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Prosecutors seek 19 years in Austintown gunfire case

YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning County prosecutors are recommending that Judge Anthony Donofrio sentence Stevie Ballard, 23, of Campbell, to at least 19 years in prison for a Nov. 22, 2021, episode on Austintown’s Westminster Avenue in which Ballard fired a gun at an occupied car.

The man was not hit by the gunfire, but Ballard was convicted in the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court trial in January of felonious assault, discharging a weapon on or near prohibited premises, carrying a concealed weapon and having weapons while under disability.

Ballard is set for sentencing at 2 p.m. Feb. 22. Donofrio could sentence Ballard to as much as 26.5 to 30.5 years in prison, according to a filing from Marty Hume and Kyle Hilles, county assistant prosecutors.

During the trial, a witness said she saw Ballard, whose name she did not know at the time, shooting at the car, which was about 10 to 15 yards from where she was walking her dog.

She said she recognized the shooter from seeing him coming and going from an apartment building across the street and because of the way he walked.

The prosecution filing argues that the felonious assault and discharging weapons on or near prohibited premises, both with a gun specification, require the judge to sentence Ballard to six years on the gun specifications, in addition to the sentence for the two charges, for a minimum of eight to nine years in prison.

The filing says Ballard should get separate sentences for the felonious assault and discharging a firearm on or near prohibited premises because they are not so similar as to be considered “allied offenses.”

The filing states that Donofrio can run the sentences for felonious assault and discharging a weapon on or near prohibited premises one after the other if the judge finds that consecutive sentences are “necessary to protect the public from future crime and punish the offender” and the consecutive sentences “are not disproportionate to the offender’s conduct and the danger the defendant presents to the public.”

There needs to be additional requirements met, but the prosecutor’s filing says Ballard’s conduct meets those other requirements. For instance, “Multiple gunshots struck the vehicle being driven by Trayshaun Hill and only through good fortune was he not struck and seriously injured or killed by any of the bullets,” the filing states.

“Separate and distinct from the harm to Hill was the harm to the public, particularly the citizens of the neighborhood where the shooting occurred,” the filing added.

Testimony during the trial indicates that “children were located in the houses directly within the line of fire” where Ballard was shooting, the filing notes.

Meanwhile, Rhys Cartwright-Jones, one of Ballard’s attorneys, filed a response to the prosecution filing, calling the prosecution’s suggested sentence “excessive” and urging the judge to impose a sentence of no more than five years plus the possibility of another year in prison under the state’s indefinite sentencing law, called the Reagan Tokes Act.

Ohio sentencing laws “lean heavily in favor of” a minimum sentence, the defense filing states. Ballard’s conduct “appears less severe” than a typical felonious assault and discharging weapons on or near prohibited premises, the defense filing states.

“In Ballard’s case, the altercation with the alleged victim, where the facts remain unclear about who initiated the shooting, suggests a potential for self-defense, despite Ballard’s decision to pursue an identity/actual innocence defense.”

The defense filing says “a sentence totaling six years, accounting for the mandatory firearm specifications and the minimum for the remaining charges, aligns more appropriately with the principles of justice and fairness.”

As for whether the felonious assault and discharging a firearm on or near prohibited premises should be sentenced back to back, the two offenses “rose from a single altercation,” Cartwright-Jones stated.

“This altercation, fueled by a confrontation with the alleged victim, led to both the assault and the discharge of the firearm. Such circumstances suggest that these offenses … arose from the same conduct and motivation, warranting their merger,” the defense filing states.

Treating the two offenses as separate “would lead to an unjust duplicative punishment for a single act,” the filing states.

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