Assault suspect’s calls to witness impede his trial

YOUNGSTOWN — The recent felonious assault trial of Sammy F. Anderson Jr., 28, of Austintown got unusually complicated in the courtroom of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Anthony Donofrio.

On April 1, the prosecution had subpoenaed the chief witness in the case, the victim, to appear that day and testify after jury selection was over. However, she did not appear.

Prosecutors asked Donofrio to issue a material-witness warrant for her arrest, and the judge agreed. At some point before the afternoon of April 2, she was taken into custody and placed in the Mahoning County jail so she would be available to testify, which she did.

The jurors learned about the material-witness warrant when the victim was questioned about it during her testimony. In Ohio, a judge can issue a warrant for a witness’s arrest if they fail to appear “for the purposes of compelling his (or her) attendance and punishing his (or her) disobedience,” according to Ohio law.

During her testimony, she identified Anderson as the man who assaulted her multiple times June 15, 2023, and Sept. 14, 2023. Both assaults involved Anderson delivering numerous blows to the woman’s head and face that began in her car as Anderson was driving.

Numerous law enforcement and medical witnesses testified to the serious injuries the woman suffered on both occasions.

“The person who assaulted you on June 15, who was that?” Assistant Prosecutor Caitlyn Andrews asked the woman.

“Sammy Anderson,” the victim said.

“After he assaulted you that night, did you get back together?” Andrews asked.


“Why did you get back together?” Andrews asked.


“Did he apologize to you for what he did?” Andrews asked.


“Did he tell you he was never going to do it again?” Andrews asked.


“Did you believe that he was never going to do it again?” Andrews asked.

“No,” she said.

The fighting calmed down after the first episode — until September when Anderson hit her in her side, face and arms. He took her to a house on Evergreen Avenue on Youngstown’s South Side and dragged her out of the car, took her inside and threw her on the bathroom floor.

“He was telling me to take a shower. I was telling him ‘I want to go home and take a shower.’ I didn’t have any clothes.” He hit her and kicked her while she was on the floor. Then he took her back outside and put her in the back seat of the car.

While she was in the back of the car, he “hit me with a hard object. I don’t know what it was.” Her face was “bleeding very bad,” she said.

Law enforcement photos showed the extent of the woman’s injuries and a nurse practitioner at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital described the victim’s facial injuries as “grossly swollen on the entire left side of her face,” with a laceration on her left cheek, a nose bleed, pain in her ribs, and pain in her elbow. X-rays indicated she had fractures of her cheek bone, nose and jaw.

Things got even more complicated.

Before the jury could hear more testimony, Donofrio and the attorneys spoke in the judge’s chambers regarding a call Anderson made to the victim the night of April 2 while he was an inmate in the Mahoning County jail.

Anderson was banned from contacting the woman through a common type of no-contact order, but the judge was told that day that Anderson had contacted the woman 1,417 times since the case began in September of 2023.

In chambers, the judge spoke to the victim on the phone. Anderson’s attorney, Mark Lavelle, argued that the judge should declare a mistrial over the phone call, saying the woman indicated that an unspecified law enforcement officer coerced the woman to testify when she was arrested on the warrant.

Lavelle later put his concerns on the record during a hearing a short time later in the courtroom.

Lavelle said he wanted the trial postponed “until such time the matter can be fleshed out both with the victim and whatever law enforcement officers she dealt with to make a determination as to what was said and what were the circumstances.”


Jennifer Bonish, assistant county prosecutor, then told Donofrio that she felt the matter “has been fleshed out.” She said the call did happen, “in spite of the fact that this court has maintained a no-contact order as a condition of (Anderson’s) bond.”

Nonetheless, Bonish said, Anderson “has continuously contacted (the alleged victim).” Bonish said jail officials indicated that “at last count, the defendant has called (the alleged victim) 1,417 times since he was arrested on Sept. 15, 2023.”

Bonish said there also was evidence that Anderson’s “mother continues to call (the victim) as well.” Bonish said “In fact, while we were in chambers with Your Honor” and the attorneys and the judge were talking to the victim, the “defendant’s mother was calling (the victim) at that moment.”

Bonish said the alleged victim “could not have been more clear” that when she testified Tuesday, “she told the truth.” Bonish said the victim even told Anderson during the phone call that she was “under oath and so she was truthful while she was under oath.”

Bonish said the victim indicated during the call with the judge that the victim felt that “some portion of the defense is trying to get her to come back to court now and lie.” Bonish said during the call Anderson had with the victim April 2, Anderson “encouraged” the woman to tell his lawyer that she had lied on the stand earlier that day.

Bonish said she believed “Sammy Anderson has been banking throughout this case on the fact that he did not think that (the alleged victim) would ever appear in court.”

Bonish also noted that while Youngstown Police Detective Jerry Fulmer was investigating the assaults, the victim asked Fulmer once to dismiss Anderson’s charges, but Fulmer told her that “couldn’t be done.”

