Now legally named Victoria Drain, the condemned prisoner formerly known as Joel Drain was granted a stay of execution on Jan. 5.
In its decision, the state’s highest court declared: “The stay shall remain in effect until exhaustion of all state post-conviction proceedings, including any appeals.”
One such legal challenge is pending in Warren County, Ohio.
Drain, 41, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 24, 2026.
Drain’s case made national news last fall when the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed Drain’s 2020 aggravated murder conviction and death sentence.
“The killing itself was extraordinarily brutal,” the Supreme Court noted at the time.
But one justice questioned whether Drain deserved the death penalty, and court records in Drain’s case unveil a perplexing and disturbing tale.
Drain’s lawyers say their client, now 41, was a victim of childhood sexual abuse amid an environment of substance abuse.
Having first consumed alcohol at age 9, Drain soon began experimenting with a litany of substances: “marijuana, cleaning products, alcohol, Ritalin, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, and muscle relaxers.”
Behavior problems manifested, including self-harming.
Much of Drain’s life was spent in state youth institutions and, starting at age 13, Drain “was often locked up alone for 20 hours a day,” Drain’s lawyers wrote.
Instead of getting much-needed help from “the system,” Drain was discarded, defense lawyers said.
In adulthood, Drain was diagnosed with “numerous serious mental-health illnesses, including borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, schizophrenia, and posttraumatic stress disorder,” the Supreme Court noted.
But prosecutors and the court also pointed out that Drain admitted to faking mental-health symptoms, according to a psychologist who evaluated Drain’s competency to stand trial.
Disliked Own Gender
The psychologist also said that Drain, a parent of a daughter and a son, “denied seriously considering gender-changing.”
But that declaration conflicts with other reports and with Drain’s recent name change.
“A prison doctor described Drain as ‘primarily struggling with issues related to the gender dysphoria’ and indicated that Drain engages in self-cutting as a way of dealing with gender dysphoria,” the Supreme Court said.
Drain’s appellate lawyers cite prison records showing their client sometimes “swallowed razor blades” and slashed body parts, sometimes “to the point of cutting arteries.”
Drain twice caused self-inflicted genital injuries and reportedly attempted self-castration.
Claims of gender dysphoria, or debilitating distress over one’s gender, repeatedly appear in Drain’s initial appeal.
This is among the conditions that, if investigated by Drain’s lawyers further, may have helped spare Drain from the death penalty, according to a justice’s dissenting opinion about the sentence.
Despite the legal name change that a Hamilton County judge granted to Drain in February 2022, Ohio’s online prison records list no inmate under Drain’s new name, “Victoria Drain.”
Instead, the records list “Joel Drain” among the inmates facing execution. Drain, listed as a male, is housed at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Generally, however, Ohio’s male Death Row prisoners are assigned to the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
Ohio’s online Death Row roster listed 125 males as of Jan. 5. The lone female, Donna Roberts, 78, has been awaiting execution since 2003 when she was convicted of complicity in the 2001 contract killing of her husband.
In a February 2022 court filing, Drain’s attorneys said Drain has been using the name, “Victoria,” for several years.
Joel Drain was the inmate’s given name. It also was the one in use when Drain was convicted for two separate slayings, including the one that landed Drain on Death Row.
First One Murder, Then Another
In 2016, Drain was sentenced to 31 years in prison for three Hancock County, Ohio, convictions: aggravated murder, felonious assault, and theft. A local news report at that time said the victim was stabbed and strangled.
Common Pleas Court records in that county show Drain had initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. But Drain underwent a mental evaluation, was declared competent to stand trial, and then pleaded guilty.
In 2019, while locked up for the Hancock County crimes, Drain was accused of fatally beating a fellow inmate in Warren County.
Christopher Richardson, 29, was killed in a vicious April 2019 attack at Warren Correctional Institution near Lebanon, Ohio.
Drain told investigators that someone else was the intended victim: an unidentified inmate Drain suspected of being a child molester. Drain said plotting that scheme caused a rush of adrenaline and a strong urge to “do something to somebody,” court records say.
So, when Richardson, an acquaintance, showed up at Drain’s cell for an invited visit, Drain used makeshift weapons to brutalize him. Cords had been wrapped around Richardson’s neck. A fan motor was used to beat him. A pencil was shoved through Richardson’s eye, then was stomped into his brain.
However, Drain later confessed to planning Richardson’s murder.
