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Ohio Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Warren County killer

Ohio's highest court Thursday unanimously upheld the death sentence imposed on the Warren County man convicted of mur...

Posted: May 20, 2018 5:27 PM
Updated: May 20, 2018 5:27 PM

Ohio's highest court Thursday unanimously upheld the death sentence imposed on the Warren County man convicted of murdering U.S. Navy recruit Justin Back in 2014 - despite the fact that the then-teenager insists he never touched the murder weapon.

Austin Myers, now 23, asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overthrow his 2014 murder conviction and death penalty sentence, arguing, among 16 other issues, that he received a harsher sentence than his co-defendant, Tim Mosley, who struck the fatal blow.

Mosley, 23, also faced the death penalty, but struck a deal with prosecutors requiring him to testify against Myers in exchange for removing the death penalty from his possible sentence.

In evaluating Myers' appeal, the state's justice were presented with a tale of two defendants, both equally culpable, but who, Myers' attorneys argued, received disproportionate sentences.

"The imposition of the death penalty was so grossly unfair that it shocks the conscience in that the actual killer Mosley received life without (parole), while the accomplice Myers received the death penalty," wrote Myers' appellate attorneys, Timothy McKenna and Roger Kirk, in the 2016 appeal.

But Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell argued that Back would still be alive but for Myers, who they say not only targeted his childhood friend, but also helped carry it out by restraining Back during the attack.

"Austin Myers killed Justin. Tim was his weapon of choice," Fornshell argued in a December appearance before the high court.

Back's mother, Sandy Cates, still doesn't know what led Myers back to her doorstep that frigid January day in 2014. Back, 18, didn't know Mosley, but he had befriended the quiet and reserved Myers in middle school before Myers moved away.

"Justin tried to mentor Myers in the eighth grade. He was always befriending the misfits and loners, inviting them to his lunch table," she said. "He looked out for them."

Later, she would learn that her son's death had all been elaborately planned. Myers and Mosley would later confess to police their goal was to execute a "clean kill."

They cased the house and formulated a shopping list: Wire cable and handles to form a garrote; ammonia to destroy traces of DNA; septic enzymes to douse the body with to aid in decomposition.

Materials in hand, Myers and Mosley drove to Back's home in rural Waynesville under the pretense of hanging out.

Although Back hadn't seen Myers in six years, the gregarious teenager readily invited the pair in to watch movies.

The plan unfolded in the kitchen. Myers asked for a drink. As Back reached into the refrigerator, Mosley attacked from behind with the garrote while Myers grabbed him.

But the device caught on Back's chin and the three tussled. Panicking, Mosley pulled out a pocketknife and stabbed Justin in the back. Myers looped the garrote around Back's neck and pulled as Mosley plunged the knife another 20 times in Back's chest and stomach.

"Help me, Austin!" Back cried out to Myers. "It will all be over soon," Myers replied, as Back lay dying in his lap.

The assailants cleaned up the crime scene, wrapped Back's body in a blanket and took some of his clothes and electronics to make it look like he ran away from home.

They dumped his body below "Crybaby Bridge" in southwest Preble County. There, Myers fired two shots into Back's corpse with a gun stolen from the home before dousing the body with septic enzymes.

Myers' attorneys, who did not respond to a request for comment, argued in his appeal that because Mosley wielded the knife that killed Back - a knife Mosley admitted Myers didn't know he had or planned to use - he was the more culpable of the duo.

"In this case, if anyone was most deserving of execution, it was the principal offender Tim Mosley who repeatedly stabbed the victim," the appeal says. "If he was not given the death penalty, then accomplice Myers should not be given the death penalty either."

The court's justices rejected that argument, pointing to the "abundant" other evidence presented showing that Myers actively participated in the murder scheme and restrained Back while Mosley stabbed him.

"That the murder was not accomplished in precisely the way he and Mosley had planned does not alter the fact that they did plan it," the justices wrote.

Moreover, Mosley earned his plea agreement, Fornshell said. Mosley cooperated with police early in the case even before a plea deal had been struck and pointed investigators to evidence that independently corroborated his story.