Anderson later admitted to police that he was with her when she made that call, Bonish said.

Bonish said the “pressure from Sammy Anderson and his mother has been relentless during the pendency of this case to try to get her to not come to court and testify about what he did to her.”

But Bonish said the statements the victim made during the trial “were consistent with the statements she gave to law enforcement and to prosecutor Andrews during her trial preparation. They also are consistent with the injuries she sustained.”

Bonish concluded that there is “no evidence to establish or even in my opinion suggest that (the victim) was coerced or threatened or forced to testify. If anybody is trying to coerce to do anything, it is the defendant and his mother trying to coerce her to back off of these allegations so he doesn’t go to prison.”


Donofrio said it was “highly inappropriate for the defendant to violate the no-contact order continually, a thousand times to contact the victim in this case. There is no other explanation other than to coerce her to change her testimony to protect him. And I also had the opportunity to discuss that with (the alleged victim).”

The jury was not present to hear the remarks. The judge said he did not find that law enforcement had coerced the victim to testify against Anderson. The judge confirmed that Anderson’s mother did try to contact the victim while the judge was talking to the victim on the phone.

“I find nothing inappropriate about what the U.S. Marshals did,” Donofrio said in overruling Lavelle’s motion for a mistrial. “There have been enough delays in this trial,” he said.

On Thursday, a jury found Anderson guilty of two counts of felonious assault, one count of aggravated menacing, one count of having weapons while forbidden by law and two firearm specifications. Anderson was found not guilty on one count of grand theft auto. His sentencing date has not been set.


When Mahoning County Prosecutor Gina DeGenova was asked after the trial about Anderson’s 1,417 calls to the victim despite the no-contact order, she said the prosecutor’s office was aware that Anderson was contacting the victim from the jail.

“We offered to have the victim’s number blocked early in the case, but the victim declined this request,” she said. “While the defendant attempted to contact the victim since the defendant was arrested (on Sept. 15, 2023), most of those calls went unanswered.”

On the Friday before the trial, prosecutors were aware that Anderson and “another person were attempting to pressure the victim, so they had calls and messages to her number blocked from the jail without her consent, DeGenova said.

“This prevented (Anderson) from contacting the victim using his own PIN or the PIN of any other inmate.” But unbeknownst to the prosecutor’s office, Anderson found another way to contact the victim. Prosecutors learned of the call after it took place the day the victim testified, DeGenova said.

As for whether Anderson might be looking at an additional criminal charge for possibly violating the no-contact order, DeGenova said the prosecutor’s office has “discussed the matter with the lead detective and are unable to comment at this time.”


William Cappabianca, chief deputy for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, responded to a request for more information on why an inmate was able to disobey his no-contact order so many times while he was an inmate.

Cappabianca said he does not know whether Anderson made the call he is alleged to have made. But Cappabianca explained the system that is used by inmates to make phone calls.

He said jail inmates have a constitutional right to “speak with people on the outside.” The Mahoning County jail has a contract with a national company called Securus Technologies that provides the means of communication.

Inmates who have money in their jail account and know a phone number for someone can call that person using either a traditional land-line jail phone or a tablet computer.

If the inmate does not have funds on the account, the person receiving the call would be asked if they would accept the charges for a call from a Mahoning County jail inmate, Cappabianca said.

All calls involving inmates are recorded no matter what method is used, Cappabianca said.

Cappabianca said a key protection for anyone receiving a call from a jail inmate is that they do “not have to accept that phone call.”

That is the case with the call Anderson is alleged to have made to the victim in Anderson’s case, Cappabianca said. “They could hang up, not speak to the individual.” He said they could also call the jail and ask for that inmate to not be able to call them anymore.

“We take that number and we block it from Securus being able to call it,” he said.

Cappabianca said the jail does not automatically know what no-contact orders are in place. Therefore, the jail cannot stop such calls without being notified.

“Can we? Yes. We would have to have knowledge of that situation. The authority that is making that order would have to specifically reach out to us and say inmate John Doe has a protection order against civilian Jane Doe, please block Jane Doe’s number from being contacted from your phone system.”

He said that with an average daily population of 450 inmates “we would be able to monitor that situation.”

He said in the case of a protection order, that involves a person who had to take steps to stop a person from making contact, so it makes sense that such a person would reach out to the jail and notify the jail that the person named in the protection order was trying to contact them.

He said inmates do sometimes use another inmate’s PIN to make calls, but the jail can determine whose voice was on the call “and take disciplinary action against both inmates, and we lock out both accounts.”

Cappabianca said that in terms of jail disciplinary action against Anderson, the jail would first need to know that someone specifically asked that Anderson not be able to call the individual in this matter.

Have an interesting story? Email Ed Runyan at erunyan@vindy.com


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