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Published: Tuesday, 8/28/2007

Schuster's bid for new trial denied by court

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nearly two years after she was sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and sending nude images of the child to a stranger via the Internet, Elissa Schuster's hopes for a new trial were denied.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Ruth Ann Franks dismissed Schuster's post-conviction motion in a 30-page order filed last week.

The motion alleged that one of the jurors who eventually heard Schuster's case made a statement about her guilt prior to her conviction.

The judge's order is in response to a lengthy hearing that involved the testimony of the 22 jurors and potential jurors in Schuster's trial.

Judge Franks noted that none of those jurors called by prosecutors said they made or heard the alleged statement.

She further noted that Denise Lopez, a friend of Schuster's mother, "remained in the courtroom during the testimony of each of these witnesses and did not identify any juror as the person(s) who she attributed the statements which form the basis of [Schuster's] allegations."

Defense attorney Chuck Boss, who filed the motion in December, declined comment on the ruling, saying he hadn't spoken to his client yet. He said he expects her to appeal the decision.

Schuster received a mandatory life sentence Oct. 27, 2005, for rape and to two four-year sentences for pandering obscenity involving a minor and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material convictions. The sentences are to run consecutively.

Schuster, who will be eligible for parole in 18 years, denied at sentencing that she assaulted the child.

Authorities said Schuster sent nude photos of the child via the Internet to a man in Tampa who she believed was a player with a National Football League team.

She complied with his request to digitally penetrate the victim and send pictures in exchange for favors.

During the hearing, Ms. Lopez testified that she was sitting in the jury box while potential jurors were being interviewed and she heard a man ask, "Why is it taking so long when they already know she's guilty?"

Judge Frank's noted in her opinion that Ms. Lopez's testimony differed from her sworn affidavit, a discrepancy Assistant Prosecutor Dean Mandros pointed out during the hearing.

Mr. Mandros said he wasn't surprised by the judge's ruling. "It was clear from the testimony that what the defendant and her witnesses said are not credible," he said.

Schuster will return to Judge Frank's courtroom Sept. 13 on an unrelated matter.

Though losing her appeal asking for an overturning of the jury's conviction, the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Common Pleas Court after determining the judge did not use language at sentencing pursuant to the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in State vs. Foster.

The Foster case struck down portions of the state's sentencing law, which was intended to provide guidance to judges in meting out punishment and give consistency in sentencing.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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