Now that murder charges with death-penalty specifications have been dismissed against Jamar Houser after nearly 21/2 years in jail, what will happen to the 21-year-old?
Atty. Lynn Maro, who has represented Houser in the case for the last two years, said the legal future of her client is uncertain.
Houser has been housed in the Mahoning County jail for 28 months on murder charges in the killing of Angeline Fimognari, 80, in the parking lot of St. Dominic’s Church on the South Side.
Those charges could have landed him on death row but were dismissed Thursday after county Prosecutor Paul Gains announced a palm print left at the scene of the shooting implicates another man as the killer.
Maro said her client, right now, is just happy to no longer have the murder charges hanging over his head.
“For two and a half years we were confident that none of the evidence in this case pointed to [him],” she said. “He is obviously pleased. He and his family have maintained his innocence all along, and facing the death penalty for something you did not do is certainly scary.”
According to Gains, Houser cannot sue the county or seek compensation for the two years he has spent locked in the county jail.
Gains said prosecutors followed the evidence collected by police and witness statements placing Houser in the area at the time of the shooting, and a grand jury decided to hand up an indictment against Houser.
He added authorities followed all new evidence and promptly dismissed charges upon learning of the palm-print evidence.
“This department did what it was supposed to do,” he said. “There is no civil liability.”
Maro said, however, she is not quite sure what legal recourse her client may have. She said there are laws addressing wrongful convictions, but research will need to be conducted on avenues available to a person wrongfully accused and jailed for extended periods of time.
Houser had been in the county jail on a $3 million bond.
Houser has not made any public statements addressing his immediate plans, but he still must answer to felony charges of shooting into a habitation unrelated to the Fimognari murder. Those charges could land him in prison for up to eight years.
The case has taken many twists and turns over the last two years — some drawing in other members of the Houser family.
Houser’s parents were charged with threatening witnesses in the case in 2010, and his father, John Houser, 48, was charged with intimidation a second time in 2012.
John Houser is serving a year in prison for obstruction of justice related to one of the alleged acts of retaliation.
Gains is adamant that those charges against the elder Houser will stick.
He said John Houser, regardless of his claims about his son’s innocence, had no right to circumvent the law and threaten those who came forward as witnesses in the case. He said the legal process must be allowed to play out without intimidation and threats.