Judge Sweeney reinstates murder charge
By joe gorman
Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court added another chapter Wednesday to what she called the “torturous history” of a 2009 murder case by reinstating a murder charge she dismissed in September.
Judge Sweeney ruled in favor of a motion by prosecutors to reinstate the charge against 35-year-old Paul Brown in the May 2009 homicide of Ashten Jackson.
Her ruling came after a three-hour hearing Tuesday over the issue of a SIM card in a cellphone belonging to Brown, which was one of the prime reasons she dismissed the case Sept. 16.
Brown’s lawyer, Anthony Meranto, had argued that there was a message on Brown’s phone that could have cleared him, and that Brown told detectives to check his cellphone.
When Judge Sweeney ordered the phone to be examined, the technician assigned to do the examination by the court said he could not find the voice mail because the phone had a different SIM card in it, which rendered it inoperable.
The technician could not explain how the card was switched while the phone was in police custody, so the case was dismissed.
In Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors submitted evidence showing that the card was never changed.
They produced evidence showing that the technician checked the phone based on the person who had the phone number in 2013, not in 2009, when Brown owned the phone.
The Youngstown Police Department Internal Affairs Division also conducted an investigation into the handling of the phone and the case itself, and nowhere was there evidence that Brown asked detectives to check his phone nor did he mention a statement was on his voice mail that could clear him.
Judge Sweeney said in her ruling she read the transcript of Brown’s interview with detectives and that she could not find any evidence of Brown making any statement about a voice mail, and that in fact he said in his interview several times his phone had not been working.
She wrote it was troubling that Brown’s lawyer either misled or misrepresented the facts and she added that prosecutors should have already reviewed the interview and transcript and called him out on it earlier in the case.
“The fact that the state did not catch this misrepresentation is disconcerting,” Judge Sweeney wrote.
“It is the responsibility of all attorneys to be prepared and know their case backwards and forwards when they come to court.”
Judge Sweeney also wrote that a worker from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation was able to retrieve several of the last numbers dialed from the phone when Brown had it, and other information — and the information originally received from the court was for the person who had that phone number in January of this year.
Meranto said after reading the ruling he thinks he will appeal the judge’s decision to the 7th District Court of Appeals.
Police Chief Rod Foley said he was glad the issue of the SIM card was addressed Tuesday because Judge Sweeney’s ruling to dismiss the case pointed at potential misconduct.
“We’re happy the integrity of the police department is not being challenged,” Foley said.
Foley also credited Internal Affairs head Lt. Brian Butler for his investigation into the department’s handling of evidence and review of Brown’s interview with detectives.
In January 2012, the case was in trial but a mistrial was declared after it was discovered a police report was not provided to Meranto during the discovery process.
Judge Sweeney said she was also concerned that none of the work prosecutors did to prepare for the hearing on their motion to have the charge reinstated was not done in the time since Brown was arrested for the case in May 2009.
Brown has been serving a federal prison sentence on a firearm charge.