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YOUNGSTOWN Appeals court overturns murder conviction



Published: Thu, September 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Prosecutors will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- When Christopher Scott was sentenced to prison in 1997 for killing his ex-girlfriend, he left the courtroom insisting he didn't do it.

A ruling by the 7th District Court of Appeals gives him another day in court to prove it.

The appellate court overturned Scott's conviction and ordered that his case be returned to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for a new trial.

Janice T. O'Halloran, an assistant county prosecutor, said she will appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

"We strongly disagree with this decision," O'Halloran said.

Atty. Maureen Sweeney, who represented Scott during the trial, had not seen the opinion and declined to comment. She and Atty. Michael Rich have been appointed to represent him during the retrial.

Shooting: Scott, 22, was convicted of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder. Authorities said he shot 16-year-old Lori Townsend through the rear window of a car in which she was a passenger in January 1997.

According to testimony, the bullet was apparently intended for Albert Byrd, another passenger in the car who was not injured. Scott is being held in the Trumbull Correctional Institute.

The appellate judges ruled that Judge Maureen A. Cronin of common pleas court wrongly prevented three people from testifying for the defense during Scott's trial.

Those witnesses were inmates in the county jail at the same time as Scott and Kendrick Mickel, who was also a suspect in the shooting.

Witnesses said Mickel was with Scott at the time of the shooting, but Mickel testified during the trial that it was Scott who pulled the trigger. Mickel was also charged in connection with the killing, but prosecutors dismissed his charges before trial and granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony against Scott.

Conversations: Two inmates said they overheard a conversation between Scott and Mickel in which Mickel admitted being the shooter. The third one said Mickel told him during a conversation that he was the shooter. That information was not allowed to be used during the trial.

Judge Cronin ruled that the testimony of the inmates who reportedly overheard Mickel's confession was not admissible in court because there was no proof of their credibility, Prosecutor Paul Gains said.

But since Scott's defense was based on his assertion that someone else killed Townsend, the evidence should have been allowed, the appellate judges said.

"A jury may well have been more inclined to believe Scott's self-serving testimony if it heard three inmates testify that they heard Kendrick Mickel incriminate himself," the opinion says.

Judge Cronin declined to comment on the ruling and said the case will be set for a new trial as soon as possible.

bjackson@vindy.com




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