Ohio top court delays killer's Wednesday execution

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS | June 18, 2012 | 7:25 PM EDT

FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows Abdul Awkal, convicted in the 1992 slayings of his estranged wife and brother-in-law at a courthouse in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County. The state is appealing a judge's decision that an Ohio man is too mentally ill to be executed for killing his estranged wife and brother-in-law in a courtroom basement. (AP Photo/Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday delayed a condemned inmate's execution following a judge's ruling that the inmate is too mentally ill to be put to death.

The court's decision means Abdul Awkal is now months or even years away from execution after coming within a few hours of dying by lethal injection June 6. He was sentenced to die for the 1992 killing of his estranged wife and brother-in-law.

The execution was set for Wednesday.

The court's unanimous decision said it maintained exclusive authority to set a new execution date.

A Cuyahoga County judge ruled last week that Awkal is too mentally ill to be put to death, citing the killer's belief that the CIA is orchestrating his execution. Judge Stuart Friedman held a hearing on Awkal's competency after he received a two-week reprieve from Gov. John Kasich.

State law requires Friedman to order that Awkal be treated for his mental illness and afterward conduct a hearing at the prosecutor's request to determine if he is still mentally ill.

Awkal, 53, belatedly changed his story to blame the CIA for pressing to execute him, according to Cuyahoga County prosecutor Bill Mason. His lawyers say the fact that he believes the CIA is orchestrating his execution shows he lives in a fantasy world.

His attorneys have argued he is so mentally ill he believes he plays a crucial role in the country's war on terrorism.

By way of commenting on Monday's ruling, Mason referred to a statement he released Friday, in which he criticized Friedman's decision.

"Awkal changed his story on the eve of execution and blamed the CIA for executing him, after admitting that he had lied to psychiatrists and has now successfully manipulated the court," he said in the statement. "Delays like this are what is wrong with the death penalty."

Messages to Awkal's attorneys weren't immediately returned Monday.

Awkal would have been the second man Ohio executed this year since the end of an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment that lasted six months. The next execution is scheduled July 26 for John Eley, who was convicted of slaying a Youngstown convenience store owner.

By law, a person cannot be put to death if he lacks a rational understanding of why he is facing execution — the standard cited by Friedman in ruling that Awkal is mentally incompetent to face execution.

Awkal was convicted of killing his estranged wife, Latife Awkal, and brother-in-law, Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz, in a Cleveland courtroom basement in January 1992 as the couple prepared to take up divorce and custody issues.


Associated Press writer Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.