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Cops and Courts

Judge John Miraldi recuses himself from two capital murder cases

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ELYRIA — For the second time in two weeks, a judge has recused himself from two capital murder cases due to a conflict of interest.

On Thursday, Judge John Miraldi recused himself from the cases of Lorenzo Garcia and Antonio Martinez because one of Garcia’s defense attorneys is Dan Wightman, who is also serving as defense attorney for Miraldi’s son, Jeffrey Miraldi, in an involuntary manslaughter case.

John Miraldi was selected as judge in the Garcia and Martinez cases after Judge Mark Betleski recused himself because of past issues with the Lorain Police Department. Garcia and Martinez are accused of murdering 67-year-old Linda Wisniewski in Lorain earlier this year.

Last November, Betleski recused himself from all Lorain Police Department cases where he is a trier of fact. The judge said he chose to do so because of negative and untrue comments that the Lorain Police Department made about him in an October press release.

Judge James Walther, who serves as presiding judge for the Lorain County Common Pleas Court, said each judge needs to make the decision of whether to recuse themselves from a case.

“If a judge were to say, ‘Listen, I’m recusing myself,’ nobody can say, ‘You can’t recuse yourself.’ Once a judge decides that, then they are recused,” Walther said.

After John Miraldi recused himself from the Garcia and Martinez cases, a new judge to preside over the case was selected, by pulling a number from a rust-colored plastic billiard pill bottle used by the county to randomly draw judges for death penalty cases. Judge James Miraldi was selected as the new judge for the cases.

The selection and reselection of the presiding judge will not affect the timeline of the case as the defendants have waived their rights to a speedy trial.

Some questioned whether James Miraldi would follow suit and recuse himself from the case, since John Miraldi is his cousin, but James Miraldi said he sees no reason that there would be a conflict of interest and has no plans to recuse himself.

Wightman, who represents Garcia, objected to John Miraldi recusing himself from the case — as did attorney Kreig Brusnahan, who was appointed to sit first chair for Martinez.

“We objected to the change because we think any defendant has the right to have the judge that was initially selected to be the judge in the case,” Wightman said. “Especially in a capital murder case, we have to protect the due process rights of our client.”

Wightman said he is fine with James Miraldi serving as judge in the case.

“We’re happy with Judge Jim Miraldi, as we would have been with Judge John Miraldi, as we would have been with Judge Betleski,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s fine, but we need to protect the record to show that we’re doing everything we can and that he will get a fair trial.”

Police have said that about 10 p.m. March 27, officers responded to a “burglary in progress” call at 3625 Amherst Ave. in Lorain. Officers found Wisniewski dead when they arrived.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans said Wisniewski suffered multiple stab wounds to the head, trunk and extremities, and the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.

During a hearing at Lorain Municipal Court, the prosecutor said Wisniewski had been duct taped and stabbed multiple times.

Additionally, Kenneth “Chip” Williams, 28, who relatives described as a close family friend of Wisniewski, was found with serious injuries at the home and was taken to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

During the arraignment in Lorain Municipal Court, authorities said Williams was shot in the back of the head.

Police arrested Garcia and Martinez later that week in connection with the incident, charging them with aggravated murder.

Garcia and Martinez are scheduled to appear before James Miraldi on Aug. 2.

Contact Scott Mahoney at 329-7146 or smahoney@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @SMahoneyCT.


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