Lawyers ask for rape evidence to be thrown out in Seman case


By Joe Gorman

jgorman@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Lawyers for Robert Seman asked a judge to bar prosecutors from using evidence in a rape case against him in his capital murder case.

Lynn Maro, one of two lawyers for Seman, told Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday that prosecutors should be barred from using specific evidence of a rape accusation against Seman, 47, of Green, because it could prejudice a jury against her client.

Also, prosecutors did not alert defense attorneys until late July about some of the evidence from the rape case they intend to use in Seman’s trial in September.

Seman could face the death penalty if convicted of the deaths of Corinne Gump, 10, and her grandparents William and Judith Schmidt, after a fire March 31, 2015, destroyed their Powers Way home on the South Side, the day Seman was to go on trial on allegations that he raped Corinne.

He was free on bond at the time but could have faced life in prison if convicted. The case has still not been dismissed.

Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa countered that Maro’s co-counsel, Tom Zena, was Seman’s lawyer in the rape case and had all the evidence prosecutors had for two years.

Zena countered that argument, saying that though he has the evidence, he never knew what prosecutors planned to present from the rape case in Seman’s murder case.

One of the specifications in the case that qualifies Seman for the death penalty is that he killed a witness to a crime, in this case Corinne, because she was the only witness to what Seman is charged of doing to her.

Maro said under the death-penalty specification, all prosecutors must do is show jurors that Corinne was a witness in a previous case against Seman. She said that by getting into specific details on the allegations against Seman, jurors could hold it against her client.

Cantalamessa said prosecutors must use some of the allegations in the rape case to show not just that Corinne was a witness against Seman but that she was a “crucial witness,” the only one who could testify about what was done to her.

Judge Sweeney said she hopes to rule on the request by next Thursday.

Other death-penalty specifications that Seman meets include killing two or more people; killing someone in the commission of a felony, in this case aggravated burglary and aggravated arson, of which he is also charged; wanting to escape prosecution from a crime; caused the death of someone under 13; and using premeditation.

If jurors find Seman is eligible for the death penalty, a second phase of the trial, or mitigation phase, will begin. In that phase, defense attorneys will try to offer factors to jurors to convince them not to sentence their client to death. Only a jury can recommend a death sentence.

Trial in the case is slated to begin Sept. 12 with jury selection.

A hearing on a motion to suppress Seman’s statements to police was also set Wednesday, but it has been pushed back to Sept. 1 because some transcripts were not ready. Judge Sweeney will also hear arguments on that date on a motion for change of venue filed by defense attorneys.

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