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Man serving life sentence for 2009 double murder seeks release

YOUNGSTOWN — A man serving a life sentence for a 2009 double murder has filed a civil rights federal lawsuit in an attempt to get his freedom.

Lorenza Barnette, 39, who is incarcerated in the Marion Correctional Institution, has sued two Youngstown police officers who investigated the murder, the assistant prosecutor who tried the case and the Mahoning County judge who sentenced him, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 11 in the U.S. Court Northern District of Ohio.

Barnette was found guilty in 2011 of the murders of cousins Jaron Roland and Dary Woods, whose bodies were found in a burning car near the Mahoning River. Both men were bound with duct tape and had bags over their heads.

Barnette was sentenced by Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney, and the case was tried by county Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa, while officers Keven Bokesch and Gerald Slattery investigated the murders as part of the roles in the Mahoning Valley Violent Crimes Task Force.

All four were named as defendants in Barnette’s lawsuit, which seeks more than $5.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

In the lawsuit, Barnette, who is not represented by an attorney, claims the grand jury process was flawed as fewer than seven members heard and voted on his indictment. He also claims a false arrest report was filed. Barnette also claims that Sweeney acted as “a second prosecutor” in the trial.

Barnette’s appeal was denied by the 7th District Court of Appeals,02-17-21 and the Ohio Supreme Court would not hear Barnette’s case.

Federal Judge Benita Y. Pearson has been assigned the case, and Barnette’s lawsuit asks that Pearson vacate the guilty verdicts and the prison sentence.

Court records show that attorneys for each of the four defendants had not filed responses to the lawsuit as of Monday.

Cantalamessa said Tuesday the evidence was strong in the 2009 capital case against Barnette, in which one juror voted against the death penalty.

The assistant prosecutor said she is sure the civil rights case will be dismissed. Cantalamessa said the plaintiff’s claim about a flawed grand jury is “baseless.” She said the inmate would not have any way to know about the grand jury proceedings because they are secret.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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