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Published: Wednesday, 5/9/2001

Stiffer penalty sought for rape of 8-year-old

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

In an ironic twist, Lucas County prosecutors yesterday appealed the three-year sentence of a man who raped an 8-year-old girl, basing their argument on an appeals court ruling they oppose.

Prosecutors don't feel that's enough prison time compared with what other defendants have received for similar offenses, citing a ruling issued last year by the 6th District Court of Appeals.

In that case, the appellate court threw out a 71/2-year sentence of a man who killed two teenage girls in a traffic accident because it was too high compared with sentences given to defendants in similar cases.

In the appeal filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, Dean Mandross, head of the criminal division in the prosecutor's office, said Judge Judith Lanzinger's three-year sentence of Michael Shiffler on two counts of rape and one count of gross sexual imposition is “inexplicable.”

He said research of local cases conducted by assistant prosecutors failed to find a case in which a defendant with a prior record who was convicted of rape was given the minimum sentence.

“Since the 6th District Court of Appeals indicated that consistency is one of the overriding purposes in felony sentencings, we intend to challenge the sentence in the Shiffler case,” Mr. Mandross said.

Judge Lanzinger said she could not comment on the case because it might come back to her, depending on what the appellate court decides.

Shiffler, 40, of 1729 North Ontario St., could have been sentenced to 25 years rather than the three-year minimum that was imposed, Mr. Mandross said.

Lori Olender, an assistant county prosecutor who handles sexual abuse cases involving children, said Shiffler should have received a higher sentence, particularly because he had a record for having sexual conduct with a minor. “With two priors and a prior prison term, I think it should have been eight or nine years,” she said.

John Thebes, Shiffler's attorney, disagreed, saying Judge Lanzinger acted appropriately and within her discretion. “This appeal has more to do with the prosecutors' disdain for a prior court of appeals' decision than anything that has happened in [the Shiffler] case,” Mr. Thebes said.

The appellate case to which Mr. Thebes referred dealt with the 6th District's overturning of the 71/2-year sentence Richard Williams received in 1999 for killing two Start High School students in a traffic accident while driving 75 mph in a 35-mph zone.

Judge Robert Christiansen sentenced Williams to consecutive sentences of three years for each of the two girls who were killed.

He imposed 17 months for an unrelated probation violation on a marijuana charge.

The 6th District vacated the sentence, saying state law calls for consistency in sentencing for similar crimes committed by similar offenders. The ruling was widely denounced by local Common Pleas Court judges who said it was a needless intrusion on the discretion they require because every case has different elements.

The prosecutor's office appealed, but the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case in April. Prosecutors are asking the high court to reconsider.

Mr. Mandross said he doesn't like the ruling because it has the potential to lead to rote sentencing practices that fail to take into account the unique elements of a specific case.



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