By Ed Runyan
Michael Fingerhut of Florida, a son of Robert Fingerhut, who was murdered in his Howland home Dec. 11, 2001, says Donna Roberts, 69, is evil and manipulative.
He wishes he could come to Ohio whenever there’s a hearing such as the one April 30 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, in which Roberts was again sentenced to death, but it’s too expensive. He and other family members spent large sums of money coming to Ohio during two trials.
She is the only woman on Ohio’s death row and is housed in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Death row for her means she’s allowed out of her cell from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. each day. She remained on death row even after the Ohio Supreme Court vacated her death sentence and ordered a new sentencing. Her execution date has not been set.
Michael Fingerhut wishes he could have sat in the courtroom April 30 so that people would know others care about Robert Fingerhut, the 57-year-old businessman shot to death by Youngstown native Nate Jackson two days after Jackson was released from prison.
And when people weigh comments Roberts has made since her 2003 murder conviction for planning the murder — comments about how she was sexually abused by a cousin and lived in a “very very abusive” home on a farm in Austintown and later suffered mental injuries in multiple car crashes — he wants people to know the Donna Roberts he has known for about 35 years.
“In the [nearly] 40 years I’ve known Donna ... it has never come up,” Michael Fingerhut said of the sexual assaults and psychological abuse Roberts talked about in court in 2007. She said she suffered a head injury in a 1999 car accident.
“She never claimed a head injury,” Fingerhut said of the time period between that accident and the murder.
Roberts conspired with Jackson — while Jackson completed a prison term — to kill Fingerhut, according to letters and phone calls prosecutors used at trial. She and Fingerhut were married in Florida in about 1981 and lived together about 20 years in Florida and Ohio. She was living with Fingerhut at the time of the murder.
Judge Ronald Rice of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, in his April 30 sentencing entry, said there was no doubt Roberts and Jackson extensively planned the murder over three months.
“She conspired with Jackson, her imprisoned lover, to murder Fingerhut for his life-insurance proceeds. The murder plan was well-documented through telephone calls recorded from Jackson’s residence, the Lorain Correctional Institute,” Judge Rice said.
Roberts refused to ask the jury for mercy after being convicted in 2003. But by the 2007 hearing, she claimed the taped conversations between her and Jackson were “my imagination,” and “stories” like the ones she had written while in school, and she never meant for anything bad to happen.
Michael Fingerhut said Roberts’ behavior during the investigation showed how devious she was: During an interview with Howland police, she listed the men she had known intimately. Then the detective asked her about Jackson, and she said, “Yes, I forgot about him.”
During her trial, Michael Fingerhut said, Roberts looked at him and pointed to news media covering the trial and said: “‘They’re all here for me, Michael.’ She was evil.”
Judge Rice noted in his sentencing hearing that he also detected “self promotion” in her hourlong statement to jurors at the end of her trial when she “frequently referred to her wealth.”
One witness testified that Roberts was angry when Robert Fingerhut refused to give her $3,000, but Roberts “berated” that witness in her statement, Judge Rice pointed out.
“It seems these mischaracterizations of her social status were more upsetting to Roberts than the guilty verdict against her for complicity to commit murder,” the judge said.
Michael Fingerhut said unflattering accusations were made about his father during the trial, but the truth is that his father was “a good man,” he said. “He gave prisoners a job. He gave prisoners a bus ticket so they could visit their families. He didn’t look down on people. He was probably the least-prejudiced person on the earth.”
He added, “He was a very hard worker, and he was very educated,” including master’s degrees in journalism and criminal justice studies. “He was more than just a dead body. He was a person that people cared about.”
Michael Fingerhut said Roberts never even called the Fingerhut family in Florida to tell them about Robert Fingerhut’s death. They learned a week later.
“When my father was murdered, we didn’t even know about it until after he’d been buried. She put him in a pine box. When the detective said, ‘Your dad’s dead,’ my first thought was: ‘Donna.’”