Ohio Supreme Court hearing 2002 murder case

Staff report


The Ohio Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning in an 11-year-old murder case, in which an Austintown man may face a sixth trial in the strangulation of a 22-year-old woman in her Austintown apartment.

The prosecution is asking the state’s top court to overturn a 7th District Court of Appeals decision so Christopher Anderson cannot proceed with an appeal protesting his sixth trial in the murder of Amber Zurcher.

The case began its ascent to the 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 underway.

Anderson, 46, of South Main Street, 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.

Ralph Rivera, an assistant county prosecutor, appealed to the state’s top court, saying Judge Evans’ decision wasn’t a final appealable order, and the top court decided in February this year that it would hear the case.

Juhasz argued the top court lacked jurisdiction because the 7th District Court has simply ruled the appeal may proceed, but hasn’t decided the case.

Rivera and Juhasz will argue their positions before the seven justices of the state Supreme Court.

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