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Ohio executes killer who strangled man he met in bar in 1985

Prosecutors say Robert Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.
by Associated Press /  / Updated 

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LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Ohio has put to death a killer sentenced to die for stabbing and dismembering a man he met in a bar in 1985.

The execution of Robert Van Hook by lethal injection was carried out Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. The time of death was 10:44 a.m.

The 58-year-old Van Hook was sentenced to die for stabbing and strangling David Self in Cincinnati. Prosecutors say Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.

Van Hook, weeping, told his victim's brother, sister and brother-in-law he was "very sorry for taking your brother away from you."

Image: Robert Van Hook
Robert Van Hook.The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction / via AP

Defense attorneys argued unsuccessfully that Van Hook should be spared because of childhood sexual, physical and mental abuse he suffered.

An Ohio prisons spokeswoman said Wednesday that Van Hook spent the morning meeting with Roman Catholic priests and friends. He spent much of the night lying on his bed and singing and later listening to music, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.

She said Van Hook slept only briefly and awoke shortly before 5 a.m. He showered, asked for leftover strawberry cheesecake from his last meal the night before and performed a Buddhist chant with a friend who was visiting, according to Smith. She said Van Hook also took communion Tuesday night. His choice for a last meal, called a special meal in Ohio, included double cheeseburgers, fries, strawberry cheese cake with whipped cream, a vanilla milkshake and grapefruit juice.

Smith says Van Hook's mood has been good and visits with friends and attorneys were upbeat.

A test of his veins on Tuesday, ahead of the lethal injection, didn't find any problems, she said.

At the time of the killing, Van Hook was suffering from long-term effects of untreated mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child and was depressed that his life seemed to be falling apart, his attorneys argued.

Kasich should have given more weight to Van Hook's military service and his inability to receive care from Veterans Affairs for his mental health and addiction issues after his honorable discharge, according to Van Hook's attorneys.

The Ohio Parole Board said that despite Van Hook's tough childhood, he was shown love and support by relatives he stayed with for long periods as a child. But that positive influence doesn't outweigh the "gratuitous violence" he demonstrated, the board said.

Previous attorneys representing Van Hook attempted a "homosexual panic" claim in his defense, or the idea that self-revulsion over sexual identity confusion contributed to a violent outburst. Van Hook's current lawyers say that was misguided, and overlooked his diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder from his childhood.

Seizing on that claim, prosecutors have dismissed the idea as nonsense, saying Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.

Prosecutors note Van Hook has an extensive history of violence while incarcerated, including stabbing a fellow death row inmate in November.

Self's family supports the execution, telling the parole board last month that he is missed every day.

Authorities say Van Hook met Self at the Subway Bar in downtown Cincinnati on Feb. 18, 1985. After a couple of hours, they went to Self's apartment where Van Hook strangled the 25-year-old Self to unconsciousness, stabbed him multiple times in the neck and then cut his abdomen open and stabbed his internal organs, according to court records. Van Hook stole a leather jacket and necklaces before fleeing, records say.

In September 2017 the state put Gary Otte to death for the 1992 murders of two people during robberies over two days in suburban Cleveland.

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