Judge approves another delay in Houser death penalty case
By Peter H. Milliken
It has been more than two years since Angeline Fimognari was fatally shot outside St. Dominic Church, but the trial of the man accused of killing her has been postponed for a third time, this time until the end of April.
Jury selection was to have begun today in the capital murder trial of Jamar Houser in the Jan. 23, 2010, shooting death of Fimognari.
Judge Lou A. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, however, on Thursday granted a last-minute oral defense motion to postpone the trial.
Defense lawyer John B. Juhasz asked for the postponement because he said he needed more time to prepare for the trial based on a list of 22 prosecution witnesses that was not submitted to the defense until three weeks ago.
The judge granted the motion, saying he wanted to make sure that when the case goes to trial, both the prosecution and defense are fully prepared.
Martin P. Desmond, an assistant county prosecutor, said he didn’t oppose the postponement motion because, if Houser is convicted, he didn’t want to give the defense grounds for appeal on the basis of not having been granted enough trial preparation time.
Desmond added that the names of all 22 witnesses appeared on police reports given to the defense at least a year ago.
When defense lawyers in a capital case say they need more time to prepare for trial, “that judge is very hard pressed to say ‘no,”’ said Rebecca Doherty, chief of the criminal division in the county prosecutor’s office.
A denial of a postponement requested by the defense would be the first issue raised in an appeal of a conviction, she added.
“It’s a death-penalty case. It has heightened scrutiny in the appellate process,” said county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains.
A jury orientation is now scheduled for 9 a.m. April 27, with jury selection scheduled to continue April 30.
Houser, 21, of Volney Road, remains jailed under $3.1 million bond.
He is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery in the death of Fimognari, 80, of Sheridan Road, as she left Mass at the church.
In response to a defense motion to move the trial to another Ohio county due to allegedly excessive pretrial publicity, Judge D’Apolito ruled he would attempt to select an impartial jury here before deciding whether a move is necessary.
Juhasz and Houser’s other defense lawyer, Lynn Maro, could not be reached to comment.