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Ohio executes man convicted of back-to-back 1992 killings
FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows death row inmate Gary Otte, convicted of shooting two people to death in back-to-back robberies in February 1992. Otte execution is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections via AP, File)
By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
From Associated Press
September 13, 2017 5:14 PM EST

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A man convicted of killing two people in back-to-back robberies in suburban Cleveland in 1992 was executed Wednesday as family members of his victims looked on.

The prison system announced the time of death for Gary Otte as 10:54 a.m. following the administration of three lethal drugs at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

In his final statement, the 45-year-old Otte professed his love for his family, sang a Christian hymn and quoted the Bible. He said, "God is good all the time," and added, "I'm sorry." Then, he sighed deeply and began singing, "The Greatest Thing," with words such as "I want to know you, Lord" and "I want to serve you, Lord." He stopped singing at 10:39.

Otte quoted the Bible with his last words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they're doing. Amen." The words were derived from a Bible account of Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Otte gave a thumbs-up sign, and then his stomach rose and fell several times between 10:41 and 10:42. Two members of the state execution team did a consciousness check at 10:42. Otte's stomach continued to rise and fall a couple of more minutes, then he appeared to go still.

Defense attorney Carol Wright said she believes the rising and falling of Otte's chest and tears she saw on his face while the first drug, the sedative midazolam, was being administered indicated that he was suffering from a phenomenon known as air hunger. Those occurrences "indicated to me that he was feeling pain or sensations," said Wright, who tried unsuccessfully at first to leave the room to alert a federal judge about her concerns.

Proper security protocol was followed, and the execution was carried out without complication, prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.

"Once (Wright's) identity and intention was verified, she was given permission to exit the room," Smith said.

Otte had unsuccessfully argued Ohio's lethal-injection method put him at risk of suffering serious pain because the midazolam might not render him deeply unconscious. The rising and falling of his chest was similar to reactions in past executions when a different drug was used.

Otte was sentenced to die for the Feb. 12, 1992, killing of Robert Wasikowski and the Feb. 13, 1992, killing of Sharon Kostura.

Witnesses on Wednesday included the daughter and brother of Wasikowski and the sister, brother-in-law and niece of Kostura.

Otte didn't sleep after arriving at the prison at 9:46 a.m. Tuesday and spent his time on the phone with friends and family and visiting with his parents and other relatives.

His legal appeals ended about two hours before his scheduled execution when the Ohio Supreme Court declined to weigh in on his contention that he shouldn't be put to death because of his age at the time of the crime.

Otte was 20 when he killed Wasikowski and Kostura.

Authorities had said he asked to go inside Wasikowski's apartment to use the phone and then shot the 61-year-old and stole about $400. The next day, authorities say, Otte forced his way into the apartment of the 45-year-old Kostura in the same building, shot her and stole $45 and her car keys.

Both the state Parole Board and Republican Gov. John Kasich denied Otte's request for clemency.

Otte's drug addiction, intoxication and depression led to the slayings, and Otte had poor legal assistance at trial, his public defenders said in documents filed with the parole board. They argued that a life sentence without parole was an appropriate alternative.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor said Otte still wouldn't take full responsibility for his crimes and tried to blame others, including the victims.

The killings weren't spur-of-the-moment decisions by Otte, who lingered in the victims' apartments to rob them and even turned the TV up to block out Kostura's pleas for help, county prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a January filing with the parole board.

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Associated Press writer Dan Sewell contributed to this report from Cincinnati.

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Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.