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Cops and Courts

Judge draws cards to choose panel in capital murder case


ELYRIA — Clarence Adams III wanted to roll the dice, but in the end he had to rely on the luck of the draw to determine the judges who will serve on a panel that will preside over his capital murder trial later this month.

Adams had requested that Lorain County Probate Judge James Walther, who as the county’s presiding judge selects the members of three-judge panels, roll dice rather than drawing cards as Walther has done in the past.

Adams said at the time that using cards “was kind of child’s play with my life on the line.”

But on Tuesday, Walther decided to draw cards anyway over the objections of Adams’ attorneys. He said it’s the method he uses every time he’s called on to pick judges in capital cases.

It’s the same process he used when selecting a panel earlier this year to sit on the capital murder case of Vincent Jackson Jr., who was spared a death sentence last week.

“It’s not the defendant’s prerogative to tell me how to do my job,” Walther said after the hearing.

Once the cards were drawn and one judge bowed out because of a scheduling conflict, the cards determined that county Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery and Domestic Relations Judge Lisa Swenski will join Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi on the panel. The case is assigned to Miraldi’s courtroom and he sits on the panel by default.

Kreig Brusnahan, one of Adams’ lawyers, said his client was upset by the use of cards rather than dice. He said he and Adams had been under the impression that the request to use dice would be honored.

“He was extremely upset that the method we had all thought the court had agreed to wasn’t used,” he said.

Brusnahan also said that the way the panel was selected could end up being an issue that comes up on appeal.

“I’m mystified why we’re in a position where there’s potential error,” he said.

Brusnahan has also objected that county Common Pleas Judge James Burge wasn’t included in the pool. Walther said he removed Burge from consideration because of a ruling by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor that disqualified Burge from sitting on the Jackson case.

In January, Burge removed himself from all cases being handled by Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo, citing what he saw as a waste of resources being expended by prosecutors to have him kicked off cases. County Prosecutor Dennis Will has said his office challenged Burge’s involvement only in cases when they believed there was a clear conflict.

Adams, along with Austin Diaz, is accused of beating Lamar “Mark” Taylor to death April 8, 2012, in Lorain.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or

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