Ohio on Tuesday executed a condemned killer who calmly went to his death still claiming he was innocent of stabbing a woman 138 times, slitting her throat and cutting off her hands.
"I'm good, let's roll," Brett Hartman said in his final words.
He then smiled in the direction of his sister and repeatedly gave her, a friend and his attorney a "thumbs up" with his left hand.
"This is not going to defeat me," Hartman then said to warden Donald Morgan, who didn't respond.
The effect of the single dose of pentobarbital did not seem as immediate as in other executions at the state prison in Lucasville, in southern Ohio. Four minutes after Hartman first appeared to be reacting to it as his abdomen began to rise and fall, his abdomen rose and fell again, he coughed and his head shifted rhythmically for a few moments.
His sister, Diane Morretti, dabbed at her eyes during the process. The warden declared Hartman's time of death as 10:34.
Both Hartman's attorney, David Stebbins, and prisons system spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the gap between Hartman's movements was not out of the ordinary.
Hartman was the 49th inmate put to death since Ohio resumed executions in 1999.
Hartman acknowledged that he had sex with Winda Snipes early on the morning of Sept. 9, 1997 at her Akron apartment. He also says he went back to Snipes' apartment later that day, found her mutilated body and panicked, trying to clean up the mess before calling 911.
But Hartman said he didn't kill her, a claim rejected by numerous courts over the years.
A former co-worker and friend of Snipes who witnessed the execution said afterward that the family was relieved the case was over and that the continuous rounds of appeals and media reports about the case were at an end. Jacqueline Brown of Doylestown in northeast Ohio also flatly dismissed Hartman's innocence claim.
"He's very, very, very guilty," she said afterward. "Now Winda can be at peace, and that's what it's all about."
Stebbins read a statement from Hartman's family in which they professed his innocence and asked for additional testing of scene evidence.
"We hope that the taking of Brett's innocent life might serve as a wake-up call to the flaws in our legal system," the statement said.
Hartman came within about a week of execution in 2009 before federal courts allowed him to pursue an innocence claim. When that claim failed, Hartman had a new date set last year, but that was postponed because of a federal lawsuit over Ohio's execution policy.
The Ohio Parole Board had unanimously denied Hartman's requests for clemency three times, citing the brutality of the Snipes' slaying and the "overwhelming evidence" of Hartman's guilt.
Hartman's attorneys long said that crucial evidence from the crime scene and Snipes' body had never been tested, raising questions about Hartman's innocence. The evidence included fingerprints allegedly found on a clock and a mop handle. Hartman also argued the evidence could implicate an alternate suspect.
The attorneys argued that if Hartman's innocence claim wasn't accepted, he should still have been be spared because of the effects of a "remarkably chaotic and nomadic early childhood," including being abandoned by his mother and left with an aunt on an isolated Indian reservation.
His lawyers also said Hartman's behavior in prison was exemplary and showed he was a changed man. They cited his devotion to religious studies, his development as an artist and community service projects in prison.
The state opposed those arguments, citing the strength of the evidence and the fact that courts have repeatedly upheld Hartman's conviction and death sentence. The state also said Hartman refused to take responsibility and show remorse.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.