Defense seeks murder case dismissal

By Peter H. Milliken


A man whose aggravated-murder trial earlier this month ended in a mistrial due to an uncooperative witness has asked for dismissal of the charges against him on the basis a retrial would subject him to unconstitutional double jeopardy.

The dismissal motion was filed Monday on behalf of Kimani O. Hodges, 20, of Auburndale Avenue, by his defense lawyer, Anthony P. Meranto.

Hodges is charged with aggravated murder with a firearm specification in the Feb. 17, 2016, shooting death of Jason Fonseca and with being a felon with a gun.

Since the trial was halted after a jury had been sworn in, Meranto said a re-trial would violate the prohibition against double jeopardy in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Visiting Judge H.F. Inderlied Jr. granted Meranto’s requests to strike from the record the testimony of a key prosecution witness, who refused to answer questions under Meranto’s cross-examination, and to declare a mistrial.

Judge Inderlied, however, declined to rule on the double-jeopardy issue.

Monday’s dismissal motion from the defense is now before Judge John M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Prosecutors said they didn’t think double jeopardy applies because the trial was halted because the a witness was uncooperative and not by their own actions.

The prosecution dismissed the case against co-defendant Angel Lee Bell, 20, of Choice Court, who faced the same aggravated-murder charge as Hodges, plus an obstructing-justice charge, with the agreement she must testify against Hodges if he’s retried.

Prosecutors said Fonseca, 20, was fatally shot in front of his East Side home because he and Bell, who once dated, had shared a car, but Bell wrecked the car and Fonseca took it back.

Prosecutors said Bell threatened Fonseca, then took Hodges with her to Fonseca’s Ayers Street home, where a witness saw Hodges shoot Fonseca nine times.

Meranto told jurors the gunshot wounds Fonseca suffered support Hodges’ self-defense claim because they show Hodges and Fonseca struggled.

This month’s mistrial came after jurors were called for selection in November, but sent home after a prosecution witness fled from U.S. marshals.

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