Ohio’s top court will hear an appeal in a 10-year-old Austintown murder case
By Peter H. Milliken
The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal concerning a 10-year-old murder charge against Christopher Anderson in the strangulation death of 22-year-old Amber Zurcher in her Austintown apartment.
The case began its journey to the state’s top court when the trial judge, James C. Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, overruled in February 2011 a defense motion to dismiss the murder charge and free Anderson from county jail as Anderson was facing a sixth trial.
A sixth trial would violate due process and the constitutional ban on double jeopardy, argued defense lawyer John B. Juhasz.
But prosecutors said Juhasz failed to cite “any controlling case law that requires the state to dismiss after a certain number of trials.”
Two of Anderson’s trials in the June 3, 2002, homicide ended in a hung jury, and two others ended in mistrials while a trial was under way.
Anderson, 45, of South Main Street, Austintown, was convicted in his second trial and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, but the 7th District Court of Appeals overturned that conviction, citing “cumulative error” in the trial.
In the more recent chain of events, the defense appealed Judge Evans’ 2011 decision to the 7th District Court of Appeals.
By a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of that court denied a prosecution request to dismiss that appeal.
The prosecution then asked all four 7th District appeals judges to consider the matter, but they deadlocked 2-2, leaving the three-judge panel’s ruling intact and allowing the appeal to proceed.
There has been no court decision concerning the merits of Anderson’s appeal.
But Ralph Rivera, an assistant county prosecutor, appealed to the state’s top court, saying Judge Evans’ decision wasn’t a final appealable order.
Juhasz argued the top court lacked jurisdiction because the 7th District Court has simply ruled that the appeal may proceed, but hasn’t decided the case.
In this week’s case announcement, Anderson’s case was one of only seven statewide the top court agreed to hear. In that announcement, it declined to hear 88 other cases.