LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Ohio is set to put a condemned killer to death on Wednesday for a three-decades-old fatal stabbing in what would be the state’s first execution in several months.
Robert Van Hook was sentenced to die for fatally strangling and stabbing David Self after picking him up in a Cincinnati bar in 1985. Van Hook, 58, had no remaining appeals, and Republican Gov. John Kasich rejected his request for clemency without comment.
Van Hook was described as “in good spirits and calm” Tuesday by prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. A test of his veins ahead of the lethal injection didn’t find any problems, she said.
Van Hook chose double cheeseburgers, fries, strawberry cheesecake with whipped cream, a vanilla milkshake and grapefruit juice as his last meal, called a special meal in Ohio and served the day before the execution.
Smith says execution witnesses for the Self family will include Self’s brother, sister and brother-in-law. Van Hook’s witnesses will be an uncle, a spiritual adviser and a priest.
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, according to Van Hook’s attorneys.
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” he 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.
Self’s family supports the execution, telling the parole board last month that he is missed every day.
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 strangled 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.