Twenty-one years ago, 16-year- old Christopher Ferrell, along with a group of other juvenile hooligans, invaded a young Newton Township man’s home. As they were stealing the family’s belongings, 19-year-old Douglas Lash returned home from his job at a grocery store and confronted the thieves. Within minutes, Ferrell and a 13-year-old Austintown boy had shot Lash to death.
One year after the cold-blooded murder, Ferrell agreed to a plea deal that convicted him of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and kidnapping; he was sentenced to three concurrent 10- to 25-year prison terms, with parole eligibility after 18 years. That sentence also included a conviction from Geauga County for tying up and robbing a 74-year-old woman in Parkman in August 1991.
Because of his age, he was mercifully spared eligibility for the death penalty.
Then and now, that degree of mercy afforded by Ohio law should be deemed sufficient, considering the heinous nature of that crime and others committed by Ferrell. After all, the pain, anguish and loss felt by the Lash family likely has diminished little over the span of two decades.
We join respected 30-year veteran Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins in urging the Ohio Parole Board to deny release of Ferrell when he comes before the board next month for a hearing.
CAMPAIGN FOR FERRELL’S FREEDOM
Ferrell and his supporters are attempting to make a case for his early release via an online petition campaign to the governor and parole board members that suggests he has developed great remorse for his crime, he has become a model prisoner and that other juvenile co- defendants in the burglary and murder presented misconceptions and lies to protect themselves. For example, they argue that Ferrell fired the first bullet that disabled Lash, not the bullet that ultimately snuffed out Lash’s young and promising life.
Watkins rightly isn’t buying any of it.
“In short, Ferrell is a sociopath who needs to be locked up for the rest of his natural life,” Watkins said in a letter to the chairman of the Ohio Parole Board.
At Ferrell’s first parole hearing in 2008, Watkins’ office also vehemently opposed his parole. LuWayne Annos, an assistant prosecutor, said of Ferrell: “The execution-style killing of young Douglas in his own home was not an aberration and not an example of an otherwise ‘good boy gone bad.’”
According to news reports, Watkins and Annos said Ferrell “led an outlaw band of other teenage thugs who committed armed burglaries of numerous homes throughout Western Pennsylvania and Trumbull, Portage and Geauga counties in Ohio.”
Despite Ferrell’s protestations, precedent makes it unlikely the parole board will grant his request. In 2011, for example, only 6.9 percent of some 1,918 hearings resulted in total releases for those convicted of murder and other crimes of violence and sex. As of today, Ferrell has yet to serve the minimum 30 years of his agreed-to concurrent sentence.
Five years ago, the parole board did the right thing by rejecting release for Ferrell. In the name of justice for the family of Douglas Lash, they should do likewise next month.