COLUMBUS - Cleveland Jackson, Jr., convicted in the 2002 robbery slayings of two girls in Lima, was denied a fair trial because his jury had been exposed to the violent details through the prior trial of his co-conspirator, his attorney told the Ohio Supreme Court yesterday.
David Stebbins argued the state failed to probe deeply enough into the impact the "exceptional publicity" of the slayings and subsequent conviction and death sentence of Jackson's half brother Jeronique Cunningham, 32, had on the jury pool.
"This is not a case in which a jury is asked to make a great leap of faith on the facts. There were a lot of witnesses," said Justice Paul Pfeifer, who wrote the decision upholding Cunningham's conviction and sentence.
Jackson, 26, was convicted in Allen County Common Pleas Court of two counts of aggravated murder for the Jan. 3, 2002, killings of Jala Grant, 3, and Leneshia Williams, 17. They were shot in the head as Cunningham and Jackson opened fire on eight people in an apartment. The other six were severely wounded but survived to identify the pair.
Jackson and Cunningham were also convicted of aggravated robbery and six counts of attempted aggravated murder. They had gone to the apartment with the intention of robbing Loyshane Liles, from whom they had purchased crack cocaine earlier in the day.
Mr. Stebbins dismissed the suggestion by two justices on the high court that Jackson could have benefited from the fact that Cunningham had already been tried, that the jury could have concluded the primary assailant had already been brought to justice.
"That's speculation, because nobody asked the jury what they were thinking," he said. "Secondly, the state's theory was: These two are equally culpable. We're not entirely sure who did all the shooting. They're both there. They're both shooting, and two people get killed, and five people get hit."
Jana Gutman, assistant county prosecutor, defended the judge's decision not to ask each potential juror as to what the specifics he heard about the case.
"If the state were to try to put in somewhere in voir dire or at trial that the co-defendant had already been convicted and sentenced to death, I would suggest that appropriately an appellate court should be all over us for doing that," she said.
Jackson's attorney did not argue the issue of the failure of surviving witnesses to specifically place the gun that killed the two girls in his hands. The court had previously rejected that tactic in Cunningham's appeal.
Jackson's appeal focuses instead on the impact of pretrial publicity and the state's introduction of the 3-year-old's bloodied clothing as evidence during his trial. While admitting the clothing's relevance to the case was "limited," Ms. Gutman argued its effect was harmless because of the overwhelming evidence presented against Jackson.
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