Tazwell Lomax confers with his attorney, Adrian Cimerman, during the court hearing.
FREMONT - Jim Jones visibly shook in court yesterday as a death sentence for his wife's killer was changed to life in prison with a possibility of parole in 24 years.
Tazwell Lomax, 29, had been on death row for the last 21/2 years until the Ohio Supreme Court last month overturned the penalty because of a prosecution error. That meant Lomax had to be resentenced for the crime.
Yesterday, Judge Margaret Weaver of Sandusky County Common Pleas Court ordered Lomax to spend 20 years to life in prison for aggravated murder in the death of bartender Deanna Jones, 56.
The sentence will be served consecutively with a 10 to 25-year sentence for aggravated robbery. Lomax already has served six years of that sentence, which means the earliest he'll be eligible for parole is 24 years.
Lomax declined to say anything before he was sentenced.
Mr. Jones was the only person from the victim's family who spoke in court.
“Your honor, people meet, they fall in love, they get married, and they commit themselves to each another,” Mr. Jones said. “And they build dreams, not nightmares.”
Mr. Jones continued by telling Lomax he caused a nightmare and he has no respect for life.
But Mr. Jones then abruptly sat down in the middle of his speech. Mr. Jones was shaking while he spoke - and was still shaking even after the hearing was completed.
As Lomax was led from the courtroom, Mrs. Jones' son, Steve Miller, yelled from the back of the court to Lomax: “See you in 20 years.”
Lomax was convicted in May, 1997, of slashing Mrs. Jones' throat June 13, 1996, and robbing Grate's Silver Top bar, where she worked.
Investigators said Lomax - a former Grate's employee - killed Mrs. Jones after the bar had closed, stole about $1,500 from the cash register, and then tried to make it appear as though she had been raped.
Sentencing for the aggravated murder was tied up for nearly two years with appeals. In the beginning, a panel of three judges ruled that Lomax couldn't receive the death penalty because an indictment had been worded improperly and didn't list Lomax as the principal offender.
Judges with the 6th District Court of Appeals, Toledo, later allowed county prosecutors to alter the indictment. Lomax was sentenced to death in March, 1999, a sentence that was automatically appealed to the Supreme Court.
Rick Miller, who is Mrs. Jones's son, said he's not angry with former county Prosecutor John Meyers, who handled the arrest and trial.
“He was coached for this whole entire trial,” Mr. Miller said. “He was perfect in his heart and in his mind. We felt he was doing everything 100 percent correct.”
Mr. Miller said he never believed that Lomax would get anything less than the death penalty, given the details of the crime.
“The severity of the crime was heinous and brutal. I don't think it was that much of a gamble [to seek the death penalty],” Mr. Miller said. “There was so much evidence, death was inevitable.”
Lomax's attorney, Adrian Cimerman, said the defense will not appeal the new sentence, though Mr. Cimerman had asked Judge Weaver to make the sentences concurrent to each other, not consecutive. “He's back in the general [prison] population, which is obviously better than being in lockdown on death row,” Mr. Cimerman said.
The Ohio attorney general took over the case for the local prosecution to avoid a conflict of interest for new County Prosecutor Thomas Stierwalt, who, while in private practice, had briefly represented Lomax early in the case.
Joe Case, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said his office was pleased that Judge Weaver ordered the highest sentence allowed by law. “Our goal was to keep him behind bars as long as possible,” Mr. Case said.