Death row inmate sues to halt execution

Attorneys for Daniel Bedford, scheduled to be executed May 17 for two 1984 murders, want to save his life and took a rare step Monday to try to do that. In a Hamilton County first, they filed a civil lawsuit seeking to halt his execution, alleging Bedford is “insane” and unable to understand why he is to be put to death, making an execution under those circumstances unconstitutional.

“It’s unusual,” admitted Alphonse Gerhardstein, Bedford’s Cincinnati attorney, said of filing a civil suit to try to stop an execution.

Bedford has been on Death Row for 27 years following his 1984 conviction for two murders.

“We are going to use whatever we can to try to save his life,” Gerhardstein said.

Prosecutors were surprised by the civil suit, saying it had never happened in Hamilton County.

“It might be the first time in Ohio, too,” Assistant Prosecutor Ron Springman said.

A spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General confirmed that no one who has been executed has used the 1998 law that allows for this procedure.

Civil suits usually are between two parties where one alleges harm by the other in a non-criminal case. Examples can include a medical malpractice case, sexual harassment, a car crash or dispute over a neighbor’s fence.

Bedford, 63, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the April 24, 1984, shooting death of ex-girlfriend, Gwen Toepfert, 25, and John Smith, 27. Bedford shot Toepfert several times with a pistol in a jealous rage and then returned to fire a shotgun blast into her groin.

The suit – which seeks a hearing before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Ralph “Ted” Winkler on the issue – also alleges Bedford’s dementia leaves his bereft of the mental capacity to understand he is slated to be executed next week.

Monday’s suit was filed three weeks before Bedford’s May 17 scheduled execution and a month after the Ohio Parole Board denied his request to have his death sentence commuted because of his alleged mental issues.

At that hearing, Bedford’s attorneys said he was mildly mentally retarded and had dementia since 2004, arguments rejected by the Parole Board.

“Ultimately, you want the law to do justice,” Gerhardstein said of the reason for the suit. “You want to knock on the door loud” with new evidence that could save a life.

But the evidence isn’t new, Springman countered.

“They’ve been making this claim all along,” Springman said.

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