LUCASVILLE — A weeping inmate apologized for choking and fatally stabbing a man he met in a bar in 1985 moments before he was put to death Wednesday in the first Ohio execution in nearly a year.
The execution of Robert Van Hook by lethal injection was carried out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility with three members of the victim’s family watching on the other side of a viewing window.
During the execution, Van Hook, crying, told his victim’s sister, brother and brother-in-law, “I’m very sorry for taking your brother away from you.”
He then recited a Norse prayer which begins: “Lo, there do I see my father. Lo, there do I see my mother, And my sister and my brother.” At the end of the prayer, Van Hook began singing, stopping after about two minutes when the drugs took effect.
The execution proceeded without any apparent problems, with the inmate’s chest rapidly rising and falling for a few minutes and Van Hook wheezing and puffing his lips in and out before he went still. The death appeared to take about 14 minutes.
Van Hook, 58, had no remaining appeals, and Republican Gov. John Kasich rejected his request for clemency without comment.
At the time of the killing, Van Hook was suffering from long-term effects of untreated mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child and was depressed that his life seemed to be falling apart, his attorneys argued.
Kasich should have given more weight to Van Hook’s military service and his inability to receive care from Veterans Affairs for his mental health and addiction issues after his honorable discharge, the attorneys said.
Federal public defender Allen Bohnert criticized the execution afterward, saying Ohio continues to use a drug, midazolam, without evidence it renders inmates fully unconscious. That in turn causes inmates to suffer pain from the second and third drugs used, which paralyze inmates and stops their hearts, he said.
Bohnert also said Van Hook told him in many meetings how sorry he was for the killing.
“Not once did one of those conversations not include a discussion of how remorseful he was for what he did to David Self,” Bohnert said.
The Ohio Parole Board said that despite Van Hook’s tough childhood, he was shown love and support by relatives he stayed with for long periods as a child. But that positive influence doesn’t outweigh the “gratuitous violence” Van Hook demonstrated, the board said.
Previous attorneys representing Van Hook attempted a “homosexual panic” claim in his defense, or the idea that self-revulsion over sexual identity confusion contributed to a violent outburst. Van Hook’s current lawyers say that was misguided, and overlooked his diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder from his childhood.
Seizing on that claim, prosecutors have dismissed the idea as nonsense, saying Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.
Prosecutors note Van Hook has an extensive history of violence while incarcerated, including stabbing a fellow death row inmate in November.
The family of victim David Self supported the execution, telling the parole board last month that he is missed every day. Self’s sister, Janet Self, said her brother had been reduced over the years to “a gay man in a bar,” when he in fact he was so much more.
Authorities say Van Hook met Self at the Subway Bar in downtown Cincinnati on Feb. 18, 1985. After a couple of hours, they went to Self’s apartment where Van Hook choked the 25-year-old Self to unconsciousness, stabbed him multiple times in the neck and then cut his abdomen open and stabbed his internal organs, according to court records. Van Hook stole a leather jacket and necklaces before fleeing, records say.
In September 2017, the state put Gary Otte to death for the 1992 murders of two people during robberies over two days in suburban Cleveland.