Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ohio death penalty conviction upheld

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the aggravated murder convictions & death sentence of James Trimble for the 2005 shooting deaths of his girlfriend, her seven-year-old son, and a Kent State University student who he had taken hostage while fleeing the scene from police. ( Court’s Summary and Opinion )

"All 15 allegations of legal and procedural error by the trial court that Trimble had advanced as grounds to vacate his convictions or reduce his death sentence to a term of life imprisonment were rejected," the Court's summary reported. "These included claims that the trial judge should have granted a requested change of venue because of prejudicial pretrial publicity; and that the trial court improperly allowed the state to display before the jury a collection of 19 firearms owned by Trimble that were not used in the murders with which he was charged."

"Though pretrial publicity was extensive, the trial court was in the best position to judge each juror's demeanor and fairness," the Court said. "The trial court selected a jury after conducting in-depth voir dire that encompasses over 2,450 pages of the record….. The firearms and ammunition displayed in court had been introduced into evidence and were displayed only during an ATF expert witness’s testimony. Nothing in the record demonstrates that the method of presenting this evidence prejudiced Trimble by inflaming the jury's passions. … While it is highly questionable whether the trial court should have allowed this evidence to be displayed before the jury in court or during deliberations, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in doing so. Even assuming that these exhibits should not have been displayed, any error was harmless"

"Justice Paul E. Pfeifer entered a separate opinion expressing concern that the state was permitted to display to the jury '19 firearms that were not involved in the murders and dozens of pictures that were repetitive,'" the Court’s summary said. ' I am troubled by the inclusion of evidence that was so rife with potential prejudice.' He concluded, however: 'Although whether the jury was prejudiced by this evidence is a close call, I reach the same conclusion as the majority and therefore concur in affirming the sentence of death.'"

"Upon independent weighing," Chief Justice Thomas Moyer wrote, "we find that the aggravating circumstance or circumstances as to each count outweigh the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt."

This had been a direct appeal from Trimble's trial court. His original November 15, 2006 execution date had been stayed pending this appeal and is now rescheduled for September 29th..

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