One Year of Freedom — Almost…
May 6th is the anniversary of almost-freedom for Tony Apanovitch. Almost-freedom. It’s sort of funny even to think that way. But I’ve never known anyone living under house arrest. Peaking out from under his pants leg is a black device secured to his ankle. It connects to a beacon in the house, and that connects to the government agency monitoring Tony.
The rules are pretty strict. Tony is not even supposed to be on his front porch or in the back yard without special permission. He is monitored weekly for drugs — he can’t even have a beer without risking a violation of his house arrest orders.
But you know what? Tony is in great spirits despite that. Who wouldn’t be after spending 30 years on death row, two more in county jail, and then waiting many more months for the courts to finally concede they should not be holding him?
Tony greeted us as the door — “What the hell do you want?!” he bellowed, and then laughed as we hugged and he welcomed us in. He’s got a roast in the oven. He made us delicious coffee (“half & half is a great thing, eh?”). He’s married and helping raise his wife’s daughters, he’s got a good church life, five dogs, and he can visit with his own daughter and her family. And all of them can visit him without going through metal detectors, multiple sally ports and slamming metal doors, risking invasive strip & grope searches — all just to talk over a monitored phone while looking through a glass window at a guy in hand cuffs, even though he’s locked in on the other side of the glass.
Tony Apanovitch was released to house arrest on May 6th, 2016. One year ago, May 6 was a Friday. I learned about this when one of his original lawyers, my friend Dale Baich, tweeted a photo of Tony standing in street clothes, outside! I had to take a second look. Could it be true? Tony was free? I’m sure my wife was annoyed that suddenly on a Friday evening I was stuck in my phone again, but she too was elated when I shared the unexpected news.
Anthony C. Apanovitch is still waiting for the Ohio Supreme Court to deny the state’s appeal of the order releasing him on bond. They say they will take him to trial, but on what evidence?
I’ve been meaning to get up to visit Tony, and I’m embarrassed to say it took me nearly a year. The last time I saw Tony was ten years ago on death row at Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. Before that, when Ohio’s death row was at Mansfield Correctional Institution. Before that, I visited my first death row pen pal at the maximum security prison and home of Ohio’s execution chamber, in Lucasville. It’s been 27 or 28 years since that first visit. Tony did 30 years on Ohio’s death row — always proclaiming innocence. Once the courts are done, he’ll be Ohio’s next exonerated death row survivor — the 10th in Ohio, unless one of several others also waiting gets exonerated first.
Just sitting there with Tony made me smile. I especially enjoyed his story of being clapped out of the county jail when they finally let him post bond and leave. First it was the prisoners who clapped and cheered as he was walking out — this time NOT in the shackles required when moving a so-called “Dead Man Walking.” But then it was the corrections officers who were clapping, and in a surprise to Tony, even the “Goon Squad” was clapping and yelling “Don’t come back!” (Goon Squad = the team of guards dressed like a swat team — always ready to deal with unruly prisoners.)
I’m looking forward to adding Tony to the mix of the men and women I work with who use their Voices of Experience to help educate the public about the many ways the death penalty fails us as a public policy. This weekend I get to do that with another man who survived Ohio’s death row, and who spent time in prison with Tony — Derrick Jamison.
As I said to Tony the first time I visited him nearly 30 years ago, “If you are really innocent, then I’m looking forward to shouting it from the rooftops with you.” Soon, Tony. Soon.
[Abraham Bonowitz & Scott Langley co-founded Death Penalty Action in order to add capacity to the death penalty abolition movement. They launched it publicly on March 18th, 2017. You can invest in their success and allow them to be your boots on the ground where it matters most via the crowd funder here, or directly, here.]