YOUNGSTOWN Murder trial ends in plea bargain
The same deal was offered and rejected before the trial started, prosecutors said.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A jury hadn't even been seated when the murder trial of Sebastian Lewis ended.
Lewis, 20, of East Florida Avenue, pleaded guilty instead to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter. The plea was made Wednesday after lawyers had spent more than an hour selecting jurors for a trial in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
"I was surprised," said assistant prosecutor Patrick Pochiro. "Once we got to trial I figured the die was cast."
Rejected earlier: Pochiro said he had offered the same deal to Lewis before the trial started, but Lewis rejected it. Lewis' attorney, Louis DeFabio, approached Pochiro during a break and asked whether the deal was still on the table.
DeFabio said the prospect of life in prison is ultimately what changed Lewis' mind. A murder conviction carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, but voluntary manslaughter has a three- to 10-year sentence range.
Pochiro said he'll recommend a seven-year sentence to be served consecutively to a three-year term for a firearm specification, to which Lewis also pleaded guilty, giving Lewis a total of 10 years in prison.
Judge R. Scott Krichbaum scheduled sentencing for April 26.
DeFabio said he intends to seek early release for Lewis at the appropriate time.
Under Ohio law, Lewis will not be eligible for judicial release, formerly known as shock probation, until he serves the entire firearm sentence and at least five years of the voluntary manslaughter sentence.
Who was killed: Police charged Lewis with the May 2000 killing of 34-year-old Ralph E. Moore III. Police found Moore in the back seat of a car in a driveway on East Ravenwood Avenue.
Pochiro said Lewis and Moore got into an argument over a cigarette lighter. Lewis accused Moore of taking his lighter, but Moore insisted he had his own lighter. The two got into an argument that ended with Moore's being shot.
Lewis pleaded innocent by reason of insanity in November 2000. Judge R. Scott Krichbaum ordered a competency evaluation, which showed that Lewis was able to stand trial.