ELYRIA — A judge denied an 18-year-old Lorain man’s request to reduce bond in a murder case and instead questioned why the bond was “woefully low.”
Jerone Starr, 18, appeared before Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Cook on Wednesday afternoon for a hearing in which the defendant was seeking a reduction of his $50,000 cash bond. Starr was indicted on charges of murder, voluntary manslaughter, felonious assault and aggravated riot in September, according to court documents.
“I find this bond to be, in general, woefully low for these charges,” Cook said during the hearing. “It would be my normal intention to raise it.”
Cook didn’t raise it, though, saying that he would defer to the decision of prosecutors who had recommended the bond amount when the case was before the grand jury. He did say that if he’d set the bond, he would have set it at a higher amount.
The charges stem from a Feb. 17 incident that took place on Highland Park Boulevard in Lorain, according to the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office. On Sept. 19, Francisco Rojas Jr., 18, also of Lorain, was indicted on the same charges.
Lorain police have said the victim, William Miller, 47, of Lorain, tried to break up a fight about 11 a.m. in the 1000 block of Highland Park Boulevard that was the result of “an argument about a girl” when he suffered some sort of medical emergency and was taken to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, where he later died.
Police said a group of people went to Highland Park Boulevard address to facilitate a fight between two people, which centered on a dispute regarding some Facebook posts, according to court documents. The two began fighting; one of them was the son of Miller’s girlfriend.
When the son of Miller’s girlfriend “began getting the better” of the other individual in the fight, some of the others joined in, according to court documents. That’s when Miller and his girlfriend entered the altercation.
Police said multiple witnesses said that during the altercation Miller struck Starr. After that, one person grabbed Miller and held him while Rojas punched Miller in the head. Police further believe Starr punched Miller in the chest, court documents said.
Police said Starr admitted to pushing Miller in the chest.
Starr’s defense attorney, Michael Stepanik, told Cook his client had been employed full-time at the time of his arrest and would be able to return to his job if bond was reduced. Stepanik also argued that there’s some question to what the cause of Miller’s death was.
“It seems to me as though the prosecution (of the case) seems to be result-oriented that someone passed away, as unfortunate as that may be, and I believe it’s a murder or manslaughter (case) because of what occurred,” he said.
Stepanik said witnesses have said they didn’t see anyone hit Miller before he fell to the ground. He also said it’s believed Miller suffered from some sort of brain aneurysm.
“It would appear as though the ultimate cause of death is still somewhat up in the air,” Stepanik said. “I don’t believe there’s been an official coroner’s verdict given to the state of Ohio.
“At least until we have an answer to that unresolved issue, which I think is a pretty big issue when you’re accusing someone of murder, his bond should be reduced somewhat more appropriately.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Paul Griffin said the state has not received a coroner’s report on Miller’s death yet, but police have spoken with the coroner who performed the autopsy in the case and the coroner “believed that the thing that killed him would have been the punch to the head.”
Griffin also said the state opposed a reduction to Starr’s bond because he was out on bond in another case for tampering with evidence and receiving stolen property when the incident that led to Miller’s death occurred.
“It’s very concerning to me that somebody on felony bond for serious charges posted a $50,000 bond and then, less than a month later, he’s at a site and a man dies in a fight that he is involved in on some level,” Cook said before denying Starr’s motion. “It’s very concerning.”