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Ohio executes man for killing 2 strangers in 1989

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LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio death-row inmate was executed Thursday for killing two men he didn't know along a country road in 1989, marking the second execution in the state this year.

Donald Palmer, 47, was executed by lethal injection at a state prison in Lucasville in southern Ohio more than 23 years after the crime. His time of death was 10:35 a.m. EDT.

Palmer was convicted of fatally shooting Charles Sponhaltz and Steven Vargo in the head along a Belmont County road in eastern Ohio on May 8, 1989.

Palmer didn't know the men, who were both married fathers.

Palmer's Columbus attorney, David Stebbins, said Wednesday that Palmer was sorry for the murders and never got the chance to apologize to the men's families.

"He has always accepted responsibility for this and wants the families of his victims to have justice," said Stebbins, who had planned to be among the witnesses to the execution.

Palmer had decided not to request mercy from the Ohio Parole Board, which can recommend clemency for a condemned inmate to the governor.

Belmont County prosecutor Christopher Berhalter told the board the execution should proceed because Palmer's guilt is undisputed and because of the brutality of the crimes.

According to court records, Palmer told police that he and co-defendant Edward Hill were driving from Columbus to the Belmont County home of a man who had dated Palmer's ex-wife and Hill's sister.

As they were driving back and forth in front of the home, Sponhaltz — who was keeping an eye on the house — lightly hit the back of their pickup with his own truck and yelled at them: "What in the hell are you trying to prove?" according to the records.

Palmer then shot Sponhaltz twice in the head.

Vargo, a passing driver, stopped and asked "What the hell did you guys do," Palmer told police, according to the records. Palmer then shot Vargo twice in the head.

Sponhaltz's body was dumped in a field; Vargo's was left on the road.

Hill, 46, was convicted for his role in the crimes and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison.

Valerie Vargo Jolliffee, 51, Vargo's widow, told The Associated Press that she was planning to attend Palmer's execution because he ruined her life.

She said that she and Vargo fell in love at first sight and had been married just two months when he was killed.

"I was looking forward to growing old with him," she said. "I just can't wait until it's over. And it won't be over until they put him to death."

Sponholtz's widow, two daughters and his brother also were expected to watch the execution.

Corrections officials say that Palmer asked that his last meal include a chipped ham and Velveeta cheese sandwich, ranch-flavored Doritos, peanut M&Ms, hazelnut ice cream, cheese cake and soda.

Ten Ohio inmates, including Palmer, are scheduled for execution through March 2014. Palmer will be the second this year if the execution goes forward.

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Ohio death row: http://www.drc.ohio.gov/public/deathrow.htm

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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