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COVID-19 slows the wheels of justice in Mahoning courts

YOUNGSTOWN — The Samuel Richard aggravated murder trial was postponed last week after the prosecution and defense jointly asked for his trial to be moved back because of COVID-19 issues.

The case is set for a pretrial hearing Feb. 4, but no new trial date has been selected. Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court reset the trial from today.

Richard, 33, of Youngstown, is charged in the Oct. 16, 2020, shooting death of Keylan T. Davis, 32, at 1080 Compass Drive West in Austintown.

Mike Yacovone, assistant county prosecutor, said two “crucial witnesses” were not going to be available to testify if the trial took place today because of “medical conditions.” Yacovone and defense attorney Tom Zena stated that they wanted the trial postponed “due to the increase in number of COVID-19 cases across the country, state and county.”

Meanwhile, other cases apparently are being postponed because of concern over inmates in the Mahoning County jail who have COVID-19.

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said Thursday he was aware of only three or four inmates in the jail who are diagnosed with COVID-19, but test results are pending for many other inmates and involve inmates in multiple pods within the jail.

A pod is a housing unit of the jail, some of which hold 36, 18 or 48 inmates, the sheriff said.

When one inmate tests positive in a pod, it is referred to as a “hot pod,” Greene said. The sheriff’s office notifies court personnel anytime an inmate has a court hearing if the inmate is in a “hot pod,” Greene said.

It is up to that court to decide whether to have the inmate brought to the courthouse for a hearing, conduct the hearing by video or reset the hearing for later, Greene said. Generally, the courts do not wish to have inmates from “hot pods” come to the courthouse in person, Greene said.

Greene said COVID-19 is pervasive among people he interacts with on a regular basis at work and elsewhere. “Everybody’s got it,” he said.

Greene said he currently has seven employees out of about 225 who are out with COVID-19, most of them among the jail staff.

“It is kind of a continuous issue we are dealing with and taking measures to prevent spreading it,” he said. Sheriff’s employees are quarantining for 10 days, but he is reviewing the newer U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance regarding a five-day quarantine, Greene said.

erunyan@vindy.com

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