Ohio Supreme Court upholds death sentence in Howland murder - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Ohio Supreme Court upholds death sentence in Howland murder

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Donna Roberts Donna Roberts

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of a Trumbull County man who is convicted of conspiring with a Howland woman to kill her ex-husband for insurance money.

44-year-old Nathaniel Jackson's death sentence is set to be carried out on July 15, 2020, according to a ruling handed down on Wednesday.

Jackson had been appealing a trial court's re-sentencing by arguing that the court did not properly consider his formal statement regarding his prison behavior.  

The court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Paul Pfeifer, said that although the trial court erred in consideration of Jackson's statement, the mistake was harmless as the statement did not carry much weight compared to his crimes.

In 2001, Robert Fingerhut had been residing with Donna Roberts, his ex-wife. Roberts exchanged letters and phone calls with Jackson, who was in prison at the time, plotting to kill Fingerhut when Jackson was released so she could collect more than $500,000 in life insurance proceeds.

Jackson was released from prison on December 9, 2001, and Fingerhut was found shot to death in Howland two days later.

Jackson was convicted in November 2002 of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery.  

Both he and Roberts were sentenced to death.  Roberts, 70, remains on death row awaiting an oral argument date in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Trumbull man then began a decade-long appeals process that culminated in an August 2012 trial court re-sentencing.  

Jackson was again sentenced to death but soon after filed a Supreme Court appeal.  He did so on the grounds that trial court Judge John Stuard acted with bias, claiming that Stuard had been unfair during re-sentencing.

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that Jackson's appeal failed to show that Judge Stuard displayed any "hostile feeling or spirit of ill will" toward him, one of his claims.   

The trial court did, according to Pfeifer, fail to discuss Jackson's allocution statement during their re-sentencing opinion.  

Jackson's statement discussed his educational certificates, service as a tutor, and good behavior in prison since his 2002 conviction.

The Supreme Court Justice said, however, that the statement added little to the evidence that was already before the court.  

"Evidence had established," according to Pfeifer, "that Jackson and Roberts planned Fingerhut’s death while Jackson was in prison earlier.  Under these circumstances, it is doubtful that Jackson’s claim about his adaptation to prison life could have carried much weight."

The Supreme Court therefore ruled that any omissions in the re-sentencing opinion were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court thus declined to send the case back for another new sentencing, instead, the error was rectified by an independent evaluation carried out by the Supreme Court.

In their evaluation, the court found that the Jackson's statement and other mitigating behavioral evidence held little significance in comparison to the months-long murder plot he and Roberts undertook.

The death penalty was therefore upheld by the Supreme Court.

Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, French, Klatt, and O'Donnell concurred with Pfeifer.  Justice Lanzinger was the court's lone dissent.

The full opinion can be read below:

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