By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The family of an Ohio storekeeper fatally shot in the head during a 1994 robbery opposes the upcoming execution of the man convicted of the crime, arguing it won’t change anything and they are satisfied with a life sentence.
Johnnie Baston is scheduled to die March 10 for the slaying of Chong-Hoon Mah, 53, a South Korean immigrant who operated two retail stores in Toledo.
The Ohio Parole Board was expected to rule Friday on Baston’s request for mercy on the grounds that Mah’s family is opposing the execution and also based on Baston’s chaotic upbringing.
The Mah family is opposed to the death penalty and believes the ultimate punishment is not something for people to decide.
“It’s never going to repair anything that’s already been done,” Mah’s son, Peter Mah, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
“It’s not going to make me feel better to see Johnnie Baston die. It’s not going to bring back my dad. It’s not going to do any of these things,” Mah said. “I just don’t think that that’s a good resolution for anything.”
Mah, 38, a Chicago restaurant owner, who is acting as the family spokesman, signed an affidavit last month that outlines the family’s opposition to the death penalty for Baston, a position the Mah family has held since Baston’s trial.
“A life has already been lost and someone chose that, but you know it shouldn’t be our choice as well,” he said.
Opposition by some victim’s family members to an execution is not uncommon. It’s rarer for a family to stand unified against the death sentence.
In 2009, then-Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland spared Jeffrey Hill, sentenced to die for killing his mother in a crack-cocaine-induced robbery, based on the opposition of surviving family members to an execution. But in that case, the victim’s relatives were also Hill’s relatives.
Chong-Hooh Mah was a journalist in South Korea before emigrating and opening two retail stores in Toledo, including Continental Wigs and Things in downtown Toledo. He started as a manual laborer before opening his stores and rarely took a day off, his brother, Chonggi Mah, testified at the end of Baston’s 1995 trial.
Mah’s wife, Jin Ju Mah, found her husband dead in the back of the store after she grew worried because she couldn’t reach him on the phone.
The Lucas County Prosecutor’s office acknowledges the family’s opposition to Baston’s execution, but points out the family testified strongly about its anguish and Baston’s lack of remorse.
“Most painful of all was watching the convict sit through the trial with a blank expression,” Chonggi Mah, told the three-judge panel that sentenced Baston.
“Not once through the whole thing did he show that he was sorry or show any sadness about what he did to my brother and his family,” he said.
Peter Mah, then an Ohio State University student, also expressed deep sorrow about what happened when he testified to the three-judge panel.
“When my father died last March, part of every one of my family died with him,” Mah said in 1995. “Laughter and joy that used to surround our house was gone. All the dreams that we had for the future were taken away.”
Baston’s attorneys say he was abandoned as an infant, has never seen his mother, and was rebuffed by his father when he attempted to move back in with him. As a boy, Baston would wander the streets with his dog trying to find his mother. ♦