Myers, Fornshell said, continued to minimize his involvement in the case, never expressed remorse and even planned to return to Back's home to kill his stepfather after the pair disposed of Back's body. Legal experts say that executions of people who did not directly kill their victims are incredibly rare. The Death Penalty Information Center lists just 10 such cases out of the more than 1,400 executions since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

But Mark Krumbein, a former prosecutor turned defense attorney who's defended more than a dozen clients in capital murder cases, says the fact that Myers received a harsher punishment over Mosley in this case is not unusual.

"I'm not surprised that Mr. Fornshell, like many prosecutors, feel that the person that planned the murder is the most important target," he said. "They may see the actual person who did the killing as sort of a lackey or follower, and oftentimes their bigger emphasis is to go after the person who planned it and ultimately caused it to happen."

Sandy Cates still lives in the same sunlit home where her son died crumpled on the kitchen floor. His spirit fills the house, she said, and she talks to him each day.

She vehemently rejects the notion that Myers carries less culpability simply because he didn't wield the knife that killed her son.

"Mosley did not know Justin," she said. "Myers knew Justin. Myers chose Justin. If not for him, it wouldn't have happened. Myers could have stopped it, but he didn't."

Mosley, she and her husband Mark believe, took ownership of his role in the murder and showed remorse. But Back would still be alive but for Myers, and for that, his parents believe he deserves the harshest sentence of all.

Myers is the second youngest of 140 Ohio prisoners facing the death penalty. Damantae Graham, 20, convicted of killing a Kent State University student, is the only one younger.

The court gave Myers a 2022 execution date, but Myers' attorneys now have the option of appealing the high court's decision at the federal level.

For Cates, the continued efforts to reverse the sentence leaves her reliving the worst day of her life, but she's hopeful that one day justice will be served.

"When these things come up, it puts you right back to where you were on that day," she said. "If everything goes right, one day we'll have closure."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 292811

Reported Deaths: 6613
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19515228
Hinds18611385
Harrison16431275
Rankin12543261
Jackson12419216
Lee9641160
Madison9378194
Jones7857145
Forrest7094136
Lauderdale6760225
Lowndes5998137
Lamar581180
Lafayette5698113
Washington5135128
Bolivar4580120
Oktibbeha438691
Panola424992
Warren4101113
Pearl River4083128
Pontotoc406668
Marshall398392
Monroe3977126
Union392173
Neshoba3758166
Lincoln3447100
Hancock338673
Leflore3349118
Sunflower316685
Tate299874
Pike298293
Scott291867
Alcorn289660
Itawamba288571
Yazoo283262
Tippah275465
Copiah273957
Coahoma272666
Simpson270778
Prentiss267658
Leake251370
Wayne250540
Marion249878
Covington247178
Grenada244676
Adams232877
George229845
Newton223151
Winston220274
Tishomingo211465
Jasper211244
Attala205969
Chickasaw200550
Holmes181470
Clay177848
Stone171129
Tallahatchie169239
Clarke168271
Calhoun155527
Smith151531
Yalobusha142236
Greene126533
Walthall123340
Noxubee122629
Perry120934
Montgomery120537
Lawrence119021
Carroll117223
Amite110732
Webster109229
Jefferson Davis99931
Tunica98023
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91326
Kemper89422
Quitman76614
Franklin75419
Choctaw69416
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson61027
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 490220

Reported Deaths: 9744
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson704661342
Mobile35810721
Madison32203443
Tuscaloosa23961409
Montgomery22417489
Shelby21773211
Baldwin19635272
Lee14883147
Morgan13571248
Etowah13118312
Calhoun13090283
Marshall11212203
Houston10036257
Limestone9321133
Elmore9313179
Cullman8864177
St. Clair8771220
Lauderdale8570210
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7450162
Walker6492249
Jackson6466102
Autauga617285
Blount6072125
Colbert5978118
Coffee5229100
Dale4614106
Russell401431
Franklin397675
Covington3948105
Chilton383196
Escambia376670
Tallapoosa3559139
Clarke342749
Dallas3396140
Chambers3393103
Pike292771
Lawrence281284
Marion280793
Winston245665
Bibb243759
Marengo238554
Geneva238468
Pickens223554
Barbour209550
Hale208464
Fayette199356
Butler195165
Henry182341
Cherokee176338
Monroe165638
Randolph162740
Washington156233
Crenshaw143353
Clay143254
Macon140543
Cleburne136539
Lamar131632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120825
Bullock116534
Conecuh106523
Perry105327
Sumter98231
Coosa86823
Greene86732
Choctaw54723
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