LUCASVILLE: Brett Hartmann is dead.
After 15 years of failed appeals, the condemned Akron man was strapped to a gurney Tuesday morning at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.
“I’m good. Let’s roll,” he said in his final words as a dose of lethal drugs were shot into his system.
He smiled and gave a thumbs up to his sister as she watched the execution through a glass window.
Sixteen minutes later, at 10:34 a.m., Hartmann was declared dead.
He maintained his innocence since his 1997 conviction for the slaying of Winda Snipes, 46, who lived in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood.
In a statement released after the execution, Hartmann’s family, which includes a daughter and sister, said they hope the death serves as a “wake up call to the flaws in our legal system.” Prosecutors have always said there was “overwhelming” evidence of his guilt.
“After numerous appeals and stays of execution, the state of Ohio carried out Brett Hartmann’s death sentence,” Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said in a news release. “The evidence was overwhelming that he brutally stabbed and mutilated Winda Snipes. Hopefully, Winda’s friends and family can now start the healing process.”
Hartmann’s sister Diane Morretti and a friend, John McClure, witnessed the execution. Hartmann appeared to smile broadly at his sister as he was dying. He eventually turned away from the window and closed his eyes.
Minutes into the execution, he spoke to prison Warden Donald Morgan.
“This is not going to defeat me,” Hartmann said, according to the Associated Press. Morgan did not respond.
In a 25-minute phone call Monday night with a Beacon Journal reporter, Hartmann, 38, said he was relieved to finally learn his fate in the face of his pending appeals. For several weeks, his future was uncertain due to his appeals to obtain more DNA testing on crime-scene evidence.
‘It’s my time,’ convict says
He said he was disappointed, but not surprised, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop his execution Monday evening. Twice before, in 2009 and 2011, Hartmann was given a stay.
“It’s the road I got to walk,” he said. “It’s my time. It’s hard, especially for my family. But it’s not overwhelming for me. I’ve just never had any luck.”
He said he had no desire to spend the rest of his life in prison and was hoping to win a second trial and secure additional DNA testing. He said his family knows he is innocent, and he hopes the search for Snipes’ true killer continues.
“I think we’re lucky on death row because we have an out,” Hartmann said. “It’s a harsh structure in prison, but at least we’re not in for 50 to 60 years. Death row is its own little enigma. We are in our own little world.
“But being locked up and away from family, it’s tough. I’m tired of fighting and no one listening. I’m tired of begging for money [and tired] of prison. So, there’s some relief.”
Hartmann’s years of appeals ended about 6 p.m. Monday, when his attorneys told him the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. He was convicted of aggravated murder and kidnapping in 1997.
“It’s all over and I’m relieved,” said Jacqueline Brown of Doylestown. She served as the only witness on Snipes’ behalf.
Snipes’ mother is in poor health and was unable to attend, Brown said.
“It’s a shame he died so peacefully. There’s no doubt he did it. No doubt at all,” she said.
Snipes and Hartmann had been involved in what he called a casual sexual relationship for several months before her death.
Hartmann, then 23, told police he was with Snipes the night before her death and the two drank alcohol and had sex. He said he left her South Highland Avenue apartment and returned about 14 hours later to find her dead.
Snipes was stabbed more than 130 times. Her hands were severed. She was not raped, authorities said.
Alibi in slaying
Instead of calling 911 immediately after finding Snipes’ body, Hartmann said he panicked, fearing he would be blamed for the murder because of their sexual encounter the previous day. He said he walked to a bar and got drunk. He then went back to the apartment and removed evidence of his visit and returned home.
Later that night and even more intoxicated, he reported the murder during a series of anonymous 911 calls and waited around the Highland Square neighborhood.
Eventually, he talked to officers at the scene and became a suspect. Detectives went to Hartmann’s apartment and found a bloody T-shirt stashed behind his bed. They also found Snipes’ jewelry.
Hartmann said he had left the T-shirt at Snipes’ apartment the night before and took it along with other items to conceal his visit, not his guilt.
“I made a lot of bad decisions that night, and I’m paying the price now,” Hartmann said in the phone call to a Beacon Journal reporter. “I was drunk and stupid, basically.”
Hartmann said his greatest regret is not being around for his daughter, whom he met for the first time this year. The 20-year-old Akron woman was unaware he was her father until her mother broke the news in the summer. Hartmann and the woman’s mother had a relationship early in the 1990s.
A paternity test confirmed the inmate’s parentage. The woman visited Hartmann at the death house Monday night.
“She cried outside in the hall, but she held up pretty good during our visit. It’s pretty hard for her,” he said.
During the phone call, Hartmann joked often, even about his cremation. He said his remains probably would wind up in a box in some family member’s basement. He marveled at the size of his special meal, which included steak, shrimp and a baked potato.
“What else are you going to do?” he said. “Sometimes, all you can do is laugh.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.