Blackout Killer Faces Lethal Injection

By Will Godfrey 08/25/11

Lawyer argues that an alcoholic who committed murder in a blackout, at the age of 18, should be shown mercy by Ohio courts.

Slagle: Will alcoholism save him? Photo via

In a case that raises important questions about culpability, a man who stabbed his neighbor to death during a burglary 24 years ago—while in an alcohol- and marijuana-induced stupor—could be the first person to face lethal injection after a summer pause in executions in Ohio. Billy Slagle, now 42, broke into the Cleveland home of 40-year-old Mari Anne Pope in 1986 and stabbed her 17 times with a set of sewing scissors. He was just 18 at the time of the crime and his motive may have been to obtain money to buy more alcohol. But public defender Joe Wilhelm argues that the court should show mercy to his client, in part because of Slagle's alcoholism. "Billy suffered from the stunting effects of drugs and alcohol when he committed his crime," said Wilhelm, adding that Slagle couldn't even remember the night in question. "He had no clue as to why he killed Mari Anne." Wilhelm listed a difficult upbringing and the speculated genetic predisposition of Native Americans—Slagle is of Chippewa heritage—as contributing factors to his addiction. He also noted Slagle's good behavior for well over two decades—most of his life—in the absence of drugs and alcohol in prison. Wilhelm added that Slagle had an emotional age of 12 in 1986. Executions were suspended in Ohio in early July amid concerns that lethal injection policies were being "haphazardly" enforced, but may soon resume. A final hearing on Billy Slagle's case is scheduled for September 13—just a week before his planned execution on September 20.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.