Death sentence unlikely in Stark

Only five death sentences resulted from 44 death
penalty indictments in 25 years in the county.

COLUMBUS (AP) — The odds are against a death sentence for a police officer charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend and her unborn daughter, records show.

Only one in every 10 offenders charged in Stark County with a capital crime have received a sentence of death since 1981, when the state’s capital punishment law took effect, according to an analysis of Ohio Supreme Court records by The Associated Press.

Canton Patrolman Bobby Cutts Jr., 30, could receive the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder in the death of Jessie Davis and the unborn girl.

Davis’ disappearance in June drew national attention as thousands — including Cutts — gathered to search for her in the area surrounding her Northeast Ohio home. Authorities say Davis was killed June 14 in her home near North Canton, about 45 miles south of Cleveland. They have not said how she was killed.

Of the 44 death penalty indictments brought by Stark County prosecutors in the past 25 years, only five resulted in death sentences, the records show.

Twenty-five of those indictments ended in plea bargains — or 57 percent of all Stark County death penalty cases, according to the records.

Who got deals

Past offenders offered plea deals include James Rash, charged in 1988 with killing five members of a family in a fire, and Benjamin Bickel, charged in 1998 with killing two people during a failed taxi robbery.

Stark County juries and three-judge panels spared 14 additional offenders, including Emmett Mapp, charged in 1992 with beating an elderly couple to death during a robbery, and Robert Luke, who stabbed his 21⁄2 year-old-son 36 times in 2003.

The county has four offenders on death row. A fifth man sentenced to death, Donald Maurer, had his sentence commuted to life in 1991 by then-Gov. Richard Celeste.

Cutts’ attorney Fernando Mack declined to comment, citing a gag order in the case. John Kurtzman, chief counsel for the prosecutor’s office, also declined to comment.

Stark County’s policy is not to offer unsolicited plea deals but to listen to offers brought by attorneys.

The option of life without the possibility of parole is attractive to juries in Stark County, said Canton defense attorney Frank Beane. Ohio juries have had that choice since lawmakers amended the capital punishment laws in 1996.

“When it comes to taking a person’s life, I think that jurors are reluctant to do it,” Beane said.

Other counties

Since 1996, nine men and two women in Stark County who faced a possible death sentence have been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Six of those offenders pleaded guilty.

Recent Ohio history is full of examples of high-profile death penalty cases that end with lesser sentences.

In Shelby County in 2000, Michael Hensley was allowed to plead to life in prison for killing three teenage girls, then driving to the house of a Bible teacher and fatally shooting him.

The same year, a Butler County judge rejected a jury’s death sentence for Christopher Fuller for killing his 2-year-old daughter after trying to rape her. Fuller is serving life without parole.

In Franklin County in 2005, a jury deadlocked 11-1 in the case of Vernon Spence, charged with shooting three young people execution-style in a drug robbery near the Ohio State campus. Spence is also serving life without parole.

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