There has been an upswing of executions in 2017 after a lull of them in many states. In some, if not most cases, it had to do with first a medication used in executions being difficult to obtain and after a few what some called “botched” executions. A lot of this causes many states to halt executions. Arkansas was one of those states. After obtaining another medication to replace the one that could not longer be shipped to the United States for use in executions, they executed four men in the last week of April. Even Florida had an execution just this past week, their first in over eighteen months, after being one of the most active states when it comes to executions. Ronald Phillips became the first in Ohio on July 26th in over three years. By all accounts it seems that all seventeen executions that have taken place in 2017 have been conducted without issue and it seems that many of these states intend to move forward in executions. Regardless of your position on the death penalty or even those issues in case by case issue, it appears that at least some of these states are going to be weaning out their death row areas. In fairness I have not heard anything about this happening in California where over 700 people remain on death row, but only time will tell if these executions will have any bearing.
I have often stated that when it comes to the death penalty I am neither extremely pro or against the policy. I have said that I do believe that when someone is executed there should be absolutely no question as to the guilt of the person and that it should be used only for the most heinous of crimes. Then again, the latter can be subject to opinion. A crime that may appear extremely heinous to me may not to someone else. In the same respect I also have to say that I am unsure that I care about some of these so called “botched” executions if in fact my first two “conditions” apply. To be honest, I could really care less if someone who clearly committed a heinous crime died a little slower and in some pain. Then again, our Constitution prohibit “cruel and unusual punishment.” Again, I suppose it can be based on opinion as to what you believe qualifies as such. And then there are cases where there possibly could have been rehabilitation of the perpetrator. I discussed this recently in the case of Karla Faye Tucker. But once again we have a flip side to this in figuring out if a) rehabilitation is enough and b) if that alleged rehabilitation is genuine.
The case of Ronald Phillips for me, is much like my opinion of the death penalty itself. I am not overly happy he was execution for his crime, but I am unsure that I would have been overly upset if his sentence had been commuted. There seems to be no issue as to if he committed or contributed to the crime in which he would be executed for. The only thing left was whether he truly had remorse for his actions and if he could have ever contributed something to prison society. He was studying to be a prison minister and was preparing for his first sermon at the time of his execution. While his victim's family stated he had never contacted them and expressed remorse, he apparently did so, not just at the time his life was ending but to others while in prison. I understand the victim's family being upset and wanting his execution, but to be fair I am unsure his lack of communication with them is a true test to if he was truly remorseful. It is not likely that had he ever contacted them, even if he was allowed to do so, that they would have accepted any sort of apology, and that is their right. But, in my opinion, that does not accurately gauge if he was genuinely remorseful.
On the morning of January 18, 1993 911 operators in Akron Ohio received a phone call from a woman stating that there was a three year old child unresponsive at her home. The child was Sheila Marie Evans and her twenty-six year old mother, Fae Evans lived with the callers nineteen year old grandson, Ronald Phillips in an apartment upstairs from the woman's home. Doctors would immediately notice several bruises on the toddler's body. She would be taken into surgery to attempt to repair what appeared to be injuries to her abdomen but she would die later that evening. An autopsy would later list her cause of death as “cardiovascular collapse due to blunt force trauma to the abdomen.” The autopsy would also reveal over 125 bruises on the child's body. The coroner would come to believe that while some of those bruises had been administered within a few hours of the girls death, others seemed to have occurred anywhere from forty-eight to seventy-two hours of her death. There were also significant injuries to the genital area that indicated she had more than likely also been raped. This latter information was rather significant.
The initial story from Fae, and Ronald, was that on the morning of January 18th Fae had taken the couple's infant son to a routine doctor's appointment while Sheila and her younger half sister, Sara were left in Ronald's care. When Fae returned home it was said that the girls were called into them but only Sara appeared. They would claim that Sheila was found unresponsive and that Ronald had rushed her downstairs to his grandmother's home where the 911 call took place. January 18th was a Monday and apparently there seemed to be no dispute that both Fae and Ronald had both been with the child most of the weekend. Both Fae and Ronald would tell police that Sheila had been sick over the weekend and had vomited several times. It appears that the couple both attempted to cover up any abuse they may have been accused of by even claiming that over the course of those few days Sheila had been injured several times including a fall on a “railroad spike” that penetrated her vaginal or anus area.
On January 19th, armed with significant more information from the autopsy report at the very least Ronald was interviewed for a second time. It was during this interview that he apparently confessed to “losing it” with Sheila on the early morning of the 18th in which he had repeatedly hit her, threw her against the wall and had dragged her by her hair. He also admitted to using Vaseline on her anus and penetrating her with his fingers. He denied using his penis that particular time but did say he had done that twice in the past. He would also claim that Fae Evans not only knew about those incidents, that she had paid him to do so. He was obviously promptly arrested and charged with Sheila's murder, among other charges. Fae would also be arrested.
