The high court said it's clear that the man was the leader of a band of robbers.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A city man is scheduled to die in May after the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously upheld his court-imposed death sentence Wednesday.
Willie S. Herring, 24, was one of five men convicted in a bloody robbery of the Newport Inn in April 1996.
Because he was the only one sentenced to death, Herring's lawyers argued that the penalty was disproportionate in comparison with the others.
Was ringleader: But Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, who wrote the opinion, said it's clear that Herring was the ringleader of the gang that burst into the bar, robbed the till and opened fire on the customers and owner Ronald Marinelli.
Three people were killed, and at least two were seriously injured. Killed were Dennis Kotheimer, Herman Naze and Jimmy Lee Jones.
A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court jury convicted Herring in 1998 of multiple counts of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and complicity to aggravated murder.
Tim Franken, the assistant Mahoning County prosecutor who tried Herring's case, applauded the high court's decision and said Herring deserves to remain on death row.
"Willie earned his way there," Franken said.
The Ohio Public Defender's office had sought a new trial for Herring, arguing among other things that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that in order to convict Herring it must find that he intended to kill.
At a hearing before the high court in July 2001, Pamela Prude-Smith of the public defender's office said there was no intent to kill on Herring's part.
"At best, there is reckless indifference," she said.
Ample proof: But Justice Pfeifer discounted that theory and said there was ample proof that the robbery and shootings were carefully planned.
"The coordination displayed here belies the notion that the killings were merely impulsive acts by individual members of the gang," the ruling says.
"That coordination supports the conclusion that the killings were integral to the robbery plan and that each of the robbers intended to kill the victims as part of that plan."
The gang met at Herring's house and he initiated discussion about the robbery, Justice Pfeifer wrote. Herring was the only one who was prepared with a mask and was the one who decided which robber would use which gun.