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Published: Thursday, 4/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Deliberations adjourn in murder case

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Anthony Belton pleaded no contest to robbing a BP gas station and fatally shooting a clerk. Anthony Belton pleaded no contest to robbing a BP gas station and fatally shooting a clerk.
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A panel of three Lucas County Common Pleas Court judges is to resume deliberations Friday morning to determine whether convicted killer Anthony Belton will be sentenced to life in prison or to death row.

Judges Ruth Ann Franks, James Jensen, and Gene Zmuda adjourned after deliberating late into the evening Thursday without rendering a decision. To determine the sentence, the judges are considering evidence presented during nearly two days of testimony detailing Belton's background and character.

Belton, 26, of Toledo was found guilty Wednesday of aggravated murder and two counts of aggravated robbery as well as capital specifications and gun specifications in the Aug. 13, 2008, killing of Matthew Dugan, 34, at the former BP gas station at Dorr Street and Secor Road.

The conviction was followed by a second phase, or mitigation hearing, during which the judges heard from six witnesses and considered additional evidence.

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During closing arguments during the mitigation phase late Thursday afternoon, attorney Pete Rost asked the judges to reflect on the information given about Belton's unstable childhood and his exposure to drugs and violence at a young age.

Mr. Rost reminded the panel that what they could not consider was evidence from the first phase of the trial, which resulted in his conviction.

"You would be unusual, each of you, if you could disregard what you've all seen over the last four days, but that's what you have to do," he said.

Mr. Rost acknowledged to the judges that Belton's background does not mean that he shouldn't be punished for his crime.

"Anthony Belton should be convicted, as he has been. And he should be sentenced harshly," Mr. Rost said. "But not death."

Assistant Prosecutor Rob Miller reviewed the law, noting that if the judges find that the aggravating circumstances of the crime outweigh the mitigating factors presented by the defense, "then the statute mandates that this panel shall impose death."

Mr. Miller noted that being raised in a dysfunctional family or around substance abuse "has no correlation with going out and committing murder."

"This boils down to choices, plain and simple," he said.

Two psychologists testified Thursday -- one for the state, one for the defense -- about Belton's childhood and mental health.

Bob Stinson, a forensic psychologist from Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare, testified as the defense's fifth witness during Belton's mitigation hearing. During nearly four hours of testimony, Mr. Stinson noted his review of several records and interviews with Belton and his family, and concluded that Belton lacked a solid family foundation and encountered several risk factors -- in his family and society -- that shaped his choices.

Mr. Stinson diagnosed Belton with bipolar disorder and said that the most stable environment he had ever been exposed to was in jail.

Clinical psychologist David Connell testified as a state witness. Although he agreed that Belton had a dysfunctional upbringing and that he encountered hardships, Mr. Connell disagreed that Belton had a diagnosed bipolar disorder.

Mr. Connell, who acknowledged that he never personally interviewed Belton or anyone in his family, further disagreed with Mr. Stinson's assessment that Belton has shown remorse for his actions.

Testifying earlier during the mitigation hearing were Belton's mother, Kim Harold, and his great aunt, as well as an investigator with the Ohio Public Defender's office and a counselor at the Lucas County jail.

Belton pleaded no contest to the charges Monday, but a trial was still held to ensure there was enough evidence to prove the charge of aggravated murder. He was found guilty of the crimes Wednesday after a two-day trial that consisted of testimony from 11 witnesses and more than 100 exhibits. Included was a surveillance video that recorded Mr. Dugan's final moments.

The surveillance video shows Mr. Dugan's surprise after being confronted by a man with a gun and the clerk then emptying the cash register. He then complies with a request for phone cards, and when he turns around again, the shooter leans over the counter and shoots him in the back of the head.

Prior to the start of the hearing on Thursday, the proceedings were delayed shortly because Belton refused to come out of his cell at the Lucas County Jail and be dressed in civilian clothes. Judge Franks noted on the record the delay but was informed shortly thereafter that Belton agreed to appear in court.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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