Killer in dismemberment case appeals conviction
Attorneys seeking to have convictions overthrown in city dismemberment case
YOUNGSTOWN — Arturo Novoa, sentenced to 48 years to life in prison in 2019 for murdering his girlfriend, Shannon Graves, 29, then mutilating and hiding her body, is asking for his convictions to be overturned.
A lawyer with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, however, responded to the appeal by saying Novoa’s case “presents some of the most gruesome and horrific details in Mahoning County and perhaps Ohio’s history.”
Novoa’s attorney, Lou DeFabio, argued in a filing with the 7th District Court of Appeals that when Novoa, now 34, entered his guilty plea to murder and 42 other charges, it wasn’t “knowing, intelligent and voluntary” because Judge Anthony Donofrio of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court did not make Novoa aware of the maximum penalty he faced.
DeFabio also appealed Novoa’s sentencing on the grounds that the judge should not have sentenced Novoa to separate three-year prison sentences on a handful of tampering-with-evidence convictions for 24 things he did to destroy and hide Graves’ body.
Attorney Stephanie Anderson of the Ohio Attorney General’s office, in noting the “most gruesome and horrific details in Mahoning County,” recounted how Novoa and Graves met in April 2016 and lived together at a home on Mahoning Avenue, but their relationship was volatile, and Novoa killed her in the home Feb. 24, 2017, apparently with a heavy, metal object.
He then placed her body in the trunk of her car and took it to the home of Novoa’s girlfriend, Katrina Layton, on Shields Road, where Novoa and co-defendant Andrew Herrmann dismembered the body and put it in storage totes and returned it to the home on Mahoning Avenue.
The following month, Novoa held a bonfire at a home on Sherwood Avenue to destroy Graves’ clothes, papers and other items.
Novoa and Layton used sulfuric acid on parts of the body, but the parts that remained were moved to a freezer at the Mahoning Avenue residence, where they remained until July 2017, when moved to a freezer in a new apartment on Ravenwood Avenue.
Novoa then moved the freezer to a friend’s home in Campbell, where the friends discovered the remains in a backpack and called police.
‘SHOCKED THE CONSCIENCE’
“Your planning, scheming and actions in this case have shocked the conscience of the community,” Donofrio said during Novoa’s sentencing, according to Vindicator files. “Your actions were inhumane, cruel, sadistic and barbaric.”
DeFabio said Donofrio told Novoa during the plea hearing the maximum sentence Novoa faced for each of his 43 crimes, but he did not total up the amount of prison time Novoa could get if each sentence was added on top of the other.
“In fact there is no mention made by the (judge) or any of the attorneys throughout the entirety of the plea hearing of even the possibility that consecutive sentences could be imposed,” DeFabio’s filing states.
DeFabio cited two court rulings that address what a judge is required to tell a defendant about the possible prison sentence he or she faces.
In 1988, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that neither the U.S. nor Ohio constitutions require that the defendant be told the “maxium total of the sentences he faces or that the sentences could run consecutively.”
But DeFabio stated that in 1998, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in a separate case, relating to a defendant being sentenced for having violated probation with a new offense, that the judge needed to tell the defendant of the “possible aggregate maximum sentene that he could face.”
The filing by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, conversely, states a judge can deviate from the rule requiring that the defendant be notified of the maximum penalty “so long as the totality of the circumstances indicates that ‘the defendant subjectively understands the implications of his plea and the rights he is waiving.'”
The state said the 1998 ruling did not apply to the Novoa sentencing because Donofrio “unambiguously advised (Novoa) that he could face up to life in prison.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is involved in the appeal of Novoa’s sentencing because Dan Kasaris, an assistant Ohio attorney general, prosecuted the case.
As to whether the judge erred in sentencing Novoa separately for six counts of tampering with evidence, Novoa’s attorney argued that they “constitute a single act: hiding the victim’s body.”
But the state’s attorney stated “this logic ignores the fact that these offenses were separate and distinct acts that occurred over several months.”
Novoa pleaded guilty to 24 counts of tampering with evidence but was sentenced on six of them and was ordered to serve each of the sentences one after the other for a total of 18 years.
DeFabio stated the 24 counts were divided into groupings such as dismembering Graves’ body, freezing body parts, moving the body and burning clothing.
The appeals court judges will issue a ruling later. Novoa is housed in the Trumbull Correctional Institution in Leavittsburg.