Focus is on what Roberts inferred
Roberts made a 'pretty stupid statement' to the jury, one justice said.
By MICHELE C. HLADIK
COLUMBUS -- Donna Roberts of Howland Township got what she wanted when a jury sentenced her to death for her part in the murder of her ex-husband, assistant Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor LuWayne Annos told the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Roberts, one of two women on Ohio's death row, is appealing her death sentence for her role in the 2001 murder of Robert Fingerhut.
Though the appeal is based on numerous issues, oral arguments before the high court focused on her intelligence and whether she understood that by not presenting mitigating evidence during her trial, she was likely to receive the death sentence.
"She seems to be a different sort of defendant," Chief Justice Thomas Moyer said, adding Roberts seems to be an intelligent woman.
Attorney David Doughten, who represented Roberts before the high court, countered that just because a person is educated doesn't mean she understands the law.
Doughten argued Roberts was not sufficiently made aware of the importance of presenting the mitigating evidence and the results of failing to do so.
He said it was the trial judge's responsibility.
Moyer asked Doughten why the judge should explain those rights when a person is so intent on receiving a death sentence.
"It seems to me she was just determined to get the death penalty," Moyer stated.
Justice Maureen O'Connor questioned Doughten on whether Roberts waived her mitigating rights.
"It wasn't clear," Doughten said, referring to records of the case. "It's like this is a partial waiver."
O'Connor and other justices argued partial waivers do not exist and the court would need to create them.
According to Annos, Roberts was told she was entitled to present mitigating evidence and that it might help to keep her from receiving a death sentence.
"There were good things to say about Donna Roberts, but [Roberts] elected not to say them," Annos told the high court.
Roberts reportedly did not allow her attorney to call any witnesses and challenged the jury to give her the death penalty.
"She clearly did not want anyone to come forward on her behalf but herself," Annos said. "She had an agenda."
Roberts reportedly blasted society as racist and told the jury she deserved the sentence as much as her black cohort from Youngstown, Nathaniel Jackson, who was also sentenced to death for his part in the murder.
"Your client is not stupid," Justice Paul Pfeifer said. "That was a pretty stupid statement she made to the jury."
Pfeifer questioned whether the statement was made as a result of ineffective counsel.
Doughten agreed the statement was stupid for her to make and said he believes she thought she was taking on the role of martyr and could somehow help Jackson.
According to Supreme Court documents, Roberts and Jackson began an affair and during Jackson's incarceration in the Lorain Correctional Institution, developed a plan to kill Fingerhut.
According to documents, the plan was to take Fingerhut from his home and kill him at another location, but the plan went awry when Fingerhut fought back, and Jackson shot and killed Fingerhut in the home Fingerhut still shared with Roberts.
Roberts and Jackson shared their plans with each other in about 284 letters and 19 recorded phone calls between Jackson, then 29, and Roberts, then 57, during his incarceration before Fingerhut's murder.
Earlier this month, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence.