ELYRIA — Two families were left in tears Friday after Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Betleski found Julene Simko guilty of her husband’s shooting death almost eight years ago.
Betleski, who heard the case rather than a jury, found Simko, 39, guilty on all counts of aggravated murder, murder, felonious assault and tampering with evidence in relation to the death of her husband, Jeremy Simko.
Jeremy Simko’s family wrapped their arms around each other and cried when the verdict was read. When Julene Simko’s bond was revoked and she was taken into custody, both she and her family were unable to control their emotions as well. She could face a life prison term when she is sentenced at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Betleski said while he didn’t find much credence in the motive put forth by prosecutors, he felt her guilt had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution had contended that after being sexually abused by her father and being in a master-slave sexual relationship with her husband, paired with the couple’s recent denial for a bank loan to purchase property, Julene Simko snapped and killed her husband.
“Ultimately I found that the state didn’t come close to establishing what motive if any Ms. Simko may have had in perpetrating this murder,” he said. “But the state is not required to prove motive. It did have an impact on how I considered this case, though, because this case is based almost solely on circumstantial evidence.”
According to the defense’s version of what happened Nov. 18, 2009, the day Jeremy Simko was killed, a third person entered the home and shot him. Betleski noted several holes he found in that theory.
Julene Simko told officers she was alone on the third floor of the couple’s North Ridge Road home when a noise woke her up. She said she went to the second floor to address it with Jeremy but felt blood when she touched the bed.
She said she then saw a person in the hallway and took a 9 mm handgun from a nearby nightstand and fired warning shots in the hallway before calling 911.
Betleski said a lack of third-party DNA in the home and no sign of forced entry were red flags for him, as was the time of day the incident took place — 6 a.m.
“The time of day to me is really unique for an alleged break-in, robbery and then murder,” he said. “This is a fairly rural portion, but there are people getting up. Nothing was stolen, except maybe cash in a curio cabinet (where the .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver used to kill Jeremy Simko was kept), but there wasn’t even clear testimony that there should have been cash in the curio cabinet.”
The judge also said a random robber, or even a person with an ax to grind, would not have gotten so close to Jeremy Simko to deliver the fatal shot because they have no knowledge of where a spouse may be in the house.
“Why would they rely on a weapon that was already in there?” he said. “Once again, you don’t see the spouse. The spouse is supposed to be there. There’s only one person in the bed. And if you’ve got a .357 in your hand if you’re trying to kill someone, you’re not going to go up to the back of their head when you don’t know if there’s another person in this household. You’re going to come close to emptying that thing when you enter the bedroom because you don’t know if you’re going to get caught.”
Betleski expressed skepticism that the gun, which appeared to be thrown on the kitchen floor in a hurry, didn’t leave any scuff marks or damage to the floor, almost like it was placed there.
“Why would you leave the gun?” he said. “Or any evidence? You’d be better to drop it in the Vermilion River rather than leave it on the kitchen floor. There was also little additional evidence that the weapon was dropped as there was no significant damage to the floor.”
Betleski also said Julene Simko told officials she felt blood on the bed but because it was dark, she wouldn’t have necessarily known it was blood. Additionally, Jeremy Simko’s body did not have the trauma associated with someone performing CPR, like the 911 operator had instructed Julene Simko to do.
“There was sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Simko was her husband’s murderer,” he said, noting she was found guilty of the aggravated murder charged because Jeremy Simko’s death demonstrated “prior calculation and design.”
“If there is a dispute that arose between the two parties, it festered for a long time,” he said. “I don’t know why this occurred but do know that it occurred with enough time for the defendant to think it through, to go downstairs and get the gun from the holster, to go upstairs and do it, to come back downstairs to place the gun and to then make the fake call to 911.”
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said the case took so long — five years between the incident and the indictment and another three years before it came to trial — because it was so complex.
“It was very tedious because it ended up being so complicated,” he said. “There was so much evidence, facts to run down, statements to take and review. Every time we’d get to something, it would take a while to get through. But you have to do that if you want something done right.”
Will said that’s what happened in this case.
“It was a lot of effort on the part of the prosecutors, the investigators and the Vermilion Police Department,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but it led to the right verdict.”
Defense attorney Jack Bradley did not return requests for comment.
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