Independent review of case against Houser is warranted

Dismissal of charges against the individual who for two years was accused of being the murderer of 80-year-old Angeline Fimognari of Youngstown demands an indepth review of the case by an independent criminal justice entity.

Fimognari, a deeply religious woman, was shot in the head Jan. 23, 2010, as she sat in her car in the parking lot of St. Dominic Church, 77 E. Lucius Ave. About a week later, city police arrested then 18-year-old Jamar Houser for the murder and robbery of Fimognari. He made an initial appearance in Youngstown Municipal Court and the case was then sent to the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. A grand jury indicted Houser on charges of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery with death penalty specifications. His bond was set at $500,000.

On Thursday, county Prosecutor Paul Gains, who will begin his fifth, four-year term in January, announced that the charges against Houser were being dropped.

“The police department and this office recognize that we have a duty to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent,” Gains said at a news conference. “At this time there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr. Houser.”

Gains said that a palm print left of on the door of Fimognari’s car at the time of her murder and believed to have been left by the killer has been traced to a deceased convicted felon, Duane Colvin.

Given that the city prosecutor at the time, Jay Macejko, was swayed by the evidence against Houser amassed by police investigators, and that the grand jury issued its indictments on the basis of that evidence, the question to be independently answered is this: Did the murder of an elderly resident in the shadow of the church she attended every day cause a rush to judgment on the part of the police and city prosecutor’s office?

Over the past two years, there have been rumblings in the community about the strength of the evidence. The delay in bringing the case to trial seemed to confirm the rumors.

During his interview with The Vindicator’s editorial board prior to the March 6 Democratic primary election, Gains was specifically asked about the evidence and whether he had any misgivings about the police department’s investigation of the murder.

He replied that the delays in bringing the case to trial were caused by several factors, including the failure by the city to send to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation for testing various pieces of evidence, including a coat that was reportedly worn by Houser. Gains said his office sought the BCII tests.

In addition, the prosecutor noted that the state agency did not “process” the car during the investigation, and that the county coroner did not take fingerprints from the deceased.

Who’s to blame?

Yet, Gains refused to blame anyone involved in the case. It was clear to us then that there were major problems as the county prosecutor was preparing for trial.

Our misgivings were confirmed recently when the start of Houser’s trial was postponed after the prosecutor and defense told the judge that new evidence had been uncovered.

Given the high-profile nature of the crime — the brutal murder of Angeline Fimognari made national news — we believe an independent review starting at the very beginning is demanded.

It’s a matter of trying to answer the question, “Did anyone drop the ball?” In addition, the citizens of the city of Youngstown have a right to know what worked and what didn’t in the investigation and the subsequent filing of charges against Jamar Houser.

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