By JOE GORMAN
Friends and family of slain real-estate agent Vivian Martin say she was never shy about making her opinions known and would have no shortage of things to say about the nearly four-year delay in trying the two men accused of her murder.
“She would always want someone to be held accountable,” said her granddaughter, Latoyia Brown, last week as a group of friends and family gathered to remember the slain 67-year-old Martin and express their frustration that her accused killers have yet to stand trial — even though they were arrested and charged with the crime in 2010.
Martin, a cancer survivor and owner of Essence Realty, was found in a burning home in the 3600 block of Nelson Avenue on Sept. 20, 2010. Arrested a few days later were Robert Brooks, 29, and Grant Cooper, 25. They are charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Police said the pair lured Martin to the home to rob her, then killed her and set the home on fire to cover up the crime.
They were both indicted Oct. 13, 2010, and the case was assigned to Judge James Evans of Mahoning County Common Pleas court, but the case has yet to come to trial.
Both have upcoming pretrial hearings. Cooper has one Friday and Brooks has one on June 17. Trial dates have not been set, according to common pleas court records.
Family and friends say the delay in justice is maddening. They say there is no good reason for it that they are aware of.
“Why is it taking so long to get closure?” Brown asked.
The Rev. Kenneth Simon, who was at the meeting , said that the justice system was failing Martin’s family because of the delay.
“As Dr. [Martin Luther] King said, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied,’” the Rev. Mr. Simon said.
A look at other recent death-penalty cases in Mahoning County since 2000 show that the Martin case delay is longer than most, though all of those trials had just one defendant while the Vivian Martin case has two.
The only other case with two defendants ended Friday. Aubrey Toney, 33, was found guilty of murder for the Sept. 25, 2010, murder of Thomas Repchic, 74, but not guilty of aggravated murder, which makes him ineligible for the death penalty. A co-defendant in that case who also faced the death penalty, Kevin Agee, 28, was tried in March 2012 for his role in the murder. He was sentenced to 41 years to life in prison.
Other than those trials, the longest delay was in the capital murder case of Curtis Young, who was tried for the August 2007 death of a woman, her young son and her unborn child when she rolled over a car she was driving on Center Street as Young was chasing her. It took 20 months from the time the case was indicted Aug. 21, 2007, until the trial began April 27, 2009.
Jurors opted not to sentence Young to death. He is serving a life prison sentence.
In Cooper’s case, court records show 43 events scheduled since his Oct. 10, 2010, arraignment, with 20 of those events held and 12 continued. A motion to suppress evidence, filed by prosecutors, took place Jan. 18, 2012, then continued five times. Records show the last scheduled hearing on the motion to suppress was continued Feb. 7, 2013.
For Brooks, court records show 41 events scheduled since his arraignment on the same day as Cooper, with 15 of those events held and seven continued. Records do not list a designation for the other events scheduled.
Judge Evans said he could not comment much because of rules that prohibit judges from commenting on pending cases, but he did say part of the reason for the long delay was for medical records from the armed forces that were requested by attorneys of Cooper and Brooks. Both served in the military and the records are needed in case the two need them for any mitigation. Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca Doherty, who tried Toney and a recent death penalty case of Willie Wilks, also mentioned the delay in obtaining the records last week.
Judge Evans said he did not want to comment any more on the case.
Some of Martin’s supporters say they are especially upset with the heinous nature of how she was lured to the home to show it to a prospective buyer, then was robbed and killed.
“What they did was harsh, and it needs to be dealt with accordingly,” Brown said.
Former First Ward Councilman Artis Gillam grew up with Martin and agreed the crime was senseless.
“Here is a person who bothered no one doing a service by showing a house and it was a very, very senseless killing,” Gillam said.
Family and friends say Martin had a heart of gold but was never afraid to speak her mind and be truthful. Despite that, her great grandson Zach Howe said he suspects his grandmother would also be thinking of the men accused of her death.
“She would probably feel something for them because they just messed up their lives,” Howe said.