MAHONING COUNTY Teenager's case sent to juvenile court
By ROGER G. SMITH
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The court process will start over for a Boardman teenager found guilty in the 2003 death of another youth.
The 7th District Court of Appeals has thrown out involuntary manslaughter and drug convictions against Walter R. Phibbs III and sent the case back to Mahoning County Juvenile Court.
The appeals court ruled that Judge Theresa A. Dellick should have directly informed Phibbs of his rights on two occasions during court proceedings but didn't.
On Feb. 4, 2003, Phibbs -- 16 at the time -- took two morphine pills from his mother, selling one and giving the other to Paul Graham II, 17, of Boardman. Graham died in his home Feb. 5. In early April, the Mahoning County coroner ruled the death was caused by drug toxicity.
Police charged Phibbs with involuntary manslaughter, trafficking in drugs, corrupting another with drugs and theft. Judge Dellick determined Phibbs should be tried as a juvenile instead of an adult as prosecutors had requested.
Phibbs and his attorney stipulated to taking the morphine pills and providing them to Graham, essentially pleading guilty to those charges.
What court contends
The appeals court said the judge should have addressed Phibbs directly to assure the admission was voluntary and that he understood the consequences.
Phibbs and his attorney also agreed to forgo a trial on the involuntary manslaughter charge, which they deny, and instead submit briefs arguing the facts of the case.
The appellate court said the judge should have addressed Phibbs directly to assure he voluntarily was waiving his right to a trial.
Judge Dellick found that Phibbs committed all the offenses and sent him to juvenile detention for a minimum of four years.
Phibbs and his attorney appealed in June 2004. Appellate Judge Gene Donofrio wrote the opinion. Judge Cheryl Waite and Judge Joseph Vukovich concurred.
Marty Desmond, an assistant county prosecutor, said his office doesn't disagree that the errors occurred. Phibbs' public defender couldn't be reached to comment.
A visiting judge likely will handle the new case since Judge Dellick already has found Phibbs guilty in the case, Desmond said.