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Published: Friday, 1/28/2011

Killer of UT student receives life sentence

Holding a single cigarette with trembling hands, Lisa Bucher showed a courtroom full of tearful friends and family why her only son was killed.

"It's hard to imagine we live in a society where someone would really 'kill for a cigarette,'" Ms. Bucher said in Lucas County Common Pleas Court Thursday. "Casey's life meant so much more than a cigarette."

The man who Wednesday pleaded guilty to murder for the stabbing death of Casey Bucher, 22, on a sidewalk near the University of Toledo was sentenced Thursday to life in prison.

Lawrence Fitzgerald James, 25, told police after his July 18 arrest that he approached the young man and asked for cigarettes and some change.

When the UT sophomore refused, James stabbed him once in the chest.

Ms. Bucher said her son was leaving Maxwell's Brew at Bancroft Street and Westwood Avenue about 8 p.m. to meet friends for a game of Frisbee golf. She said he had been recently offered a job at the UT Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio, had signed up for classes for the upcoming semester, and had taken in a stray cat.

"Losing Casey like this has affected so many in so many profound ways," she said. "Young 20-year-olds shouldn't have to be thinking about death in the prime of their lives. They shouldn't have to be afraid to walk around UT, but they are."

James declined to comment before his sentencing, only interjecting once to argue that he had not been given his prescribed medications the day he committed the offense.

Lisa Bucher, left, mother of Casey Bucher, is embraced by Areti Tsavoussis, executive director of the victim witness assistance program, while addressing the court at the sentencing of her son's killer. Lisa Bucher, left, mother of Casey Bucher, is embraced by Areti Tsavoussis, executive director of the victim witness assistance program, while addressing the court at the sentencing of her son's killer.
JETTA FRASER / TOLEDO BLADE Enlarge

As part of the court record, Judge Ruth Ann Franks noted the numerous psychological evaluations compiled throughout the case.

Specifically, she noted that several of the medical professionals said James "made a conscious effort" to appear significantly mentally ill.

"This defendant certainly has some illness and mental disability, but he is not legally insane …," Judge Franks said before sentencing him. "Mr. James understands right from wrong."

In November, Judge Franks found James competent to stand trial for murder, using three independent evaluations as guidance.

In one of those reports, the psychologist said he believed James "attempted to appear significantly more impaired and disturbed than he actually is."

During his plea Wednesday, James told Judge Franks a series of dreams compelled him to stab Mr. Bucher. He said he often has trouble discerning between dreams and reality.

Attorney Adrian Cimerman noted that James faced a mandatory sentence and only asked that the judge consider asking that he be housed at the Toledo Correctional Institution so his family could visit him. James' mother declined to comment after the hearing.

Judge Franks reminded James that murder has a mandatory sentence of life in prison with parole eligibility after 15 years.

Because James was on post-release control, or parole, from a 2008 offense at the time of the murder, he was ordered to serve one year in prison for violating parole.

The judge said James would be eligible to go before the parole board after serving 16 years in prison.

Although he will be eligible, James should presume he will be denied parole and so will die in prison, Judge Franks said.

"I don't have the ability to save the community from you. But I do have the ability to inform the parole board that they should not let you out," Judge Franks said. "You will have the opportunity to be released, and I hope you never are."

Toledo police Detective Bob Schroeder credited the swift arrest of James to the cooperation of numerous witnesses, including three business owners who provided surveillance videos taken in the area.

When James was arrested, police found the knife used in the assault, which had been wiped clean with alcohol swabs.

After James was led away by deputies, Ms. Bucher emerged from the courtroom surrounded by family, friends, and her son's friends. She thanked the judge, the prosecutors involved in the case, and the officers who helped her son and arrested his killer.

Ms. Bucher also thanked community members who were outraged by what happened to her son and supported her throughout the months since her son's death.

When questioned about her thoughts on James' sentence of life in prison, Ms. Bucher said she wasn't surprised.

"I expected life," she said. "He got what he deserved."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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