Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Ohio Supreme Court’s Reconsideration of Woman's Death Sentence

The Ohio Supreme Court this morning heard State v. Roberts, the appeal of a case of a Trumbull County woman whose death sentence for the aggravated murder of her ex-husband was remanded to the trial court for re-sentencing – the questions now asked being whether on remand for new sentencing and alocution of a capital defendant, the trial court must consider mitigation adduced from the defendant's original sentence or consider and give effect to mitigation evidence available but not produced at the original penalty phase proceeding?

Defendant challenges the re-imposition of the death penalty, alleging, among other assignments of error, that the trial court committed reversible error by refusing to admit and consider at her resentencing hearing evidence of her diagnosed mental illness and brain trauma because she did not offer that evidence in mitigation of a death sentence at her original sentencing hearing. (Merit Brief)

The Court’s record indicated, “defendant Donna Roberts and one Nathaniel Jackson plotted to kill Roberts’ ex-husband. Both were arrested & indicted, but tried separately. Jackson was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death, the conviction and sentence both affirmed . [State v. Jackson, 107 Ohio St.3d 300, 2006-Ohio-1 (Opinion)(Court Summary)]

Roberts was also found guilty of the aggravated murder and sentenced to death, but, on direct appeal the Court reported that her appeal “demonstrated no error that would justify reversal of her conviction. (But) although most of her claims related to sentencing also fail… we hold that the trial court’s sentencing opinion supporting the death penalty is so grievously flawed that it cannot properly support the sentence imposed. We therefore affirm Roberts’s convictions and other sentences, but we must vacate the death sentence and remand the cause to the trial court to reconsider the imposition of the death penalty and to prepare a proper sentencing opinion.” (State v. Roberts, 110 Ohio St.3d 71, 2006-Ohio-3665)

In now addressing the Court Roberts contends “the Court remanded (her case) for new sentencing procedure… “the reversal being based upon the failure of the trial court to allow allocution, coupled with the failure to independently prepare its sentencing opinion…. It was argued at the remand sentencing that the mitigation evidence, including (her) lack of a criminal history and mental health issues, required that a life sentence be found to be the appropriate sentence in this instance. The trial court again found death, refusing to consider any information not adduced at the required allocution hearing. Because of the wealth of mitigation available but not presented to the jury at the penalty phase hearing, the issue of the effectiveness of trial counsel is ripe to be addressed here. The records that predated the offense were proffered into the record. The issue was not raised in (her) first direct appeal as the record did not support the issue at that time.”

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