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Published: Tuesday, 4/2/2002

Seneca case puts focus on questions from jurors

TIFFIN - Seneca County Prosecutor Ken Egbert, Jr., yesterday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling that voided the conviction of a Tiffin man for attempted aggravated murder.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lima last week overturned the conviction of Donald York, 45, who was found guilty in May, 2001, of trying to kill his ex-wife and her husband. Mr. York was sentenced to 30 years in prison for two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of attempted aggravated burglary, all with firearm specifications.

Police say Mr. York went to the home of Alan and Mary Beam and threatened to shoot them. As he took aim, Mr. Beam grabbed the gun and a bullet discharged into the couch.

Mr. York had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and testified that he had entered the home intending to kill himself.

In a 2-1 vote, the appeals court ruled that Judge Steve Shuff of Seneca County Common Pleas Court erred by allowing jurors to ask questions during York's trial. The court held that juror questions prejudice the court against the defendant.

In its opinion, written by Judge Ronald Hadley, the court said by allowing jurors to ask questions, it becomes less likely they will remain impartial.

Judge Sumner Walters concurred. Judge Thomas Bryant dissented, arguing that the ruling would prevent a trial judge from allowing a juror to ask a question to clarify evidence in a case.

Mr. Egbert argued that the court had contradicted other Ohio appeals courts and its own ruling in a case less than two years earlier. According to those rulings, a defendant must show prejudice to his case if jurors ask questions.

“Our appellate court ... is now prohibiting citizens in our county and the 16 other counties in the 3rd Appellate District, who are required to give up time away from their jobs and their families on jury duty, from fully participating in the search for truth during the course of a criminal case,” Mr. Egbert said.

During Mr. York's trial Judge Shuff followed a 2000 decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeals in allowing the jurors to submit written questions, Mr. Egbert said.

The judge reviewed the questions with the prosecutor and defense attorney Gene Murray, then read some of the questions to the jurors. The attorneys then were allowed to ask follow-up questions, Mr. Egbert said.

Mr. Murray could not be reached for comment.



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