Published: Sunday, November 12, 2006
Lawyers face work to spare McKinney
McKinney was sentenced to one year in prison for a drug conviction in early 2005.
By ED RUNYAN
WARREN Now it will be up to Jermaine McKinney's defense team to convince jurors that he doesn't deserve to die for murdering Wanda Rollyson and Rebecca Cliburn.
McKinney, 26, was convicted Nov. 3 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court of three counts of murder and other charges relating to the deaths of the mother and daughter Dec. 21 in Rollyson's Newton Township home.
The mitigation and penalty phase will take place Thursday and Friday and conclude with closing arguments Nov. 20.
Ohio law sets forth the mitigation phase in death penalty cases to give the defense an opportunity to present evidence showing why a defendant should be spared the death sentence. Usually testimony is given on the background of the defendant. The jury could choose the death sentence or three lesser options: life in prison without parole, 30 years to life in prison or 25 years to life in prison, Ohio law says.
After closing arguments Nov. 20, the jury of nine women and three men will be instructed to recommend the death sentence if it finds that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating factors. Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay, who is presiding over the case, would then have the option of imposing the death sentence or sentencing McKinney to one of the three lesser punishments, according to Ohio law.
McKinney was convicted of nine aggravating circumstances Nov. 3, including robbery, burglary, arson and kidnapping. The jury needed to convict him on only one of the aggravating circumstances to make him eligible for the death penalty.
Donald Malarcik, one of McKinney's defense attorneys, said the primary areas he will use to show mitigating circumstances are McKinney's lack of a significant criminal record, his youth at the time of the offense and the question of whether he was the principal offender in the murders. McKinney's defense has tried to raise questions about the possibility that accomplice Keyatta Riley Hines, 21, helped commit the murders.
A look at the records being requested by McKinney's defense team suggests some information that will be used during the mitigating phase:
Records are being sought on the counseling McKinney received at Turning Point Counseling Center in Youngstown.
Records from McKinney's participation in the Mahoning County Chemical Dependency Program.
Records from the Ohio Adult Parole Authority relating to McKinney's criminal history.
Before Nov. 3, McKinney was convicted one time on felony charges in Mahoning or Trumbull counties, a check of court records shows.
On Jan. 14, 2005, McKinney pleaded guilty to trafficking in cocaine, carrying a concealed weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen A. Sweeney sentenced him to 12 months in prison and three years of probation. He was also ordered into a substance abuse program at Community Corrections of America.
But on July 21, 2005, Judge Sweeney modified McKinney's sentence, granting him judicial release, which Rob Andrews, assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, said is the same thing formerly called "shock probation." Judicial release is allowed after a defendant serves at least 30 days of his prison sentence. Andrews said it appears McKinney served about five months.
When McKinney was released July 21, he was ordered to still serve three years' probation and attend the in-house substance abuse program at CCA, court records show. CCA officials contacted to answer whether he attended the substance abuse program did not return a phone call seeking comment. Attempts to reach McKinney's defense attorneys were unsuccessful.
Riley Hines testified during McKinney's murder trial that she and McKinney used the illegal drug Ecstacy on the day of the murders and the day before. Very little other discussion of drug use was presented during the trial, however.
Cliburn's daughter, Melissa Barry, testified that Cliburn was addicted to drugs. Cliburn had been indicted three times between June 13 and Sept. 27 of 2005 on drug charges, Trumbull County court records indicate.
Testimony in the trial indicated that Cliburn went to her mother's house with McKinney under the pretext of having sex with him but did not know McKinney had plans to rob or kill anyone.