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Letter responds to commentary on Resnover execution

January 14, 2015

Dear editor:

As members of the defense team who fought for Gregory Resnover’s life only to watch him be killed in the electric chair Dec. 8, 1994, it is impossible to understand why David Hurley would choose the holiday season to reopen old wounds left behind by his execution. A response (to “Lawyer recounts work on Resnover death penalty case,” IL Dec. 31, 2014-Jan.13, 2015) is required, beginning with recognition of Sgt. Jack Ohrberg, a fine homicide detective and good man who deserved to live a longer life.

However, Mr. Hurley’s gratitude that he was spared having to travel to Michigan City via helicopter to videotape Mr. Resnover’s execution is jarring. At our client’s request, we sought to videotape the execution so in future litigation we could prove the barbarity of what was being done in the name of the state of Indiana. It was a simple request by today’s standards, but not so in 1994. Mr. Hurley and his comrades succeeded in overturning a court order to videotape the execution and to remove the hood that traditionally shrouds the condemned’s head.

Defense counsel Robert Hammerle was not as fortunate as Mr. Hurley. He watched as his client and friend was burned alive. Under cloak of darkness and anonymity he watched as flames and smoke shot from Mr. Resnover’s covered head, soon followed by the smell of burning flesh. Mr. Resnover’s son was present, as he insisted on being at his father’s deathbed. He vomited in the execution chamber. As Hammerle said at the time, he never felt so ashamed to be a member of the human race.

Mr. Hurley asserts that his team “upheld the oath they took when admitted to the bar,” but he conveniently omits reference to important facts about this case that will not die. He says that Mr. Resnover was represented by two good defense attorneys, leaving the impression that he had adequate legal counsel throughout this process. In fact, he was represented at his death penalty trial by a lawyer who filed only one motion, referring therein to Mr. Resnover by someone else’s name because it had been cribbed from another lawyer’s case. He does not mention that his trial lawyer was later made a judge and removed from the bench for repeated drunken-driving arrests that included referring to the African-American arresting officer as “boy.”

Nor does Mr. Hurley mention that his office inserted false evidence into the appeal record, false facts that included that Mr. Resnover came onto the porch and shot Sgt. Ohrberg at point blank range while he lay prone (in fact this was a co-defendant); that Mr. Resnover’s fingerprints were found on the weapon that killed Sgt. Ohrberg (there were no fingerprints recovered); and that gunshot residue was found on Mr. Resnover’s hands (gunshot residue was found only on a co-defendant’s hands). These false facts were not corrected on appeal by Mr. Resnover’s state-appointed counsel who was later disbarred. Tragically, these false facts were relied upon by the Indiana Supreme Court when it affirmed his death sentence.

When the trial prosecutors learned that the appellate court considered false evidence, they joined us in asking that a fair review of the true evidence be permitted. Though they believed Mr. Resnover deserved the death penalty, they also believed he should be executed only after a fair review of the actual and true evidence. Their voices held no sway with Mr. Hurley and his associates as they barreled forward insisting on Mr. Resnover’s immediate execution. His case was never considered by any appellate court on the true facts.

At this moment when racial prejudice again takes center stage in our criminal justice system, Mr. Hurley fails to acknowledge the significance now, as he did in 1994, of the role it played in Mr. Resnover’s trial, appeal and execution. It is an unfortunate fact that he was convicted by an all white jury, in front of a white judge while prosecuted and defended by white attorneys. His case was reviewed on appeal by a cadre of white appellate judges. While no one in Mr. Hurley’s office thought that raised any type of problem, the reaction was very different in the many black churches where we advocated on Mr. Resnover’s behalf.

As the phrase goes, those who fail to remember their history are doomed to repeat it.•

Monica Foster

Robert W. Hammerle

Joseph Cleary

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