Tuesday, October 24, 2017 Elyria 47°

Cops and Courts

Murder suspect facing possible death penalty opts to let dice determine 3-judge panel


ELYRIA — Clarence Adams III wants a roll of the dice to determine who will sit on the three-judge panel that will hear his capital murder case when it starts later this month.

“I’ll take the dice,” Adams told Lorain County Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi during a hearing Monday. Miraldi, who is assigned the case, will serve on the panel by default.

Adams, who faces a possible death sentence if convicted in the April 8, 2012, beating death of Lamar “Mark” Taylor in Lorain, said he objected to Probate Judge James Walther’s plan to draw cards to select the members of the panel.

“I just think that’s kind of child’s play with my life on the line,” Adams said.

Walther, the county’s presiding judge, originally planned to pick the panel Monday after Adams waived a jury for the upcoming trial. But he and Miraldi agreed to delay the selection until April 15 so that Walther can become death penalty-certified and can be included in the pool of possible judges.

Walther said he is taking the death penalty class next week.

One judge who won’t be included in the pool is Common Pleas Judge James Burge, who was ordered off the panel of killer Vincent Jackson Jr. by Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor in February at the request of Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo. The panel of judges hearing Jackson’s case will begin hearing evidence today on whether he should be executed for killing Gas USA clerk Qiana Walton during a 2008 robbery.

O’Connor ruled that because Burge removed himself from all of Cillo’s cases in January, he couldn’t serve on the Jackson panel. Although Burge had argued he would simply be an impartial trier of fact in the case, O’Connor concluded he would have to rule on objections and other procedural matters as part of a panel.

She also wrote that Burge couldn’t pick and choose which of Cillo’s cases he would hear. As the chief assistant criminal prosecutor, Cillo is involved in all of the county’s death penalty cases.

Walther said Monday his conclusion after reading of O’Connor’s ruling was that he couldn’t include Burge in the pool.

Kreig Brusnahan, one of Adams’ attorneys, objected to taking Burge out of the pool because he said every eligible judge should have the chance to serve on the panel.

Burge said later that he didn’t disagree with Walther’s logic even if that means he’s effectively been removed from every death penalty case in the county for now. But he also said that it would be better if all of the county’s eligible judges were included.

“I think it’s best for all judges to be available,” he said.

A former defense attorney, Burge has served on death penalty panels before and conducted an extensive review of the state’s lethal injection protocols several years ago.

Cillo had said he feared by delaying the selection of the judges until later in the month, it would give Burge a chance to rescind his order taking himself off all of his cases. But Burge said he has no intention of doing that in the near future.

“The other judges have asked me to, but it just seems as though the issue then becomes me and not the defendant,” Burge said.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he too agreed with Walther’s ruling to keep Burge out of the pool of potential panel members, but he added that it doesn’t necessarily mean Burge won’t hear death penalty cases again. For instance, he said, Cillo might not end up working on a future capital case.

“I believe he is not part of the process (now), but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be part of the process down the road,” Will said.

A second defendant in the case, Austin Diaz, also is awaiting trial on capital murder charges.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

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