WAUSEON — The jury that convicted James D. Worley for the kidnapping and aggravated murder of 20-year-old Sierah Joughin will decide this week if he spends the rest of his life in prison or is put to death.
On Monday the case enters the penalty phase, which is expected to last several days. Prosecutors will call witnesses to testify to the “aggravating circumstances” related to the case, while the defense will call witnesses to provide “mitigating factors,” or reasons why Worley should not be given a death sentence.
James Worley sits at the defense table after being found guilty on all 17 counts in the murder of Sierah Joughin. The jury deliberated less than six hours before delivering the verdict Tuesday in Fulton County Common Pleas Court.
Worley, 58, was convicted Tuesday of two counts each of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, murder, abduction, felonious assault, and having weapons under disability; four counts of kidnapping, and one count each of possession of criminal tools, gross abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence.
Mitigation testimony could include information about a defendant's upbringing and background, mental capacity, substance abuse issues — anything that could serve to humanize the defendant and mitigate the call for the death penalty.
“You will need to make a determination as to whether or not the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating factors outweigh any mitigating factors,” Fulton County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Robinson told jurors after they returned the guilty verdicts. “If you do so, you will be required to give the death sentence to the defendant.”
If not, they can sentence him to life in prison without possibility of parole, or life with the possibility of parole after 25 or 30 years, he said. It is the only time in Ohio courts where a jury recommends the sentence, which must be unanimous and ultimately will be imposed by the judge.
Ms. Joughin’s uncle, Howard Ice, spoke on behalf of the family after the verdict and said they were thankful the jury found Worley guilty on all counts.
“Our hope through this painful process was to find justice for Sierah,” he said. “Justice for her abduction and murder, justice for our family, justice for the amazing community that so many of us live in.”
Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense declined to comment after the verdict.
In late March, a Franklin County jury recommended Brian Golsby get life in prison without parole after he was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering Ohio State student and Anthony Wayne High School graduate Reagan Tokes in 2017.
The penalty phase in the Worley trial begins at 9 a.m. Monday.
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