The Supreme Court noted: “Drain believed that Richardson was easy to manipulate,” so Drain asked him to help kill the suspected child molester.
But Richardson refused to cooperate, saying he wanted to stay out of trouble. Worried that Richardson would report the murder plot to prison authorities, “Drain therefore decided to kill Richardson,” the Supreme Court said.
Prosecutors, in a court filing, said Drain was “very methodical” in preparing the attack on Richardson. Drain positioned weapons within easy reach. Drain also took steps to make sure that Richardson “would not be able to make noise or defend himself,” and to prevent anyone from witnessing the attack, prosecutors said.
Afterward, Drain tried to “temporarily, at least” hide what had happened. Drain left the cell, locking its door, and donned a hooded sweatshirt to conceal a bloodstained shirt underneath. Drain pretended to be “high” while interacting with other inmates.
Guards found a bloody trail leading to a horrific scene in Cell 215. Drain, who was housed there alone for security reasons, was gone. But guards found Richardson’s battered body crumpled in a corner. He was unconscious and barely breathing; his face had been covered with a sheet.
Drain later surrendered, kneeling and raising both bloody hands overhead.
Two days later, Richardson died at a hospital.
Chilling Statement To Judges
In early 2020, against advice from a defense lawyer, Drain waived a jury trial.
That May, Drain pleaded no contest to aggravated murder and other charges stemming from the attack on Richardson.
At a sentencing hearing before a three-judge panel, Drain asked to make an unsworn statement.
“Your honors, this is the time most people in similar circumstances may offer up some type of empty apology or make a pathetic plea for forgiveness,” Drain began.
Then Drain said it seemed better to avoid such “fake formalities.”
Drain admitted responsibility for Richardson’s death and gave reasons for omitting specific evidence that might have tipped the scales against a death sentence.
“My defense team has tirelessly tried to convince me to allow my 14-year-old daughter to testify during these mitigation proceedings,” Drain said. “But…I’d rather be sentenced to death than to use the only part of me that’s truly innocent and good to elicit anyone’s empathy or sympathy.”
Drain continued: “My daughter has absolutely nothing to do with my criminal behavior, my faults, or my shortcomings, and I refuse to allow her to be used as a human shield or a way to humanize me.”
Declining to “rehash” a traumatic past, Drain added: “I’m not offering up some fake hypothetical or farfetched medical [or] mental health excuses.”
But Drain did blame “the system.” Drain stated that it seemed ironic: The sentencing judges were part of the same system that helped make Drain into the person standing before them.
Chillingly, Drain concluded by telling the judges: “Murder is murder, no matter how pretty you make it or how justifiable you paint the picture for the public. The killer in me is the same one inside of you—and if there’s a hell, I’ll see you there.”
The panel, undaunted, decided Drain deserved to be executed.
Not ‘Worst of The Worst’
Upon automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, attorneys from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office claimed Drain’s decision to avoid trial was based on insufficient information.
Their filing also alleged that Drain’s defense lawyers failed to check into all factors that could have been argued as reasons to spare Drain’s life.
Justice Jennifer Brunner agreed with that. Drain’s legal team should have further examined what role Drain’s gender dysphoria, “serious mental health diagnoses,” substance abuse, and incarceration may have played in Drain’s decision-making.
But Brunner’s six Supreme Court colleagues saw the situation differently.
While the reported history of mental problems was entitled to “some weight,” the other justices discounted that factor in light of the crime’s brutality and “Drain’s admission of malingering” during a mental-health evaluation.
The psychologist who assessed Drain in early 2020 reported finding a person who was “fully oriented and free of bizarre or obviously delusional thoughts.” Further, Drain “seemed emotionally stable,” despite reporting anxiety, depression, and “an inability to feel joy.”
That doctor also found no documented mental issues during a year-long period that included the time of the murder. Drain had taken no psychiatric medications for several months, the Supreme Court majority opinion said.
Justice Sharon Kennedy, in writing that opinion, found Drain “repeatedly refused to apologize” for misdeeds. Drain’s other remarks, aimed at the sentencing judges, “hardly bespeak remorse,” Kennedy wrote.
Brunner, however, said “Drain likely would not have received a death sentence” if a clearer picture of Drain’s circumstances had been revealed.
Drain “is not what is sometimes referred to as ‘the worst of the worst,’” Brunner wrote. “And a full and complete investigation into the matters discussed above would only have confirmed that fact.”