Opening statements set in aggravated murder case

By Peter H. Milliken

Neighbors reported hearing gunshots at 12:30 a.m.

YOUNGSTOWN — Opening statements will be at 9 a.m. today in the jury trial of James A. Hall, who is charged with aggravated murder with a gun specification in the Oct. 14, 2006, death of Jeffrey A. Queen of Austintown.

Queen, 35, of Lanterman Road, was shot three times in the torso with a .38-caliber gun.

The murder trial of Hall, 30, of Victoria Street, is before Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Late Monday, the jury viewed Queen’s residence and the shooting scene.

Queen was an informant who had made undercover drug buys from Hall for police; and Queen was to testify against Hall in a federal cocaine trafficking case, according to J. Michael Thompson, assistant county prosecutor.

Thompson and Robert E. Bush Jr., chief of the criminal division of the county prosecutor’s office, are prosecuting the state case. Joseph Pinjuh, assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, is prosecuting the federal drug case.

Two days after a pre-trial hearing in the drug case, Hall picked Queen up at Queen’s Lanterman Road residence in Hall’s car and fatally shot him a few minutes later about a half-mile away off Riblett Road, Thompson said.

Neighbors reported hearing gunshots at 12:30 a.m., but a witness didn’t find Queen’s body in the woods in the 4000 block of Riblett until eight hours later.

One of the witnesses for the prosecution will be Dr. Carl F. Chuey, a Youngstown State University biology professor, who, Thompson said, will testify that a leaf and stem fragment police found in Hall’s car match the Japanese honeysuckle plants among which Queen’s body was found.

Also on the prosecution’s witness list are three Austintown police detectives, a county coroner’s investigator, people living near the shooting scene and agents of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

“There are just a lot of different things that all point in the same direction,” said Thompson, who characterized his case as “entirely circumstantial.”

In the federal case, Hall pleaded guilty Nov. 7 to four counts of crack cocaine trafficking and to one count of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. He faces five years to life in prison when he is sentenced in that case at 11 a.m. June 13 by U.S. District Judge Christopher A. Boyko in Cleveland.

In the federal plea agreement, the U.S. attorney’s office dropped one count of conspiracy to traffic in crack cocaine and three counts of using a telephone to traffic in drugs.

Hall is being represented by Atty. Thomas E. Zena in the murder case, in which a county grand jury secretly indicted Hall last December, and by a federal public defender in the drug case. Zena declined to comment on the murder case.

In late December, at Thompson’s request, Judge Krichbaum ordered Hall placed in county jail without bond in the murder case, in which he faces a repeat violent offender specification and a charge of being a felon with a gun.

Hall waived his right to a jury trial on the repeat violent offender specification. In a judgment entry Monday, Judge Krichbaum said he’d try that specification from the bench, if necessary, at the end of the jury trial.

Hall was sentenced to five to 25 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault in a May 1995 shooting that killed Arthur Tarver and critically wounded Larry J. Hargrave. Hall and both victims were then 17.

The repeat violent offender specification cites that conviction, which occurred after Hall was bound over from juvenile court for trial as an adult. Tarver died from bullet wounds to his neck and chest. Hargrave survived 13 gunshot wounds.

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