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The Summit County Prosecutor Considered Mitigating Factors Earlier In Death Penalty Case


For the first time, Summit County prosecutors have allowed defense attorneys to have early input in a death-penalty case.

Stanley Ford is charged with dozens of counts related to three house fires he allegedly set in his Akron neighborhood in just 13 months. The arsons killed nine people. While the case met the specifications for the death penalty, the prosecutor’s office allowed Ford’s attorneys to present mitigating evidence before going to a grand jury.

Brad Gessner, of the prosecutor’s office, says it’s an informal process that can help determine where a case goes after an indictment.

“If we know those things ahead of time, it doesn’t make sense to try the whole case and then say, ‘Oh, by the way: the individual’s IQ is so low that they can’t be executed.’ So why spend all that time and money -- and put the victim’s family through that process -- if, in the end, we can’t get the penalty we’re seeking.”

Gessner says the two sides need time to discuss the mitigating factors, and that requires defendants to waive their rights to a speedy trial.

In Ford's case, the grand jury opted for death-penalty specifications, which means his case is set to follow the usual path. If there's a trial, it will come in two phases, the first focused on guilt, and the second -- if he is found guilty -- on whether there are reasons Ford should not be executed.

Although no useful information came out of the meetings this time, the prosecutor’s office says it is open to the early mitigation process in the future.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.