CHILLICOTHE — Alva Campbell cheated death the morning of Nov. 15 when, while strapped to a gurney in the Ohio prison system’s death house, a medical team couldn’t find a suitable vein to send the lethal brew of drugs coursing through to kill him as a judge had ordered done two decades ago.
But death eventually came calling anyway, just of a different manner. Campbell, 69, was found unresponsive in his cell at Chillicothe Correctional Institution in Ross County early Saturday, and was pronounced dead at a local hospital at 5:24 a.m. JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said there was no evidence of foul play and nothing suspicious about his death.
When the execution in November had to be halted, Gov. John Kasich ordered a temporary reprieve and set a new execution date for June 5, 2019. At that time, Campbell’s public defenders said it was unlikely he would live long enough for a second attempt: They said he suffered from a host of sicknesses, including serious heart and lung disease.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien has never mustered any sympathy for a man whose violent criminal past dated back to at least 1967 and included two murders, multiple kidnappings and assaults, the non-fatal shooting of a state trooper, and almost too many armed robberies and burglaries to count.
O’Brien had often called Campbell a “poster child” for the death penalty. Kasich’s office notified him of Campbell’s death early Saturday. O’Brien sees it as justice denied.
“Due to 20 years of frivolous post-conviction litigation, he successfully ran the clock out on justice due to the state and the victim’s family,” O’Brien said of Campbell after hearing the news.
He prosecuted the death-penalty case against Campbell 20 years ago, when he was charged with the aggravated murder of 18-year-old Charles Dials, a man who just happened to be leaving the Franklin County Courthouse after paying a traffic ticket on the day Campbell launched an attack on April 2, 1997.
Already a convicted murderer for killing a man in a Cleveland bar in 1972, Campbell was in the Franklin County jail then and facing charges for a string of robberies. Campbell claimed paralysis, and was taken to the courthouse in a wheelchair.
Once there, he leapt from his wheelchair, attacked a deputy and stole her gun, carjacked Dials and escaped. They drove around for hours, until Campbell eventually shot Dials — who was crouched in the pickup’s footwell— twice in the head, killing him.
Over the years, Campbell’s legal team has mounted vigorous legal challenges to spare his life.
Attorneys for Campbell and for condemned killer Raymond Tibbetts had previously challenged the constitutionality of Ohio’s latest lethal-injection method for execution. The attorneys argued that the three-drug concoction wasn’t yet a proven method and could lead to unacceptable pain and suffering for the inmates. At one point, Campbell had asked to be put to death by firing squad instead if he must die. Just last month, however, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld an earlier ruling that said the inmates had not proven that case.
Tibbetts, of Cincinnati, was scheduled for execution last month but Kasich issued a reprieve after a juror on his case expressed doubts about casting his vote for a death-penalty verdict for Tibbetts 20 years ago.
As for Campbell, the public never bought his arguments for leniency, either.
After the failed execution attempt, a letter to the editor appearing in The Dispatch, written by Michael Flynn, of Pickerington, noted that “Campbell was given a pillow to aid in his breathing, people were present rubbing his arm to keep him calm, and it was reported he may have teared up” as the medical team tried to start the injection.
“I dare say no one gave Dials a pillow to ease his breathing nor was there anyone there to trying to calm him when Campbell shot him twice in the head. Campbell is not a victim. The victims are the innocent people Campbell has killed and their families,” Flynn wrote. “I am quite sure there have been many tears shed by the people touched by Campbell’s violent past. Let us not forget the real victims.”