Prosecutor’s office gets criticism from relatives of victim
Family of slain YSU student frustrated over lack of notification about hearings
By John W. Goodwin Jr.
Family members of the Youngstown State University student who was shot and killed at an off-campus party earlier this year say they are determined to attend every court hearing concerning the case.
But they expressed frustration at the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s office for not keeping them informed.
It has been eight months since Jamail Johnson, 25, was killed at that party in February. Five men — Jamelle Jackson, 18, Brandon Carter, 22, Mark Jones, 20, his brother, Columbus Jones Jr., 22, and Demetrius Wright, 19 — face various charges in the shooting.
A trial date has been set for January, but Shirlene and Sidney Hill, mother and stepfather of Johnson, say the prosecutor’s office has not informed them of pretrial dates and other matters in the case.
“I am tired of them not telling us when these things are happening,” Shirlene Hill said. “I don’t want this case to fall through the cracks.”
She said she was in the courthouse Thursday inquiring about issues concerning the case and was not told about a pretrial appearance by the five defendants that was scheduled for the next day.
“The pretrial was Friday and we were not even notified, and this is not the first time,” she said. “We found out about the pretrial through a reporter.”
Shirlene Hill said it also is insulting that the defendants’ families were somehow told of the hearing and able to be in the courtroom “blowing kisses” to their loved ones.
Linda Cappelli of the county’s victim’s witness program said families of victims are notified about major court events such as trials, bond hearings, judicial releases, appeals, and convictions or acquittals, but pretrials are not always on the notification list.
Cappelli said staffing limitations do not always allow for notification of pretrials.
Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he understands the family would like to attend all court hearings concerning the matter, and his office will work to make that possible.
“We will make every effort to make sure they are notified in the future,” Gains said. “The family wants to be at every pretrial, so we are going to do what we can to make sure that happens.”
Sidney Hill said several family members are concerned that the prosecutor’s office might mishandle the high-profile case and allow some of the defendants to elude conviction on technicalities.
Gains’ office has seen miscues in recent weeks. On Sept. 20, a mistake in the prosecutor’s office led to charges’ being dropped against two men slated to go on trial in the murder of 38-year-old Kevin Hart of Youngstown.
On Oct. 5, a jury acquitted a 19-year-old man of all charges in the Aug. 6, 2010, shooting death of Anthony Harrison, 20, of Campbell. The jury forewoman said the state’s DNA evidence was insufficient, and the prosecution “did have a lot of holes in their story.”
But Gains said he has confidence in the strength of his case in the Johnson shooting.
“I feel this case is strong. The grand jury felt the case should proceed, and we are going to do our best to see that justice is done,” he said.