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BEATING CASE Victim to testify on tape



Published: Thu, January 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Prosecutors are concerned about the man's fragile health.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Jurors will hear testimony from 84-year-old William Sovak regardless of whether he is physically able to take the witness stand when James Goins and Chad Barnette go to trial.

Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court approved a request from prosecutors to have Sovak's testimony taken on videotape before the trial starts.

Assistant Prosecutor Michael Maillis said Sovak is "frail" and he is confined to an assisted living facility.

Sovak was attacked and beaten at his home a year ago. Police said he was pushed down a flight of stairs and locked in a fruit cellar, where relatives found him hours later.

Sovak was hospitalized for three weeks after the beating and has since been moved to an assisted living facility, Maillis said.

Status of case: Goins and Barnette, both 17, are each charged with attempted aggravated murder, receiving stolen property, two counts of aggravated burglary and felonious assault and three counts of aggravated robbery and kidnapping.

They are also suspected of beating and robbing a Marmion Avenue couple.

The teen-agers were to go on trial in December, but that was delayed while defense attorneys Damian Billak and Mark Lavelle contested the manner in which they were bound over from juvenile court to be tried as adults.

The 7th District Court of Appeals ruled two weeks ago that the action was proper.

Goins and Barnette are now scheduled for trial Monday, but that could also be delayed because Billak and Lavelle have taken their appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. They've asked that the trial be stayed until the high court rules.

Maillis said if the stay is denied and the trial goes forward, the videotaped testimony won't be needed because Sovak should be able to testify.

"But it is entirely possible that if this trial is delayed for any length of time, Mr. Sovak may not be able to testify" because of his age and frail health, Maillis said.

Crucial: He said Sovak's testimony is crucial to the prosecution's case because he is the only eyewitness. If Sovak is unable to testify, jurors will be shown his videotaped testimony, which will include cross-examination by the defense.

Judge Krichbaum said he approved prosecutors' request for the videotaped testimony because there is no way to know how long the case will be pending before the Supreme Court.

"If there is a chance that something could happen to a material witness, then the prudent thing to do is preserve his testimony," he said. "If this man is unavailable to testify, there will be a failure of justice."

bjackson@vindy.com




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