Jeffrey Belew in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform, left, and after his arrest in April, 2011, right.
COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court today dismissed an appeal filed by an Iraq War veteran who argued that his post-traumatic stress disorder should have been taken into consideration when he was sentenced for a 2011 shootout with Oregon police.
In its 4-3 ruling, the high court decided it shouldn’t have accepted the case in the first place. The majority provided no explanation for its decision not to decide whether Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Linda Jennings erred when she sentenced Jeffrey Belew to 27 years in prison.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice William O’Neill said the courts must consider that the military “took a marginal recruit from an abusive family and turned him into a fighting machine” who later returned to the United States. He wrote that Belew was intent on “suicide by cop” in the early morning of April 10, 2011, when he engaged in a shootout in the parking lot of Piccadilly East Apartments, 2750 Pickle Rd.
“I would respectfully suggest that one trial court judge, three appellate court judges, and the majority of this court simply do not get it,” he wrote. “PTSD is not an excuse. It is an explanation.”
He called Belew a “poster child” for the state law requiring such a diagnosis to be taken into consideration.
“There is more at stake here than garden-variety excuses for criminal culpability," he wrote. "Belew was a marginal Marine recruit; he developed PTSD while on active duty; and he was turned out of the service with a bad-conduct discharge and little or no capacity to function safely in society. Tragically, he is not the only member of the armed forces to arrive at this juncture.”
Justices Paul Pfeider, Judith French, Sharon Kennedy, and Terrence O’Donnell agreed that they should not have taken the case in the first place.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined Justice Judith Lanzinger’s separate dissent, arguing that the court should have outright upheld the Sixth District Court of Appeals’ decision upholding the sentence.
Belew served three years with the Marines, one of those years in Iraq in 2008. He pleaded to two felonious assault convictions for firing at police officers who responded to the early morning disturbance.
Two of Belew’s shots hit a patrol car. Police returned fire, striking him once in the upper right torso. Police performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until Belew was transported to the hospital.
He received two consecutive 10-year sentences for each assault charge and seven years, to be served concurrently, on two gun specifications.
It was the maximum sentence he could have received under his plea agreement but seven years less than if the gun-related prison terms had been imposed consecutively.