Defense: Jarrell killed stepmother in a ‘fit of rage’

By Justin Wier


After about three hours of deliberations, a Mahoning County jury Tuesday found James Jarrell guilty of the murder of his 55-year-old stepmother.

The jury did not reach a decision on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery or voluntary manslaughter, but did find him guilty of tampering with evidence and receiving stolen property.

Jarrell, 36, admitted Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court that he stabbed his 55-year-old stepmother to death in 2015.

In closing arguments, attorneys argued over whether his actions constituted aggravated murder or voluntary manslaughter. The jury split the difference with the murder charge, which falls between them and carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

Aggravated murder, which would have required a minimum sentence of 20 years to life, would have required jurors to find Jarrell guilty on the aggravated-robbery charge.

Prosecutors alleged that Jarrell, who testified that he had a crack addiction, went to his stepmother’s house to ask for money for drugs.

“When she fought back, he killed her,” said assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Brevetta. He told jurors Jarrell bashed her head in, slit her throat, took her credit cards and went to buy drugs.

Jarrell’s defense attorney described his client as a confused young man and compared him to a stray dog who had been poked and jabbed one too many times.

Jarrell, who said he suffered childhood sexual abuse, testified that his stepmother began a sexual relationship with him shortly after she married his father when Jarrell was 16. They also did drugs together. When Jarrell went to her house the night of her death, she asked him to go to Florida with her. When Jarrell declined to go to Florida and declined to sleep with her, she became angry and disparaged him.

“His whole life – his crap sandwich of a life – was coming to a head,” said Atty. Ron Yarwood.

His stepmother grabbed a glass globe to hit him, and Jarrell stabbed her with a nearby knife in a fit of rage. He testified he remembers stabbing her then coming to with the glass globe in his hand.

Brevetta responded that while voluntary manslaughter is committed in a fit of passion or rage, the offender must have been provoked in a manner “sufficient to arouse the passions of an ordinary person.” He suggested that Jarrell’s stepmothers alleged provocations did not meet that bar.

A friend who saw Jarrell later that night described him as behaving normally. Jarrell did not seem sweaty, scared or shaken, the friend testified.

“That is the behavior of a murderer,” Brevetta said.

Judge Lou A. D’Apolito will sentence Jarrell at a later date.

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