COLUMBUS — An Iraq War veteran convicted of shooting at Oregon police officers deserves “one fair shot” to have his post-traumatic stress disorder considered in his sentence, his attorney told the Ohio Supreme Court today.
But some justices questioned whether the 27-year sentence he received would be any different if they sent the case back to Lucas County Common Pleas Court for resentencing even under an amended law now requiring such a diagnosis to be considered.
The court did not immediately rule.
Jeffrey Belew served three years with the Marines, including one year in Iraq in 2008. Today he sits in the Toledo Correctional Institution on two convictions for felonious assault for firing on police officers who responded early in the morning of April 10, 2011, to a disturbance at Piccadilly East Apartments at 2750 Pickle Rd.
Two of Belew’s shots in the parking lot hit one of the patrol cars, and police returned fire, striking him once in the upper right torso. Police performed CPR until Belew was transported to the hospital.
A psychologist testified that Belew, now 27, was severely depressed, suffering from PTSD, self-medicating with alcohol, and likely trying to commit “suicide by cop” during the shootout. Ohio Assistant Public Defender Stephen Hardwick told the Supreme Court that Lucas Judge Linda Jennings did not properly take his PTSD under consideration when she said it was “no excuse” for what he’d done.
“During this time (in Iraq) he was trying to deal with children trying to kill him…,” he said. “He lived in such constant fear that one way he dealt with it was what he called ’50-50,’ living each day as if he had a 50 percent chance of dying before tomorrow.”
He told the court that Belew had trouble readjusting to life outside the military after receiving a bad-conduct discharge from the military for stealing a military vehicle to go on a joy-ride.
But Lucas County Assistant Prosecutor David Cooper told the court that the Oregon shooting incident was not an isolated case and that Belew had a juvenile record of violence before enlisting in the military. He said Judge Jennings indicated she had taken the PTSD diagnosis under consideration before determining that the maximum sentence under the plea deal was warranted.
“What do we tell the judge?” he asked. “If the court reverses, she might very well say I already considered these things…and this is the sentence I think is appropriate.”
Several justices posed a similar question. Mr. Hardwick, however, argued that the sentence itself indicated she did not properly weigh the diagnosis and said Belew never offered PTSD as an “excuse” for what he’d done as the trial judge suggested.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor agreed that what Belew went through was “pretty horrific.”
“His response to that has also been pretty horrific,” she said. “It’s like extremes in both directions. Not all veterans who come back with post-traumatic stress disorder act the way your client has acted and is dangerous to those around them in the community and ultimately law enforcement…”