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Man convicted of rape set free

Appeals court rules Mahoning judge erred in handling of 2021 trial

Staff file photo / Ed Runyan... Todd Perkins, left, is seen during a hearing in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in May 2021, during which he pleaded guilty to two counts of rape. At right is his attorney, Thomas Zena.

YOUNGSTOWN — Todd Perkins, 56, of Coitsville Hubbard Road, who got 15 years in prison after being convicted in May 2021 of two child rapes, is free again after the 7th District Court of Appeals reversed a decision by Judge Maureen Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The appellate panel — Judges Gene Donofrio, Carol Robb and David D’Apolito — ruled in August that Sweeney erred in refusing to allow Perkins to be tried separately on rape allegations involving the two children.

After Perkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2021, his lawyers filed an appeal, stating that Sweeney should have agreed to separate the cases because a jury hearing testimony about both alleged victims “would infer (Perkins’) guilt from one case to the other,” according to the ruling.

Perkins’ lawyers cited a criminal rule that states that even if indictments are properly joined initially, “a separate trial should be ordered if it appears that” trying offenses involving two alleged victims together would be unfair to the defendant.

The appeal also cited a 1981 ruling that states it is the defendant’s responsibility to show that having one trial instead of two is unfair to the defendant, according to the ruling. The defendant also “must furnish the trial court with ‘sufficient information so that it can weigh the considerations favoring (one trial) against the defendant’s right to a fair trial,'” the ruling added.

Another reason cited by Perkins’ lawyers was that the two alleged victims made “different allegations, one more graphic than the other, and each case presented weakness that a jury would not be able to analyze properly if the cases were tried together.”

The 7th District Court of Appeals made a 2010 ruling in a similar case, likewise removing a defendant’s conviction in a sex case, citing the “inflammatory nature of the offenses” and other issues, the new ruling states.

Perkins contended that the only reason he entered a guilty plea in his case was because Sweeney refused to separate the allegations into two trials, the ruling notes. Perkins maintained that he did not commit any of the offenses, the ruling noted.

Criminal rules would not have permitted offenses alleged by one of the victims to be admitted at trial against the other alleged victim if the cases had been separated, the ruling adds. The panel’s ruling also found the evidence that would have been presented at trial may not have been “simple and direct,” which could have led to confusion and inferred “guilt as to one victim to the other.”

The ruling also stated that Sweeney “provided no reasons for denying the motion” to separate the trials.

PROSECUTION APPEALS

A spokeswoman for the judge last week said Sweeney would not comment on the matter.

On Aug. 12, the day after the appellate court ruling, the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office filed a notice of appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court regarding the ruling and asked the state’s top court for a stay of execution of the ruling, which would have stopped any action to release Perkins from prison.

The notice of appeal said the prosecutor’s office was appealing the 7th District ruling in part because the case “raises a substantial constitutional question” regarding a defendant being tried once for charges involving multiple victims.

Ed Czopur, an assistant county prosecutor, told The Vindicator last week the prosecutor’s office believes the evidence in the Perkins case is “simple and direct,” even though the appeals panel appears to think the evidence may not be.

The prosecution request for a stay of execution noted that prior to Perkins accepting a plea agreement, the defense filed a “barely two-page motion” seeking to have matters tried separately. The motion did not set forth “any factual basis for the request,” prosecutors stated, and the motion was denied.

Perkins’ appeal attorneys, John Juhasz and Lynn Maro, filed their opposition to the stay of execution three days later, stating: “At least three times,” Perkins and his attorney asked Sweeney to try the cases separately, and “at least three times the judge refused, neither holding a hearing on the request or stating any reasons in the judgment entry for refusing” to separate the trials.

The defense filing also stated that there is “no reason, compelling or otherwise, to believe” that the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the state’s appeal in this case. The Ohio Supreme Court does not have to hear every appeal requested.

Sweeney had Perkins moved from the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion to the Mahoning County jail for an Aug. 18 hearing during which she reinstated the $150,000 bond Perkins had prior to his sentencing. She ordered Perkins to have no contact with the alleged victims and remain at least 1,000 feet from their homes.

He was released back into the community from the Mahoning County jail later Aug. 18, according to jail records.

The next step in the appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is for the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office to file written arguments as to why the top court should hear the appeal, followed by a response from Perkins’ lawyers.

erunyan@vindy.com

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