in the context of a rape offense. These days, the way the law is written, it would be a double aggravated murder, one victim being Joy, one being the unborn child, and the fact that she was pregnant would itself have become an additional capital handle.”
And those are good changes, according to Votel. “Really, the loss of life of that infant meant nothing to the case. It was just kind of an unfortunate circumstance in the eyes of the law at the time. That baby would have died from suffocation.
“You can’t help but think about these things,” Votel said. “It occurred to me that Feb. 11, we’re talking three weeks now, will be the 25th anniversary of the murder. That kid very likely would be looking forward to his 25th birthday coming up here. That’s pretty heartbreaking.”