Top Court to Hear Trumbull County Death Penalty Case

The state’s top court will hear arguments that will decide if a Trumbull County woman will remain on death row for murdering her ex-husband in 2001 to collect his life insurance money or be resentenced to life in prison without parole.

The Supreme Court panel will hear arguments May 7-8 in Columbus in the appeal of Donna Roberts, the only woman in Ohio on death row, who plotted with her ex-convict lover to kill her ex-husband Robert Fingerhut on Dec. 11, 2001.

Roberts’ attorneys claim Roberts barred her trial attorneys from presenting mitigating evidence that she had mental health problems and suffered brain injuries that may have affected her competency, information they claim could have swayed the late Trumbull County Judge John Stuard to give her an alternative sentence.

They also claimed Stuard was wrong to bar that evidence from being presented during her re-sentencing hearing. The Ohio Supreme Court in 2007 ordered Stuard resentence Roberts because Stuard failed to allow Roberts to make a statement at the hearing and improperly involved the prosecutor in preparing his sentencing opinion that adjudicated the death penalty. Prosecutors say Roberts waived her right to speak during the mitigation phase.

Roberts’ attorneys also will argue that Stuard should have recused himself from the resentencing hearing after the Supreme Court ruling. Prosecutors will argue that Roberts’ attorneys had an opportunity to file an affidavit of bias or prejudice with the state Supreme Court, but decided against doing so.

Roberts’ team will also argue the psychiatrist’s opinion that Roberts was competent should be vacated because he never interviewed family members or anyone other than Roberts. They claim Roberts suffered from depression, bipolar disorder and several head injuries due to multiple traffic accidents, which could have affected her competency.

Prosecutors, however, say Roberts showed during the two-hour interview that she had normal intelligence and reasoning ability. The psychiatrist also reported her prison doctors said her diagnosed conditions were treated with prescriptions and under control.

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