There was more in the report that explains how Slagle could have succeeded. There was inadequate lighting in his cell and the prisoner himself controlled what little light there was. There were atrocious staffing problems, too. With days to go before an execution, the report concluded, "28 of the 39 security posts were guards were filed with a relief officer. In the Death Row blocks that evening, all 6 officers were relief. Officer Putnam was a probationary officer." Everyone wanted an early August weekend off. No one cared enough about Billy Slagle to make sure he wouldn't harm himself.
As if this misfeasance wasn't bad enough on its own, upon publication of the report a rift appeared between and among prison officials. A Columbus Dispatch article published last Wednesday, two days after the Department issued its report, contained this:
Ohio Civil Service Association officials remain critical of what they see as the prison administration's failure to see that a manpower shortage is hampering the system's ability to maintain security and prevent incidents such as suicides. "They are looking for a fall guy. The fall guy is always going to be the corrections officer," said Tim Shafer, the union's operations director and a former longtime corrections officer. "They should be looking from the top down."
Rather than apologizing unconditionally for the suicide of Billy Slagle, a death caused by the acknowledged systemic failure of state officials, some of those officials thought it seemly now to posture over who ought to be blamed for what happened. What irony. In the end, one of the strongest arguments in favor of Billy Slagle's clemency request was that he had accepted responsibility for his terrible choice that night in 1987. Is anyone working in the Ohio prison system going to do likewise?
It is still not clear exactly whether there was, in fact, a plea deal discussed 25 years ago. Former Cuyahoga County prosecutor Joe Delguyd believes so. He worked on the Slagle trial and, as last month's execution drew near, contacted prosecutor McGinty and his assistants Matthew Meyer and Allan Regas to tell them about it. McGinty, who was a judge before he was a prosecutor, told me last Friday that he believes Delguyd's story. Here's how Slagle's lawyer, Joseph Wilhelm, spelled it out in a sworn affidavit:
On Friday, August 2, 2013, at about 4:50 p.m., I received a phone call from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor McGinty, and Assistant Prosecutors Meyer and Regas. They had important information to share with me regarding Mr. Slagle's case. Mr. Ginty (sic) related that the prosecutor's office had spoken to Joe Delguyd who was the trial prosecutor in Mr. Slagle's capital case in 1987.
Mr. McGinty said Mr. Delguyd recently informed the Prosecutor's office that former Prosecutor John Corrigan had authorized a plea of life without the possibility of parole until after thirty years for Mr. Slagle. Mr. Delguyd informed the Prosecutor's office, however, that Mr. Slagle's trial counsel, Ross Haffey, had reject this plea offer of life/thirty. During the phone call on August 2, Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Meyer said that the trial transcript did not disclose any information about this issue...
Later that evening on August 2nd, Assistant Prosecutor Meyer called me and asked if would be filing a stay motion on Monday, August 5th, in light of the new evidence about the plea. I said that a stay motion would be filed for Mr. Slagle on Monday, August 5th in the Ohio Supreme Court. Mr. Meyer said that the Prosecutor's office would not oppose Mr. Slagle's new stay motion.
By telephone on Friday, McGinty elaborated on these facts. First, he reiterated the position his office had taken on clemency before the parole board in July -- that Slagle would not have been charged with a capital defense were the case to arise today. "It clearly was not a carefully premeditated murder," McGinty said. emphasizing Slagle's age at the time of the crime. As for Delguyd and his revelation, McGinty said: "I know the guy for a long time. He's a very trustworthy, honest guy. ... I didn't know there was a plea offer but if there was I assumed the other side knew about it."