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Columbus man gets life term in execution death of 3



Published: Sat, July 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Vernon Spence, 31, killed the young people during a drug robbery.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- A jury recommended Saturday that a man spend the rest of his life in prison for killing three young people execution-style two years ago in a drug robbery.

The Franklin County Common Pleas Court panel deliberated Friday and Saturday morning after hearing relatives and friends speak on Vernon Spence's behalf Thursday.

Spence, 31, of Columbus, was convicted Tuesday of multiple charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary and kidnapping.

Prosecutors said he killed the three in an apartment near the Ohio State University campus after he and two accomplices robbed them of five pounds of marijuana and $70 in cash.

Spence's lawyer, Gerald Sunbury, said he was elated the jury did not recommend the death penalty.

Sunbury and defense attorney Thomas Charlesworth told jurors Spence had a troubled childhood and shouldn't be sentenced to death.

Judge Dale A. Crawford scheduled Spence's sentencing for Tuesday. Generally, judges are bound to follow the jury's recommendation of a life sentence.

Charges

The victims, Kayla Hurst, 21, of Granville; her boyfriend, Aaron Grexa, 23, of Greensburg, Pa., and his roommate, Eric Hlass, 22, of Russellville, Ark., were bound before being shot in the back of the head.

Spence testified Monday that he was home alone the night two co-defendants said he killed the three to keep them from identifying him.

Co-defendants Todd Bensonhaver and Rodell Rahmaan pleaded guilty to reduced charges, including involuntary manslaughter, and were sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien refused to criticize the jury's decision to not give Spence the death penalty.

He said judges in Ohio instruct juries not to concentrate on the crime, but rather the reasons a defendant should not be put to death.




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