A former Northmont High School student — one of the youngest on Ohio’s Death Row — is a “big step” closer to being executed in the murder of a childhood friend.
The Ohio Supreme Court, in a decision published Thursday, affirmed the death penalty for Austin Myers, 23, in the death of Justin Back, 18, at Back’s home outside Waynesville in January 2014. Investigators said someone else killed Back but said Myers instigated the crime.
The execution is scheduled for July 20, 2022.
“It’s another step,” Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said about the affirmation. “It’s a big step.”
Fornshell was pleased with the 7-0 ruling by the state’s highest court.
“The 7-0 decision is always something you like to see,” said Fornshell, who handled the appeal with Assistant County Prosecutor Kirsten Brandt. “That should give the public some confidence that Mr. Myers received a fair trial and a just punishment.”
Myers, of Clayton, was sentenced to death on Oct. 16, 2014, for Back’s murder during a robbery. Another Clayton man, Timothy Mosley, actually stabbed Back to death. Myers and Mosley both were 19 years old then.
Mosley received a sentence of life without parole.
Back was 18 at the time, a 2013 Waynesville High School graduate about to enter the U.S. Navy.
Myers’ lead lawyer, Timothy McKenna, could not be reached for comment.
Fornshell said he anticipated the defense to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Testimony showed that Myers planned the deadly crime, although Mosley ultimately stabbed Back to death during a struggle with Mosley and Myers on the floor of the kitchen after a garrote designed to choke Back to death caught on his chin.
Myers and Back were friends until the eighth grade, when Myers moved to Clayton and attended Northmont. Testimony indicated Myers was the one who decided they should target Back’s home, unaware the family safe contained only $70 at the time.
Myers took various steps during two days of preparation, including acquiring septic chemicals he expected would help decompose Back’s body, and shot the body before he and Mosley disposed of it in woods in Preble County.
“Without Mr. Myers, I don’t think Mr. Mosley had any real disposition to kill,” Judge Donald Oda II said upon confirming the death sentence recommendation of the jury.
Myers’ family pleaded for his life, and he went to the witness stand to deliver a statement to the jury.
“I’m sorry that this happened. I know this doesn’t bring Justin back,” he told the jury. “I wish I could go back in time and stop this.”
Back was scheduled to join the Navy in 10 days when Myers and Mosley showed up at his door.
After the sentencing, Back’s mother, Sandy Cates, said, “It’s bittersweet. It’s justice for Justin, but it’s never going to bring Justin back.”
Cates lobbied for sentencing changes in “Justin’s Law” as part of her efforts to make something positive out of his loss.
RELATED: Ohio House passes ‘Justin’s Law’
The Justin Back Be a Hero 5k Run/Walk is scheduled for June 9 at Waynesville Middle School.
Last October, when the Ohio Supreme Court scheduled a hearing on Myers’ appeal of the death sentence, he was the second youngest facing the death penalty in Ohio to Damantae Graham, 20, sentenced to die in a Portage County case.
In their 60-page decision, the justices and Judge Cynthia Rice of the Eleventh District Court of Appeals, sitting for Justice William O’Neill, rejected arguments — including questions based on Myers’ relative youth — brought by McKenna and co-counsel Roger Kirk.
The justices agreed with Fornshell, Oda and the jury in Warren County Common Pleas Court that “the person who instigates and plans an aggravated murder may be at least as culpable as the one who actually carries it out. “
The decision concludes: “We affirm the judgments of conviction and the sentence of death.”