COLUMBIANA COUNTY Murder deliberations await jury
The defendant said he walked away from a man being beaten.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- A jury is set to decide Monday whether a Salem man helped beat a man to death during a robbery.
Judge C. Ashley Pike of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court sent the jury home Friday after four days of testimony.
Both the prosecution and defense said they want the jury to be able to consider lesser included offenses during its deliberations.
Some lesser included offenses to murder are voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, which carry 10-year prison terms.
Shane A. Mitchell, 19, of Fifth Street, Salem, faces murder, robbery and tampering with evidence charges in the Dec. 11, 2004, death of Bradley L. VanHorn, 35, of Salem.
Richard P. Forrester, 20, of Lisbon, is serving a mandatory 15-year-to-life sentence after pleading guilty to a murder charge. The prosecutor's office agreed to drop a robbery charge against Forrester in exchange for his testimony. If he had been convicted on the robbery charge he could have been sentenced to 25 years to life.
Forrester testified earlier that he and Mitchell beat VanHorn.
Robbery plan alleged
Prosecutors say that Mitchell and Forrester planned to rob VanHorn in an early morning fake drug deal in the parking lot of First Christian Church in Salem. The request to buy drugs was made at a Salem bar.
Mitchell, Forrester and VanHorn got into a car driven by another man, who has not been charged.
Mitchell testified that after he got out of the car with Forrester and VanHorn, Forrester immediately punched VanHorn in the back of the head and he fell to the ground. Mitchell said he then rolled VanHorn over.
John Gamble, an assistant county prosecutor, said the coroner found there was no injury to the back of VanHorn's head.
"How do you explain that?" Gamble asked.
Mitchell said it was dark, adding, "That's what it looked like to me."
Mitchell repeated that he rolled VanHorn over after he fell to the ground to see how badly he was hurt.
Gamble asked, "You're not going to suggest that you came to help VanHorn?"
"No, sir," Mitchell replied.
Says he took nothing
Mitchell testified he did not take anything from VanHorn even though the plan was to rob him.
Forrester, however, earlier testified that Mitchell participated in the robbery, and did take items from VanHorn.
"I walked away before [Forrester] was done," Mitchell testified.
After Mitchell and Forrester returned to the car, the driver, who never left the vehicle, asked Mitchell, "What were you thinking?" Mitchell said.
Mitchell then walked home after attending a party in Salem Heights.
Salem police already were looking for Mitchell and Forrester. Mitchell surrendered to police the next day after learning of VanHorn's death. He admitted, however, he burned the clothes he was wearing before going to the police.
Mitchell faces 15 years in prison if convicted on the murder charge. He also faces additional prison time if convicted on the robbery and tampering charges.