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Published: Friday, 6/13/2003

Attempted murder conviction reinstated

TIFFIN - An Ohio Supreme Court decision has reinstated the aggravated attempted-murder conviction of a Tiffin man, who faces 30 years in prison.

A 7-0 ruling Wednesday by the court resolved appeals in 12 cases, including one involving Donald York, who was found guilty in May, 2001, of trying to kill his ex-wife and her husband. He was convicted of two counts of aggravated attempted murder and one count of aggravated burglary, all with firearm specifications.

York, 47, appealed the verdict, arguing that Judge Steve Shuff of Seneca County Common Pleas Court wrongly allowed jurors to question him during his trial. The 3rd District Court of Appeals in Lima agreed, ruling in March, 2002, that juror questions prejudice the court against the defendant.

However, in a ruling on a Franklin County case, the Supreme Court decided judges can allow jurors to submit written questions for witnesses.

York's attorney, Gene Murray of Fostoria, expressed disappointment with the decision.

“Once the state has finished asking questions and the defense has finished asking questions, the jurors shouldn't be allowed to ask questions to prove the case to themselves,” he said.

Tiffin police said York went to the home of Alan and Mary Beam on Aug. 28, 2000, and threatened to shoot them. As he took aim, Mr. Beam grabbed the gun, and a shot discharged into the couch.

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

As part of the justices' ruling this week, Mr. York's case was remanded to the appeals court.

If the court in Lima rejects York's remaining claims of error, his conviction will be upheld. Mr. Murray said outstanding issues include exclusion of exhibits pertaining to York's insanity defense, jury instructions the defense believes weren't sufficient, and a defense claim that the verdicts went against the weight of the evidence.

York has been held in the Seneca County jail since the appeals court decision. Seneca County Prosecutor Ken Egbert, Jr., filed a motion yesterday in Judge Shuff's court to have York transferred back to the Mansfield Correctional Institution.

Mr. Egbert praised the Supreme Court ruling.

“I think it was a very important decision that reaffirms the juror's role as a fact-finder in supplying them an additional tool to find the truth in cases, especially where there's a piece of evidence that may be confusing to them,” he said.

Mr. Egbert said Judge Shuff allowed jurors to submit written questions. The judge reviewed the questions with Mr. Egbert and Mr. Murray, then read some of the questions in court. Both attorneys were allowed to ask follow-up questions.

The justices' ruling upheld that practice, Mr. Egbert said.

“In the opinion, the justices provided procedural safeguards to follow, which were used during the York trial, to avoid dangers from permitting juror questioning,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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