Murder case sent back for new sentence
A judge can't receive help in preparing sentencing opinions, the ruling said.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- It's back to the sentencing drawing board for a woman convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death for her part in the 2001 shooting death of her husband.
Donna Roberts' aggravated murder conviction was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court, but the high court vacated her death sentence and ordered Trumbull County Common Pleas Court to begin the resentencing process.
In its decision released Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled the judge must independently determine which sentences, including the death penalty, are appropriate options in this case.
"The trial court's decision to use the prosecutor in preparing the sentencing opinion constitutes a grievous violation of the statutory deliberative process" Justice Maureen O'Connor wrote. "It is so severe a violation that independent re-weighing cannot serve as an adequate remedy. We vacate the sentence and remand to the trial court for resentencing."
According to the majority decision, the judge in the case admitted to passing on his sentencing notes to the prosecution for preparation of the sentence documents.
Justice O'Connor said Ohio law requires the judge alone to prepare sentencing opinions in this type of case.
"The fact that the trial judge provided his notes to the prosecutor to guide the prosecutor in drafting the sentencing opinion does not change the result," she wrote. "The various drafts of the opinion that ultimately imposed death on Roberts involved the assistance of the prosecutor."
According to court documents, Roberts and Nathaniel Jackson began an affair and during Jackson's incarceration in the Lorain Correctional Institution developed a plan to kill her ex-husband Robert Fingerhut.
Roberts and Jackson reportedly shared their plans with each other in about 284 letters and 19 recorded phone calls during his incarceration before Fingerhut's murder.
Jackson reportedly shot Fingerhut in the Howland Township home Fingerhut and Roberts still shared in 2001. Fingerhut's car was later found in Youngstown with Fingerhut and Jackson's blood in it.
The case was brought to the state high court in January for oral arguments.
During oral arguments, LuWayne Annos, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, told the court Roberts got what she asked for in court.
Annos referred to comments Roberts made in court during the sentencing phase.
Roberts was represented before the high court by Atty. David Doughten.
Doughten argued Roberts was trying to be a martyr, and that she was not sufficiently made aware of the importance of presenting the mitigating evidence and the results of failing to do so.
Roberts was one of only two women on Ohio's death row.
In January, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld Jackson's conviction and death sentence.