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Murder trial proceeds without jury, attorney

YOUNGSTOWN — Brian Donlow Jr., who was convicted in a jury trial in one murder case in February 2020, is scheduled for trial in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on April 27 without a jury in a second murder case.

Also, he has told the court he’ll represent himself — with a lawyer on standby.

Donlow, 26, already has started serving his prison sentence in the June 18, 2018, shooting death of Brandon Wylie, 30, in the Plaza View apartments on the East Side.

But he is back in the Mahoning County jail while pretrial motions are being heard in his aggravated murder case involving the 2 a.m. Nov. 18, 2018, shooting death of Christopher Jackson, 21, of Warren, and wounding of a second man.

Jackson was found shot to death in a still-running car at the intersection of Bennington and Stewart avenues on the East Side. The other man was wounded but survived.

Authorities say the shootings took place after Jackson and the other man allowed Donlow and two co-defendants to get into the back seat of the car in which Jackon was riding. An argument began while they were driving, and shots were fired. Jackson was killed, and the other man was struck multiple times as he ran away from the car.

Prosecutors allege Donlow, Stephon Hopkins, 23, and Lorice Moore, 24, caused Jackson’s death by firing weapons multiple times “or was complicit by aiding and abetting the shooter who shot Christopher Jackson from the back seat,” according to a recent court filing.

Hopkins and Moore are scheduled for a separate jury trial Aug. 2.

Donlow, Hopkins and Moore also are charged with trying to kill the other man by shooting him multiple times from behind as he was running away.

UNUSUAL

Donlow recently agreed to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony D’Apolito hearing the trial without a jury, but it is not the only unusual aspect about the case.

At Donlow’s request, D’Apolito recently allowed Donlow to serve as his own attorney.

Attorney J.P. Laczko, who had been representing Donlow earlier in the case, is now appointed to serve as standby counsel. Laczko will sit through pretrial hearings and the trial and be prepared to step in and take over as Donlow’s lawyer if Donlow asks the judge for him to do so, court officials have said.

The role of a standby counsel has been debated in Ohio appeals cases in recent years, including a case in Mahoning County in 2017 that went to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The top court did not find fault with a Mahoning County judge who limited the role of standby counsel only to being there during the trial and prepared to take over for the defendant if neeed.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not provide a defendant the right to have standby counsel and therefore a judge has a right to limit the use of standby counsel as he sees fit.

The defendant in the appeals case asked for his standby counsel to assist him with procedural matters, but the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the defendant does not have a right to that type of assistance from standby counsel.

The case has a pretrial hearing set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

erunyan@tribtoday.com

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