Ohio

Kasich Grants Temporary Death Penalty Reprieve to Lakeside Courtroom Shooter

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On June 5, Governor John Kasich granted a two-week reprieve for death-row inmate Abdul Hamin Awkal, who was scheduled to be executed the next day for fatally shooting his former wife and his brother-in-law inside the halls of Cleveland’s Lakeside Courthouse. The reprieve was granted in order to give the Cuyahoga Court Court of Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman time to issue a ruling on Akwal’s mental competency.

A few days earlier, however, Kasich denied Awkal’s request for clemency. Awkal settled a lawsuit against the State of Ohio on January 19, 2012 after claiming the inclusion of pork in Ohio correctional facilities’ menus was a violation of his religious liberties.

In 1989, Awkal’s family arranged a marriage for him with Cleveland resident Latife Abdul-Aziz, a practice common in Islamic culture. A recent immigrant from Lebanon, Awkal worked for General Motors in Detroit but had received a job transfer to the manufacturer’s plant in Parma, Ohio.

Awkal and Abdul-Aziz were married in accordance with Islamic law in March of that year and became married according to Ohio law the next month. Abdul and Latife Awkal soon started a family together. In September 1990, Latife gave birth to a daughter, Zaynab.

According to court records, Latife told Abdul during their honeymoon that she did not love him, but would grow to love him as time passed. Abdul apparently attempted to bond with Latife by helping her assimilate into American culture.  He helped her open her own bank account, taught her how to drive a car, encouraged her to educate herself, and so on.

However, Latife’s family was allegedly more devout than Abdul, harassing him to be more religious. In 1991, Latife asked Abdul for a divorce under Islamic law, which consists of the husband saying “I divorce you” three times. Latife later asked for Abdul to remarry her.

Three days after asking Abdul to remarry her, Latife discovered that she had contracted a sexually transmitted disease from him and left home to move in with her brother, Mahmoud. She began divorce proceedings in the Ohio court system, requesting spousal support, child support, and a restraining order against Abdul.

In November of 1991, Abdul Awkal purchased a nine-millimeter semi-automatic pistol and threatened to kill Latife and her family if she did not dismiss the divorce case. In January of 1992, before a routine family conciliation meeting in the old Cleveland courthouse, Akwal arrived with baby Zaynab’s medical records, childcare supplies, his semi-automatic gun, and additional ammunition.

Awkal shot Latife and Mahmoud outside the room where they were scheduled to meet and attempted to flee the scene. When confronted by deputies, Awkal put the gun to his daughter’s head, vowing that nobody but him would take his baby. The next day, after being advised of his rights as an American citizen, Awkal confessed to the murders, saying that he had demanded his brother-in-law Mahmoud “profess that Allah was the only true God.”

Mahmoud, whom Awkal’s testimony had earlier painted as a religious fanatic, allegedly refused to do so, prompting Awkal to open fire.

During his criminal trial, Awkal’s defense team argued that he was mentally incompetent at the time of the murders and that he was suffering from depression and anxiety. Awkal testified that he had intended to commit suicide in the courthouse halls, but that the face of Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz “[tuned] into that of a monster.” He stated that he did not remember killing his ex-wife and brother-in-law or attempting to kidnap his daughter.

Throughout the Awkal case, multiple courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, found Awkal mentally competent and responsible for his actions in the eyes of the law. The Ohio Supreme Court has rescheduled Awkal’s execution for June 20, pending Judge Friedman’s ruling on Awkal’s competence.