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Death penalty off table

Judge rules man accused of killing girlfriend, her son in 2021 is not eligible

Staff photo / Ed Runyan JaBrae L. Perry, 47, left, talks to his attorneys, from left Lou DeFabio and J.P. Laczko, at the end of Perry’s hearing Thursday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, where Judge John Durkin ruled that Perry was no longer eligible for the death penalty in the Aug. 24, 2021, shooting deaths of two people because of his serious mental illness.

YOUNGSTOWN — JaBrae L. Perry, 47, is no longer in danger of getting the death penalty in the Aug. 24, 2021, shooting deaths of his girlfriend, Ayanna Mills, 49, and her son, Brandon Bell, 28, at Mills’ home on Salt Springs Road.

Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court ruled Thursday that Perry was a person with a serious mental illness at the time of the alleged offenses and qualifies to have the death penalty removed under the Serious Mental Illness statute, which was enacted in Ohio in 2021.

Mahoning County prosecutors stipulated to the 34-page report by Dr. Robert Stinson of Columbus that indicated Perry is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which is one of the conditions that qualifies a person to have a serious mental illness that would disqualify him or her from facing the death penalty.

Stinson is a certified forensic psychologist and attorney, according to a biography on his company’s website.

After the hearing, Pat Kiraly, assistant county prosecutor, said Perry can still be convicted of his other charges, some of which carry the possibility of a life prison sentence.

After the hearing, his attorneys, Lou DeFabio and J.P. Laczko, asked Perry if he understood what the judge said.

Durkin said during the hearing it is the obligation of the defense to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Perry was diagnosed with one of four disorders, including schizoaffective disorder, that can lead to being disqualified from the death penalty.

After viewing the report from Dr. Stinson, Durkin said he “does find that Mr. Perry’s primary mental health diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder.”

“Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that is marked by a mix of schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions, and mood disorder symptoms, such as depression, mania and a milder form of mania called hypomania,” according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Durkin said the next question to answer under the law was whether Perry’s “condition or the diagnosis significantly impaired” his “capacity at the time of the alleged offense … to exercise rational judgment in relation to” his conduct in two areas.

Those areas are “conforming the person’s conduct to the requirements of the law” and “appreciating the nature, consequences or wrongfulness of that,” the judge said.

He added that Dr. Stinson believes “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty that based on the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which is defined as a serious mental illness, that it did significantly impair (Perry’s) capacity to exercise rational judgment.”

It impaired his ability to have rational judgment on “conforming that conduct to the requirements of the law and appreciating the nature, consequences or wrongfulness of his conduct,” Durkin said.

The judge said he found that Perry’s defense “has met their burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a serious mental illness” and that the statutory requirements have been met. He said he found that “Mr. Perry is ineligible for a sentence of death.” He said he is dismissing the death penalty specifications in Perry’s indictment.

The Serious Mental Illness statute was created in 2021. It prevents convicts from being executed if they had serious mental illness at the time of the alleged offenses.

Both victims suffered a single gunshot wound to the head, investigators said. The shootings may have happened as much as 12 hours apart, they added. Bell was checking on his mother because she had not shown up for work that day, said Mike Yacovone, then-county assistant prosecutor, at the time of Perry’s indictment.

The victims were found shot in a home in the 1200 block of Salt Springs Road. Mills was dead at the scene. Bell was taken to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, where he died later.

The next step is to return to exchanging pretrial evidence and moving forward with Perry’s criminal charges — aggravated murder, murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, tampering with evidence and grand theft of a motor vehicle — the judge said.

Earlier in the case, Perry was evaluated to determine whether he was competent to stand trial, meaning capable of understanding the nature and objectives of the proceedings against him. He was determined to be competent.

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