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Should an Ohio Man be Tried for the Sixth Time for Murder?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 5:38 PM

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The state of Ohio’s attorneys ran into a tough audience Tuesday before the Ohio Supreme Court. They argued that an Austintown man should be tried for the sixth time for the same murder. For Ohio Public Radio, WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on what defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges call ‘an unusual case.’

Christopher Anderson was locked up on Aug. 22, 2002, charged with strangling Amber Zurcher to death. Since then, he’s been put on trial five times. Twice, the case ended in mistrials, twice in hung juries and once, his conviction was overturned on appeal.

When the state set a sixth trial date in 2011, Anderson asked the judge to throw the case out, saying the state is unconstitutionally trying him again and again on the same charges.

The judge refused, and Anderson appealed.

The arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court now hinge on two points: Whether a sixth trial is fair and constitutional, and whether the appeals judges should even be considering the case in the first place.

Ralph Rivera – representing the state – focused on the second argument. He told the justices that – based on state law – Anderson has no right to appeal until after he goes all the way through a sixth trial.

Rivera ran into a skeptic in, among others, Justice William O’Neill.

“It just seems to me you’re asking this court to authorize the state of Ohio to say, ‘Trust us, we won’t do this unnecessarily and it can be cleaned up in the appellate process,’” said the judge. “But the reality is, you can’t give this person that time back, can you?

Rivera acknowledged, “No, in that sense you can’t give him the time back.” but then he said those concerns are based on believing Anderson’s “arguments are meritorious at the end.”

Rivera maintained that only after a trial can Anderson argue there should not have been a trial, and that he might not win that argument.

Anderson’s attorney John Juhasz says that strains constitutional protections of due process and against double jeopardy.

“Five times already, Christopher Anderson has suffered the anxiety, the expense, the personal strain of risking a conviction for an offense for which he says he’s innocent,” said Juhasz. Then his own skeptic, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor interrupted.

“But these trials were legitimately declared not to be trials because of the nature of the outcome. A hung jury, a reversal by the court of appeals with a remand for a retrial. These were all trials that were legitimately disposed of and in none of the trials was there an acquittal.”

Several times, the justices returned to the question of how many trials is enough.

Juhasz attempted to answer, by saying it’s more than one, but less than what his client is facing. He noted that Anderson has been in jail or prison for more than 11 years – with no conviction standing against him. 

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