COLUMBUS - An attorney for convicted killer Grady L. Brinkley told the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday that the prosecution improperly linked a 2-month-old robbery to the murder indictment to guarantee a death sentence.
The Lucas County prosecutor's office countered that the slaying of Shantae Smith, 18, of Toledo, in January, 2000, was part of Brinkley's plot to reclaim money from Ms. Smith that he'd stolen in the robbery and flee by bus to Chicago to avoid trial.
While not conceding guilt, Brinkley's attorney, Jeffrey Gamso, said Brinkley had told a jailhouse snitch he would kill his girlfriend because she was seeing another man.
For Brinkley, 38, the difference between a crime of passion and an intricate escape plot could mean the difference between life in prison and death on Ohio's lethal injection gurney. He is currently on death row at Mansfield Correctional Institution.
"I don't think this is a death case," said Justice Paul Pfeifer. "I might as well just flat out say it. I think it is wrong as rain to be a death case based on what I've written previously. To get where you want us to go, don't we have to find that the jury could not find on the evidence what they found?"
The defense maintained the prosecution linked the robbery and murder in one indictment in hopes eyewitness testimony from the former would inflame the jury on the latter and guarantee a death verdict.
Mr. Gamso told the court he believes the crime was a "run-of-the-mill killing."
"It's a horrible crime," he said. "There are no nice killings. They're not all death cases. His girlfriend was cheating on him and he didn't like that, so he decided he was going to take her out. That's a terrible, terrible thing. Even after he did that, he took her ATM card. Do you kill him for that?"
Shortly before her death, Ms. Smith had bailed Brinkley out of prison on charges he'd robbed at gunpoint Rick's City Diner at 4204 Monroe St. on Nov. 6, 1999. The prosecution contends she got the bond money from the robbery cache.
Brinkley missed a pretrial hearing on the robbery charge and later was apprehended at his mother's home in Chicago after making several failed attempts to use Ms. Smith's ATM card. Her body was discovered in a pool of blood in her apartment. She had been strangled and her throat cut.
"He'd planned to do this from the beginning," Assistant Prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson told the court.
Justice Maureen O'Connor took issue with comparisons of this crime to crimes of passion in which theft is an afterthought to murder, not the motive for it.
"This is much more horrific, calculated, and self-serving," she said.
Newly sworn-in Justice Judith Lanzinger, of Toledo, recused herself from the case. While on the 6th District Court of Appeals last year, she had participated in a related post-conviction appeal filed by Brinkley.
Akron-based appellate Judge Lynn C. Slaby sat in on the arguments in her place.
Contact Jim Provance
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