Lorain County Community College Professor Bill Kimberlin has never been one to make an opinion without weighing the facts. So, when students in his psychology courses began discussing controversial topics such as capital punishment, Kimberlin knew he had to find information to share with the class.
The problem, he found, was that no one had investigated what death row in Ohio was really like. So, Kimberlin did what any educator would do; he spent nine years researching death row, interviewing inmates and, ultimately, watching several of them be executed.
Kimberlin’s new book “Watch Me Die,” is a firsthand account of Ohio’s death row and the state’s execution process. Kimberlin is a trained clinical psychologist and worked as a probation and parole officer prior to earning his Ph.D. in psychology. Kimberlin lives in Sandusky.
“At the time that I started, no one at the top had witnessed an execution. Not the attorney general or the governor,” Kimberlin recalled. “It didn’t seem right that this highly controversial thing was happening and no one was really paying attention to how it’s done or what it’s like for the inmates on death row.”
Kimberlin began his research by getting a list of all the inmates awaiting execution in Ohio and got approval from the prison and the prisoner to visit and hold an interview. Those first interviews were eye opening, he said.
“I was taken aback at how easy death row really was. It’s not like what you’ve seen in the movies. There are a lot of amenities, there is a lot of natural light, and the inmates are kept pretty happy,” Kimberlin said.
Prior to talking with Kimberlin, inmates must first admit their guilt. From there, Kimberlin lets the inmate guide the discussion. Most often, the inmates want to talk about their crimes.
“Their biggest fear is being forgotten. They don’t fear death as much as they are afraid they won’t be remembered,” Kimberlin said.
Kimberlin has been invited by seven prisoners to witness their execution. He has shared the last meal with men before they receive a lethal injection.
“It’s hard,” he said. “I’ve been the last person that they talked to before they died. That’s not a situation that I take lightly.”
Kimberlin has interviewed many of Ohio’s infamous murderers, including Anthony Sowell, known as the Cleveland Strangler. As they go through the interview process, the inmates often feel a friendship is developing between then and Kimberlin – but Kimberlin works hard to be sure the lines are clear.
“They may feel like it’s a friendship, but I do not. It is a professional interview,” he said.
The road to execution day is long and drawn out by legal appeals. The average time an inmate spends on death row is 18-20 years, Kimberlin said.
“It’s a long process that puts a lot of pain on the families of the victims, who relive these horrible crimes each time an appeal is heard,” he said.
His interviews have gained a lot of attention among death row inmates, both in Ohio and across the country. He receives in the mail letters and plenty of artwork – some very impressive and a few disturbing – from death row prisoners who have heard about him.
“The weirdest thing anyone’s sent me is a homemade shrunken head that was made of dried fruit and had sweatpants material for hair,” he recalled.
Kimberlin plans a second book that will highlight the art of death row and profile the criminals who created each piece.
“Watch Me Die” is published by Green Ivy and hit bookstores and online book sites in January 2016. It’s available for sale on www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.