National Roundup

Supreme Court upholds death sentence for killer of 3 women

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The death sentence handed down to an Ohio man convicted of killing three women whose bodies were found wrapped in garbage bags was appropriate, the state Supreme Court ruled in upholding the sentence.

East Cleveland resident Michael Madison was arrested within days of the discovery of the bodies in 2013. He was indicted and eventually convicted at trial in 2016.

Justice Pat DeWine wrote the court’s unanimous opinion, released last week and rejecting claims by Madison’s attorneys that Madison deserved life in prison, and not a death sentence, because of irregularities in the jury selection and trial process,

DeWine said there was overwhelming evidence to support a death sentence for the killings carried out over nine months. A killer’s “course of conduct” behavior involving multiple deaths, even if they don’t occur at the same time, is a factor under Ohio law for receiving a death sentence.

“The similarities in the murders indicate that a single person killed all three victims,” DeWine wrote. “Madison’s admissions and the strong evidence connecting the victims to him and to his residence prove that he was the murderer.”

The court also rejected arguments that Madison should be spared because of an abusive and unstable childhood, noting the killings happened when Madison was 36 years old.

Madison has years of both state and federal appeals ahead of him.

Judge orders new trial for man convicted of murder at 14

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered a new trial for a man who was 14 when he was convicted more than a decade ago in the fatal shooting of a northern Indiana man.

Dentrell Brown, 26, is entitled to a new trial because his lawyers at trial and in a post-conviction appeal were ineffective, depriving him of the Sixth-Amendment right to counsel, U.S. District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson wrote in her recent ruling vacating his conviction.

She ordered the state of Indiana to decide whether to retry Brown or to release him within 120 days, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Brown’s current attorney, Michael Ausbrook, said he was “incredibly happy with the result” in federal court after working on his client’s appeal for seven years.

Brown was 14 when he was convicted of murder in 2009 and sentenced to 55 years in prison in the March 2008 shooting in Elkhart of Gerald Wenger, 35.

Brown, who was 13 at the time of Wenger’s killing, was convicted of murder during a joint trial with his co-defendant, Joshua Love, after prosecutors argued that he was Love’s accomplice in the killing.

Prosecutors relied heavily on testimony from a jailhouse informant who said the pair confessed to their alleged roles in the shooting. But in his federal appeal, Brown argued his trial attorney should have asked the court to instruct the jury that Love’s purported confession to the informant could not be used as evidence against Brown.

Magnus-Stinson agreed in her July 9 ruling, finding Love’s conversation with the informant was inadmissible “hearsay” evidence if used against Brown. The judge also wrote that Brown’s post-conviction appellate lawyer was ineffective because she did not raise the claim that Brown’s trial lawyer failed to limit the informant’s testimony from being used against him.

Ex-officer gets 15 years on plea to forcing two women into sex

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — A former police officer in northeastern Pennsylvania has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to violating the civil rights of two women by using his authority to pressure them into sex acts.

Former Ashley officer Mark Icker, 31, earlier pleaded guilty in federal court to using his position to force himself on two women in 2018 during traffic stops. He apologized in court Friday, saying “That’s not my character. That’s not who I am.”

A plea agreement had called for a 12-year sentence, but U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion found that “ïnsufficient,” calling his conduct “vicious.” He also ordered Icker to register as a sex offender, something victims who appeared in court had sought.

Icker was fired from his Ashley position and from part-time jobs with police in the nearby towns of Sugar Notch and Jessup after state charges were filed in Luzerne County. The state cases were withdrawn after his plea in November to the federal counts.

Icker also admitted trying to coerce three other women to perform sex acts in exchange for not filing charges against them.

Judge’s ruling would unseal Kennedy cousin’s murder case

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Connecticut officials cannot keep court proceedings and documents secret for teenagers charged with the most serious crimes — a decision that will reopen Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel’s murder case to the public.

U.S. District Judge Michael Shea in Hartford ruled Friday that a state law approved last year — with the intent of protecting juveniles’ identities when their cases are transferred to adult court and only unsealing documents if they are convicted — violates the First Amendment right of access to the courts, The Hartford Courant reported.

The decision came in a lawsuit challenging the law filed by the newspaper and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The judge ordered the state Judicial Branch to open courtrooms and unseal the records in the cases of juveniles ages 15, 16 and 17 whose cases were transferred to adult court but kept secret under the new law, which took effect Oct. 1. Parts of the order were postponed for a month to allow advocates for teenagers an opportunity to argue against unsealing the proceedings.

“This ruling marks a critical victory for transparency in our criminal justice system,” said Andrew Julien, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Courant. “The state will no longer be able to automatically shield from public scrutiny proceedings in crimes considered serious enough to be handled in the adult criminal system.”

Under the previous law, serious juvenile cases including murders and rapes were unsealed when they were transferred to adult court, as Skakel’s was, allowing public access to court proceedings. The new law resulted in the sealing of Skakel’s case, because he was a teenager when Martha Moxley was killed in their wealthy Greenwich neighborhood in 1975.

Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 in the bludgeoning death of Moxley when they were both 15 years old. He served more than 11 years in prison before a judge overturned his conviction in 2013. He was freed on $1.2 million bail.