By Joe Gorman
Judge Maureen Sweeney has ruled that a defendant who faces death-penalty charges in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court must be shackled on his way to and from her courtroom.
Lance Hundley, who is charged in the November 2015 slaying of a woman, can have his restraints off in the courtroom but not in the halls of the courthouse.
The order only pertains to the Hundley case when he is wearing civilian clothes and no other case on her docket.
The order does not mention the suicide Monday of Robert Seman, who leaped to his death after a hearing in her courtroom in his death-penalty case. He was wearing civilian clothes but not handcuffed or shackled at the time he jumped.
In the Seman case, the judge had ordered that he be allowed to wear civilian clothing in the courtroom and “any time he was to appear in court or before the general public, he was not to appear to be in custody,” whether for pre-trial hearings or the trial, Sheriff Jerry Greene said.
The purpose of this order was to avoid tainting a jury or public opinion, and it applied in court and in the public areas of the courthouse, the sheriff explained.
In a transcript of a pretrial hearing in Hundley’s case Wednesday, Judge Sweeney asked Hundley if he understood why the change in policy was taking place.
“Oh, yes, under the circumstances that happened to Mr. Seman,” Hundley said, according to the transcript. “Yeah,” the transcript records Judge Sweeney answering.
“And you understand that at no time with the jury or anything else you will be shackled in this room here, OK?”
Hundley responded “yes,” according to the transcript.
Greene, whose deputies provide courthouse security, applauded the judge’s order.
“Any time that we can increase the security and are able to keep an inmate more secure when we’re transporting him, that’s a good thing,” the sheriff said.
In high-profile cases such as death-penalty cases, defense attorneys routinely file motions asking that their defendants be allowed to wear civilian clothes and not be visibly restrained before jurors and the order is usually granted.
Hundley, 47, of Washington Street, Warren, or Cleveland Street, Youngstown, could face the death penalty if he’s convicted in the Nov. 6, 2015, slaying of Erika Huff, 41, in her Cleveland Street home on Youngstown’s South Side.
Hundley is accused of beating Huff to death, beating her mother and setting the house on fire.
Hundley is charged with aggravated murder with a death-penalty specification, attempted murder, felonious assault and aggravated arson. Trial is set for Sept. 8 but there are several pretrial hearings on the docket before the trial date.