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Friday, August 3, 2018

Murder/Suicide by Chess

     Did Christopher Newton commit suicide by killing his cellmate over a chess game and hoping to get the death penalty? Or, was the chess game just a cover story? Was he hired by another inmate to commit the murder? Why did he specifically request to be put in the same cell as his victim? Did he really believe he would received the death penalty? Was he really insane?
     Christopher Newton (November 13, 1969 – May 24, 2007) spent much of his adult life right where he wanted to be...in prison. Newton claimed that he had intentionally gotten himself put back in prison by leaving behind a handprint during a 1999 break-in at his father's house just a few weeks after being released from prison for a prior attempted aggravated burglary. 

     At the time of his death he was serving time for burglary, receiving stolen property and possession of a weapon under disability (no person shall possess, acquire, carry, or use any firearm if any of the following apply: 1) the person is a fugitive from justice; 2) the person is under indictment for or has convicted a crime of violence; 3) the person is under indictment for or has been convicted of any felony offense involving the illegal possession, use, sale trafficking, or distribution in any drug) These crimes were committed in Ashland, Ohio in 1999.
     Also, in 1999 he was arrested in Sandusky, Ohio for attempted aggravated burglary...meaning he was carrying a gun at the time. Then in 2000 while in custody in Cleveland, Ohio he was charged with attempted escape. 
     Newton was imprisoned at Mansfield (Ohio) Correctional Institution and while there he told prison officials that he had been threatened, so they placed him in a cell with a 27-year old burglar named Jason Brewer. Prosecutors later claimed Newton had picked out his victim and asked to be placed in protective custody and transferred to Brewer's cell where the two men lived for 30 days before Newton murdered Brewer. 
     Newton said he killed Brewer because he kept resigning their chess games. Newton explained, “Every time I put him in check, he'd give up and want to start a new game and I tried to tell him you never give up...I just got tired of it." 
     That's when he struck his victim, then after punching Brewer it occurred to him that he wouldn't be able to sleep safely at night, so began hitting him in the face, slammed his head on the floor then tied a piece of rope around his neck and stuck a gag down his throat. When Newton realized the victim was still alive, he cut a piece off his uniform and strangled him with it. 
     When prison guards arrived at the cell Newton was laughing about the incident and claimed to have drunk his victim's blood. He told the guards, "If he is not dead, I hope he is going to be a vegetable" Newton later celebrated the one-year anniversary of the death of his cellmate by making a party hat and party blowers. 
     However, it was also reported that Newton admitted that another inmate had hired him to assault Brewer. He also stated he was ready to die in prison.
     Whichever version is true, Newton pled guilty to the charges and waived his right of appeal. According to court documents Newton knew killing his cellmate was a capital crime and refused to cooperate with investigators unless they sought the death penalty against him
     His trial was before a panel of three judges who, after hearing the evidence, imposed the death penalty. According to the Ohio Supreme Court, numerous psychiatrists and psychologists had examined Newton over the years, resulting in various diagnoses. At his murder trial a psychologist for the defense testified that Newton had several mental health disorders, including "mood disorder" and symptoms of PTSD. Another psychiatrist, for the prosecution of course, rebutted the defense expert. So much for “expert” witnesses. 
     Although his attorneys argued Newton should be spared the death penalty because he had a variety of mental disorders, the court found him competent. The prosecution had argued that he had feigned mental illness. 
     Ohio's newly elected Governor Ted Strickland had delayed Newton's execution for a few months when he first took office in January, 2007 in order to research the case. Strickland eventually agreed with the Ohio Parole Board's recommendation against sparing Newton saying there was not a cause to intervene and out of an abundance of caution, every precaution had taken before the "procedure" began to ensure that there would be no problems.
     Newton's final meal was steak, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, feta cheese, a soft drink, cake and watermelon. He died at the age of 37 at 11:53 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correction Facility. 
     Because he weighed 265 pounds the prison medical staff struggled to find veins on each arm. The execution team stuck him at least 10 times with needles to get in place the shunts where the chemicals are injected. The problems delayed the time of execution, which typically takes about 20 minutes, by 90 minutes. During that time Newton continued to talk, smile and laugh with the prison staff; sometimes his belly would jiggle. At one point, he was given a bathroom break.
     When he eventually was moved from his holding cell and strapped to the table in the death chamber, he made stated, "Yes, boy, I could sure go for some beef stew and a chicken bone. That's it." 
     In a written statement read by the public defender after the execution, Newton apologized to his victim's family. "If I could take it back, I would." the statement said. "To my family, I love you and I'm sorry." 
     Newton's family did not want his remains, so the State had to cremate him and the ashes were given to his spiritual adviser. His aunt told the clemency board that she wanted Newton to die, calling him a dark and evil man who was deserving of the verdict he received. 
     The delay in his execution was exceptionally long and raised questions about lethal injections being too risky and unpredictable and not the swift, painless death it was advertised to be. 
      A group of Ohio inmates is sued over the state's injection method, saying it is unconstitutionally cruel. Problems with injections have caused delays in other states, including one in Florida when an inmate needed a second dose to finish him off. 
     Cruel and unusual punishment is a phrase describing punishment that is considered unacceptable due to the suffering, pain, or humiliation it inflicts on the person subjected to it. The term was first used in the English Bill of Rights 1689 and was later also adopted in the United States by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution which was ratified 1791 and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. 
     In June 2006, Ohio announced it would change its lethal injection process to try to prevent such problems in the future and the prisons director said execution teams would make every effort to find two injection sites and would use a new method to make sure the veins stay open once shunts are inserted.
     None of Newton's chess games have survived.

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