EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 51/08/98
EXTRA 14/98 Death Penalty 6 February 1998
USA (OHIO)Wilfred BERRY, white
Wilfred Berry, 33, is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on 3 March 1998. He
was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of Charles Mitroff. Berry has
withdrawn his legal appeals and consented to his execution.
Berry’s execution would be the first in Ohio since 1963. The state reintroduced
the death penalty in 1981 after the US Supreme Court invalidated its previous
death penalty laws of 1972.
Berry’s co-defendant received a life sentence. However, Berry requested that
he be sentenced to death and refused to cooperate with his lawyers during the
Previous prison records show that Berry had an extremely abusive childhood
during which he was severely beaten by his mother and was sexually assaulted.
Both his parents suffered from mental problems - his father was diagnosed
as schizophrenic. Berry has made 11 suicide attempts, the first when he was
only 11-years-old. At 14 he was committed to an institution for the severely
emotionally disturbed where he was diagnosed as suffering from severe
schizophrenia but received no further treatment upon release. At the age of
19 he was sentenced to six years imprisonment for car theft in Texas. While
in prison he was raped by another inmate and attempted suicide. Prison doctors
diagnosed Berry as suffering from chronic undifferentiated delusional
While on death row, Berry has conducted a letter-writing campaign to be executed.
In December 1997, following numerous mental health evaluations, the Ohio Supreme
Court found that Berry was mentally competent to waive his legal appeals,
stating: “We find that he is capable of making a voluntary, knowing and
intelligent decision.” When asked about the mental evaluations, Berry
indicated his desire to be found competent, stating: “I’ve been studying up.
I know I can pass. I know what they look for. All I’m going to say is I did
it and I should die.”
Ohio’s Attorney General, Betty Montgomery, has supported legislation that would
make assisted suicide illegal in the state. However, she has aggressively
defended Berry’s right to waive his appeals and be executed, stating: “if a
volunteer wishes to have the death penalty, we will concur in that.”
Amnesty International is extremely concerned at the precedent Berry’s execution
would set in Ohio. Berry’s case has not been adjudicated by the judicial system
as warranting a death sentence. It would appear that his sentence is a result
of the state of Ohio complying with his long-term wish to die, thereby making
it a case of state-assisted suicide.
Amnesty International believes that the execution of a prisoner who has chosen
to abandon their appeals and allow the state to execute them is no less a gross
human rights violation than any other execution. The fact that the individual
makes such a choice does not relieve the state of its responsibility in taking
the life of one of its citizens.