COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Terry Collins, a former Ohio prisons director who oversaw more than 30 executions and then became an anti-death penalty advocate in retirement, died Thursday of a heart attack, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction confirmed. Collins, of Chillicothe, was 63.
Collins was named state prisons superintendent in 2006, after nearly three decades with the agency. Among his experiences was taking over as warden at the maximum-security Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville immediately after the 1993 prison riot that left nine inmates and a guard dead.
“I’m not afraid of a challenge. I try to work as hard as I can,” Collins told The Associated Press the year he was promoted.
Current prisons director Gary Mohr called Collins “a solid person and professional who cared deeply about our agency and understood the importance of having a balance between his career and family.”
Collins defended Ohio’s execution procedures as director, including the 2009 botched execution of inmate Romell Broom, stopped after two hours when executioners could not access his veins.
At the time, Collins said the episode “absolutely, positively” did not shake his faith in the state’s lethal-injection procedure.
After his 2010 retirement, Collins actively opposed capital punishment, participating in numerous events with Ohioans to Stop Executions, the state’s largest anti-death penalty group. He had been scheduled as keynote speaker at an anti-death penalty event at the Ohio Statehouse next month.
Collins told the AP last fall he was concerned about the stress executions placed on prison employees and on victims’ family members, who often waited decades for justice. Collins also had concerns about the fairness of death sentences and the possibility of an innocent person being put to death.
“We have the greatest justice system in the world, but it too can make a mistake,” he said. “If we make a mistake with the death sentence, there’s no correcting it.”
Collins’ concern went beyond abolishing the death penalty to wanting to see broader prison and criminal justice reform, said Abraham Bonowitz, a spokesman for Ohioans to Stop Executions.
Ohio’s prison population reached a record high in 2007 under Collins’ watch, and he pushed sentencing reforms in the state Legislature to help alleviate the problem and save money.
Ohio named a facility on the grounds of the Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe after Collins in 2014. The Terry Collins Reentry Center brought together education programs, treatment and other services to help inmates better reintegrate into society.
Collins lived with his grandfather in rural Hillsboro before heading off to college to become an accountant. He fell into the corrections program at Morehead State University in Kentucky and took to it. He became a warden and prison psychologist.
This story has been updated to correct that Collins was Lucasville warden immediately after the riot.
Associated Press Writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.
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