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The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence Wednesday, 6-1, for a transgender prisoner convicted of murder who blamed original attorneys for failing to investigate evidence of significant trauma and mental illness, including gender dysphoria.
Victoria Drain, formerly Joel, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2019 for killing a fellow inmate at Warren Correctional Institution, Christopher Richardson. Drain, who was serving a 38-year sentence for stabbing and strangling another man to death in Hancock County three years prior, tried recruiting Richardson to murder another inmate that Drain believed was a convicted child molester.
However, when Richardson refused, Drain began striking, stabbing, and strangling him to death after worrying he would report the plot to prison authorities.
“The Court has carefully considered the nature and circumstances of the offense to determine if there is any mitigating value,” the opinion stated. “There is not,” it continued, adding that “the crime itself was violent, intensely personal and carried out in a brutal fashion.”
The Associated Press reports Drain’s attorneys filed an appeal citing claims of mental health issues and acts of self-harm. Court filings last year show that Drain was placed in a unit for psychiatric services after attempting self-castration “because she is transgender.”
But the court document reads that the state’s highest court ruled that despite the significant mitigating factors, “the aggravating circumstances outweigh” such factors “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“We further conclude that the death sentence is appropriate and proportionate,” the court document reads.
Democrat Justice Jennifer Brunner, the lone dissenting vote, wrote that Drain’s attorneys had enough evidence that Drain experienced significant trauma and mental illness throughout the inmate’s life. Such trauma included gender dysphoria involving self-harm, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Brunner, who agreed the conviction should stand, wrote that a new mitigation hearing for Drain should be conducted after the inmate’s attorneys failed to “investigate and present mitigating evidence.”
Republican Justice Sharon Kenned wrote that the outcome of the proceedings may have changed because the attorneys presented effective evidence.
“There is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s deficient performance, Drain would have been spared the death penalty,” the opinion stated.
Michelle Umana, supervising attorney for Drain in the Ohio public defender’s death penalty department, told The Associated Press that the court has yet to consider her client’s history of “unfathomable trauma.”
“Victoria is more than the crimes for which she is convicted, and she does not deserve to die,” Umana said.
An execution date for Drain has not been scheduled.