It seems unclear whether Fae would accept a plea deal or if she was convicted by a court. She was eventually sentenced to 13-30 years on charges of child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter. She was initially also charged with rape but those were later dropped. Whether she confessed to any of the charges officially (one can plead guilty for a deal without actually confessing) is also unclear. However, regardless of if she gave any confessions or not it seemed clear that with the amount of injuries Sheila suffered that Fae had to be keenly aware that Ronald was abusing her child, if not more than one of them. It does appear though that her family continues to maintain her innocence and claims that Ronald Phillips had threatened her life. Fae was denied parole in 2003. By June of 2008, after serving fifteen years in prison Fae was suffering from terminal cancer and while the parole board recommended, or at least thought she should be paroled on “hardship” the prosecutor disagreed and she remained in prison, where she died on July 8, 2008 at the age of forty-one.
In the meantime Ronald on August 18, 1993 and sentenced to death. In January of 2014 the state of Ohio executed a man named Dennis McGuire. His was one of those considered to be “botched” as it was said that he “gasped and heaved” for some twenty-six minutes before he died. At that point executions were put into questions so it took very little to get a stay of execution there. It was in that year that Ronald received a stay while the courts decided if he could donate his organs to a family member. Apparently at some point that was denied but whether it had more to do with Ohio being leery about conducting executions or just the issue at hand.
On the morning of July 26, 2017, at the age of forty-three Ronald Phillips was administered a “three drug cocktail” and executed by the state. Due to the fact that it appears that Phillips' execution was “successful” the state next plans to execute Gary Otte on September 13th as long as any appeals or stays are denied.
In my opinion Phillips' execution was significant for more than a few reasons. For one, while it was the first in the state of Ohio in over three years after what was considered to be an “unsuccessful” execution, it was also the fifteenth in 2017 in the United States after an issue obtaining successful drugs to allow it to be performed. This could encourage the pro-death penalty organizations and government and may speed up executions. As of right now (August of 2017) there have been 17 executions in the United States this year. In 2016 there were a total of 20 executions. Nine of those were in Georgia and another six were in Texas. Alabama had two while both Florida and Missouri each had one. While Texas has executed five people in 2017 and Georgia has executed only one this year we have already seen more state hold executions this year than last. Arkansas had intended to execute eight men in a period of a week back in April, apparently before some of the drugs they had expired but they only conducted four of those, likely due to other stays of execution. At this point there are another eleven executions scheduled before the end of the year. Six of those eleven are in Texas so one could gander to guess that most, if not all of those will happen. Ohio has three scheduled while Arkansas and Nevada are both looking at one each by the end of the year. If all eleven executions take place, the total would come to twenty-eight, eight more than the year before. But, while Texas will still have the highest number (they were number two in numbers in 2016), in 2016 there were only five states that carried out executions, where 2017 is looking to have eight states involved. I believe with the recent execution that took place in Florida this year they too may become more significantly involved in the practice but only time will tell.
The other reason I believe that Phillips' execution was significant in circles is for some of the same reasons I believe that Karla Faye Tucker's may have been. To be fair Karla's Faye's crime did not involve a child and there seemed to be more mitigating circumstances in her life, let alone the fact that she was a woman, which still in society seems to make a difference. However, there was significant arguments that Karla Faye had truly reformed while in prison and was no longer the person she was when the crime was committed. I believe there are circles who believe the same about Ronald Phillips. While we obviously cannot blame youth, or bad childhoods on everything, we do often look at later actions of criminals that have lived in the prison system. For example, I doubt there are few that have seen interviews with Charles Manson from prison over the years who would believe he had reformed or been remorseful. Of course the argument there is that he escaped execution when the Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty. But in the same respect one could look at his women followers and argue there is remorse there. That is not to say that everyone agrees that any of them should be released from prison, but like Ronald Phillips, they were young when they committed their horrible crimes. While I suspect a majority of the readers here have not spent significant time in prison, especially on murder charges, I doubt few of us that are older can look back and see our young selves and not see stupid decisions that we made. Now, before anyone says there is a difference in stupid decisions and murder, I agree, but it really is in a way the same concept. This is part of the reason why the Supreme Court has made it illegal to sentence someone who was a minor when a crime was committed to death and there are significant arguments across the country about those minors who were sentenced to life without parole. Again, looking at the “Manson women” we can say that while their parole has been largely denied, they still have an opportunity to plead their case, unlike those without the possibility of parole.