LIMA — Vicki Williams has waited 17 years for her daughter’s killer to be executed. As the state of Ohio considers using expired execution drugs, she’ll have to wait longer.
“I’m in the state of mind I was in when she first died,” Williams said. “That is what it does to me. It puts me back to that. When I got to sleep, it’s the last thing I think about. When I wake up, it’s the first thing I think about. And all throughout the day.
“It’s so painful for them to keep delaying when nobody deserves to die more than he does.”
Back in 2002, Cleveland Jackson and Jeronique Cunningham stood in a kitchen with eight hostages — many of them teenagers — waiting to rob Layshane Liles. When he arrived, the two men opened fire on the small crowd. Of the eight, six survived the night with bullet wounds. Three-year-old Jala Grant died in the crossfire, and Leneshia Williams, 17, died from a gunshot to the back of the head.
Bessie Smith, Leneshia’s grandmother, said officers came to inform her of her granddaughter’s death early the next morning at 5 a.m. They woke her up with the banging.
“You still remember when they come and tell you. All that. I remember all that. All of that,” Smith said.
“(Bessie) was downstairs, and my sister was upstairs. All she could hear was her screaming,” Leneshia’s mother, Vicki Williams, said. “It was like it was a dream, but a nightmare. I kept thinking she would come home, but she never came home again.”
Leneshia’s killers were arrested soon after. While Jackson and Cunningham’s story continued in court with hearings as the state hammered out the details of a death penalty, Williams family waited for two decades for what Williams calls “justice.”
The story after
Almost 20 years after her death, Leneshia is still a favorite topic for her grandmother and mother.
“We miss her. We talk about her a lot,” Smith said, “some of the silly things that she was doing.”
Back in 2002, Leneshia was like many teens, the two women explained. Vicki said Leneshia had just set her eyes on the medical field as a potential career, and she was on the edge of getting her driver’s license. Sometimes, the two would fight, as mothers and daughters do. Vicki remembered a tiff over the dishes, which provoked Leneshia to run to her grandmother’s house, who took her in and calmed her down.
The two women laughed about it now as they recollect the days when Leneshia was still alive.
Today’s memories aren’t always happy. For Vicki, she may be reminded of her daughter after seeing another girl playing in the street, or by the sight of an article of clothing. When that happens, she’ll break down, and she’ll let her family know she’s having a “’Neshia” moment.
Today, Vicki holds off on the holiday season completely to avoid such memories. Starting in September, she said she’s often reminded more and more of Lenisha, and she often ignores Christmas altogether as it reminds her of the time she last saw her daughter with the rest of the family.
“I tried it, and I just sit there and think: ‘She ain’t there.’ So I just stay at home so I don’t bum everybody else out,” Williams said.
“People always tell me, ‘You’re so strong; you’re strong.’ It’s not that I’m strong; I just have no choice. What am I going to do? I can’t just lay down and die. I got to keep on going. That doesn’t mean I don’t hurt on the inside. I do,” Williams said. “It’s just a big hole where she’s supposed to be in everybody’s life. Not just mine. In everybody’s.”
While death penalty cases are known for dragging along as multiple appeals are considered by the courts, the latest has slowed Ohio’s death row cases to a standstill due to concerns about the three-drug cocktail currently used to execute prisoners.
As dean of Ohio Northern University’s Raabe College of Pharmacy, Steven Martin said the drugs should work in theory by putting individuals to sleep, eliminate breathing and stopping the heart, but the procedure doesn’t always work as it should.
In January, a federal judged ruled that because of such difficulties — in 2014, an Ohio man took 25 painful minutes to die after the injection — Ohio’s execution process qualifies as “cruel and unusual.” Relatedly, the execution drugs in Ohio’s possession have since expired, which creates legal issues due to restrictions on the use of such drugs.
Proponents of the death penalty, such as Williams, argue that many of the prisoners on death row had little regard for their victims, and the use of such drugs are a moot point. But the law is clear, and Gov. Mike DeWine has already stated that his administration will not use expired drugs.
With such roadblocks in place, DeWine has pushed state correction officials to find a new set of execution drugs, but pharmaceutical companies aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to make a suggestion, Martin said.
“It’s not a conversation drug manufacturers want to have in a public place.” Martin said. “(Drugs) are simply not designed for (execution).”
Such legal issues have left family members of victims wondering what’s taking so long. Jackson was scheduled to be executed May 29, but that was pushed back to Nov. 13.
“I didn’t realize the years it would take to do it,” Williams said. “So now I know they’re in prison, but they’ve been in prison before. They’re not getting the punishment they deserve. … It makes me disappointed in the system, in the state, whoever, whoever’s responsible and I’m afraid, I’m really afraid they’ll change the state law. I’d be so devastated if they did that.”
Smith said, “Let me at him. I’d give him the same thing he gave to that woman. I do not like guns. I’ve never had a gun in my life, but put one in my hand now. I wouldn’t shed a tear.”
“I think I’ll have peace when they’re dead. I think I’ll have peace. I don’t have peace now, because I’m going always: ‘My baby’s gone, and they’re not.’” Williams said.
Williams’ next step, she said, is to try to talk to DeWine. She said she’s preparing a letter she hopes to send to ask him if it was his daughter who was murdered, would he still be stalling.
“I want (Jackson) to hurt. I don’t want him to just go to sleep and not feel nothing. I want it to hurt a little bit, and I want to sit there and look at him. I wish I could say something to him, but I know I can’t. But in my mind, I’m going to be saying: ‘Good for you. Good for you. That’s what you get.’” Williams said. “I hate to sound so angry, but I am angry. I’m still angry after all this time.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.