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Clemency sought for killer of 3-year-old

Published: Thu, October 14, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

Youngstown man ‘never meant to kill that baby,’ friend argues at hearing

By Marc Kovac



Family members called Sidney Cornwell a changed man who has found faith and maturity in the years since entering Ohio’s death row for the gang-related murder of a Youngstown child.

Prosecutors called him a gangster who shot to kill with hopes of impressing other gang members.

The Ohio Parole Board must weigh the two sides as it considers whether to recommend clemency for the Youngstown inmate, who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next month at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Cornwell was convicted of killing 3-year-old Jessica Ballew in an early-morning shooting in June 1996.

According to court documents, he and others drove up to an apartment on Oak Park Lane with the intention of shooting a rival, in retaliation for an earlier incident between neighborhood gangs calling themselves the Crips and the Bloods.

After learning that the intended victim was not at the residence, Cornwell opened fire, killing Ballew and injuring three adults. He was convicted of murder with additional counts and sentenced to death.

Cornwell’s execution is set for Nov. 16, though he is seeking a sentence commutation to life in prison.

Wednesday’s hearing gave his legal counsel, friends and family plus Mahoning County prosecutors and the victim’s family a chance to comment on the clemency request.

Public defenders argued that Cornwell was an unwanted child born into a deteriorating marriage, with parents who used drugs. He and his siblings were neglected by a mother who worked long hours and a father who was a violent man who beat them with “ashtrays, belts, wires, whatever he could pick up,” said Andrew King, an attorney from the public defender’s office.

Cornwell was taunted as a fat kid with breasts who failed in school and in making friends — the result of Klinefelter’s syndrome, an abnormal chromosome condition that leads to late development and social and learning issues. The condition was officially diagnosed earlier this year.

Rob Lowe, an attorney from the public defender’s office, said the jury that heard Cornwell’s case did not review his medical records, was unaware of the Klinefelter’s syndrome and was not told about the risk factors in his life that made him susceptible to gang involvement.

Legal counsel also said Cornwell did not mean to kill anyone, in particular a child. They said he has since admitted to the crime and is remorseful. And they said he has renounced his gang involvement, earned a GED, attends Bible studies and prays on a regular basis.

“Sidney is not the same person today as he was at 19...,” Lowe said.

In emotional pleas to the board, Cornwell’s family members and friends said the inmate was truly sorry.

“He just can’t wait to see them to tell [the victim’s family] how much he wanted them to forgive him for what he had done,” said Marcia Walker, a friend and spiritual mentor. She added later, “He wants the family to know he is sorry. He never meant to kill that baby.”

“If you could please forgive him, because he didn’t do it on purpose,” added Beverly Cornwell Phillips, the inmate’s mother.

But Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains countered that Cornwell was aware of his actions and continues to deny full responsibility for his gang involvement.

Gains also downplayed claims that the killing was an accident, saying Cornwell had to have seen Jessica Ballew in the doorway — there were only a few feet between the car and the residence from the narrow alleyway where the shooting took place.

Gains also questioned arguments about Cornwell’s upbringing, noting that his brother and sister did not turn to the life of gangs and crime that he chose.

Thomas Madden, from the Ohio attorney general’s office, added that legal counsel made comparable arguments on Cornwell’s behalf during his trial. And he questioned the role Klinefelter’s played in Cornwell’s actions.

“It in no way explains why Mr. Cornwell decided to be a gangster and decided to do gangster things, like shoot up innocent victims,” Gains added, “I believe that the jury came to the correct conclusion.”

Jessica Ballew would have been 17 years old this year.

“I don’t blame none of you all,” her father, Virgil Ballew, told members of Cornwell’s family during Wednesday’s proceedings. He added, holding up a picture of his daughter: “But that’s my baby. I didn’t even get to see her grow up. ... I forgive Sidney for what he did. ... It’s up to God to do what he’s got to do. If he gets put to death, he gets put to death, because he knew what he was doing.”

The parole board will issue a recommendation in the case on Oct. 21. Gov. Ted Strickland has final say whether to grant clemency.


1Silence_Dogood(1677 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

I am very glad for Sidney Cornwell finding God, now let us the taxpayers introduce him to God firsthand.

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2garyg(3 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

I feel very sorry for this young man. If not for some very fortunate breaks, our son could have easily been this person. There's no way Sidney had any awareness of the consequences of his actions. Many people with this genetic condition, also known as 47,XXY, have a maturity level that is 6-8 years behind their chronological age. And almost 1/500 males born in the world have this condition. So I guess the state of Ohio is OK with not trying to help these kids and equally OK with putting 11-12 year olds on death row for shooting someone, There is biological proof and extensive research that shows the brain anatomy of kids with KS do not begin to mature until mid to late twenty's. If you want to hold someone responsible for this horrible event, prosecute the gang people that put a gun in his hand and told him to shoot, or the school system for failing to have him tested and placed in a special program or his parents for being so neglectful and abusive. This is a person that will be killed to pacify everyone that feels someone needs to be punished for this crime. The tragedy is your taking the life away of someone that could not understand his actions. But from the tone of the other commenters, I'm guessing most of you don't want to understand the issues behind KS, don't want to know how they can be identified or helped and would just prefer to lock them away or kill them when they make bad decisions. Our society has really hit rock bottom, hasn't it. I hope none of you have to experience the heartbreak and pain of trying to figure out where you can find support for a KS child. And my sincere prayers for the family of the victim in this case....this did not have to happen.

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3garyg(3 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for making my point about society and Ohio.

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4garyg(3 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

My personal interest is Klinefelter Syndrome. I can point you to hundreds of stories where kids with KS have made terrrible decisions that have ruined their lives just because they didn't have appropriate support services to help them. My question for the group is would you be supporting the death penalty if Sydey would have been 12 or 13 when he committed this crime? His chronological age may have been higher but I can guarantee his functional and maturity age was no greater than that. He needs to be held accountable for his actions, but killing him is not justice....especially when he was failed in so many ways by medical, educational and social systems.

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5Rokscout(310 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

Yep it's all sunshine, rainbows, a waa waa boohoos for the poor criminals these days. Until the gun is in your face or the face of someone you love. I'd say the state failed, but only in the sense that we continue to allow people to get money for nothing, breed uncontrollably, and then release young adults that can't spell their own names upon society. I'm all out of sorry feelings for this lifestyle.

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6Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 9 months ago

C'mon now Sidney take it like a man ! All of the boys in the hood looked up to you when you shot up the Ballew house and killed Jessica . Don't ruin your image . She meant nothing to you then nor does she mean anything to you now .

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