Chief justice should review management of Martin case

Is four years too long a time for a major capital murder case to come to trial? Vivian Martin’s family members and friends certainly think so.

Martin, a Youngstown real-estate agent, was killed in September 2010, and those who were close to her are wondering why the two men charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery haven’t been brought to trial.

Robert Brooks, 29, and Grant Cooper, 25, could face the death penalty if convicted.

The impatience of Martin’s relatives and friends was evident in a front-page story Sunday headlined “Justice Delayed — 2 accused of murder still await their day in court 4 years later.” Accompanying the story by Reporter Joe Gorman is a chart that lists some of the more famous death-penalty cases in Mahoning County and the time it took to bring the defendants to trial.

A review of the John Drummond, Martin Koliser, Curtis Young, Bennie Adams, Michael Davis, Kevin Agee and Willie Wilks case files shows that the longest period between arraignment and the start of trial was two years in the Young case.

Thus, the nearly four years that have gone by since Brooks and Cooper were arrested and charged with the slaying of Martin does give pause.

There will be a pretrial hearing for Cooper on Friday, while Brooks will have one June 17.

However, trial dates have not been set.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge James Evans declined to discuss the details of the case, but did tell The Vindicator that one of the main reasons for the delay is the federal government’s failure to turn over in a timely manner Brooks’ and Cooper’s military records requested by defense attorneys.

There have been numerous other delays along the way, which prompts the question, “Why is Judge Evans willing to accommodate the prosecution and defense?”

There may well be legitimate reasons, but the judge isn’t talking. Judge Evans also is now seeking to be recused from the case and have it heard by a visiting judge. He hasn’t yet stated a reason why he wants off the case.

Nonetheless, given the concerns voiced by Martin’s relatives and friends, we believe Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who has authority over all the state courts, should conduct an administrative review of the Martin case.

O’Connor has the ability to send in members of the Supreme Court staff to analyze how the case is being managed, including the way Judge Evans has dealt with the numerous motions, and to determine if the four-year time frame is reasonable.

It may well be that Evans has done all he can to ensure that this high-profile case is not tossed out on appeal — if the defendants are convicted because of something he did or did not do.

Extraordinary burdens

The death-penalty aspect does place extraordinary burdens on the judge, the prosecution and the defense.

Nonetheless, an independent review has become necessary given the concerns voiced by Vivian Martin’s family and friends.

“Why is it taking so long to get closure?” Latoyia Brown, the victim’s granddaughter, asked.

It’s a question that will be repeated over and over so long as there isn’t a trial date, and there isn’t a whole lot of information coming out of the court.

We are well aware that everyone involved must tread carefully, but an independent review of what has taken place to date may provide the answers to the myriad questions, thus reassuring the public the case is on the right track — at the right speed.

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