Defendant no longer faces death penalty

By Peter H. Milliken


Kenneth Moncrief, the second defendant in the Aug. 11, 2009, double-suffocation murder, no longer faces the death penalty.

Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court granted a motion Monday by Rebecca L. Doherty and Dawn P. Cantalamessa, assistant county prosecutors, to drop the death-penalty specifications against Moncrief.

This means the case, which had been set to begin today as a capital-murder trial, will go to trial Nov. 28 as an aggravated-murder case with a different jury.

In their written motion, the prosecutors did not explain why they wanted to remove the death penalty from the table in Moncrief’s trial.

Doherty noted in an interview, however, that even without the specifications that allow for the death penalty, Moncrief, 26, of Fairgreen Avenue, still is eligible for life in prison without parole.

If he’s convicted of aggravated murder, Moncrief faces a life-prison term with parole eligibility after 20, 25 or 30 years, or life without parole.

The prosecutors’ request came after Judge Sweeney sentenced the first defendant, Lorenza Barnette, 29, of Lora Avenue, to two consecutive life-prison terms plus 211/2 years after a jury declined to recommend death for Barnette.

“We saw what the jury gave Barnette. We discussed this with the family and decided to pursue the charges without the death specs” against Moncrief, said Doherty, adding that she was being cautious in her remarks because the case is still pending.

Moncrief faces aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and arson charges in the deaths of Jaron L. Roland, 20, of Fairmont Avenue, and his cousin, Darry B. Woods-Burt Jr., 19, of the city’s North Side, whose bodies were found in a burning car along the Mahoning River at West Avenue, their heads encased in plastic bags and duct tape.

Doherty said the public should not infer from the dismissal of the death specifications that the prosecution believes Moncrief is less culpable in the murders than Barnette, for whom the prosecution sought the death penalty.

“It just streamlines the case,” when the death penalty is taken off the table, Doherty said, alluding to the numerous additional requirements the justice system must meet in a capital case.

“It just makes it less burdensome on the court when, ultimately, the same sentence that Barnette received can still be achieved” for Moncrief, Doherty said.

The death-penalty specifications the prosecution dropped against Moncrief said he purposely killed two people and that he did so while committing kidnapping, aggravated robbery and arson.

This dismissal of the specifications against Moncrief “is not in return for any plea bargain,” said Thomas E. Zena, one of Moncrief’s defense lawyers. “There is no plea bargain. It’s going to go to trial as a noncapital case,” he added.

A third defendant in the double slaying, Joseph Moreland, 28, of Mahoning County jail, is scheduled for a jury trial beginning Feb. 13.

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