Defense plea: Give Hughbanks life

Friday, June 12, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The first round was open and shut, requiring less than an hour of deliberation.

This time around, the decision is not likely to be as clear-cut. Unlike the guilt phase of Gary Lee Hughbanks Jr.'s capital murder trial, when defense attorneys admitted from the start that he committed the crimes, the sentencing phase was contested.

Where the prosecution says a death sentence is the only appropriate punishment for the way in which William and Juanita Leeman were slashed to death, the defense demurs.

His lawyers argue that the 31-year-old's almost lifelong history of mental illness, combined with a less-than-storybook upbringing, cry out for a life sentence.

"This was a troubled young man from the start," defense attorney Dale Schmidt said Thursday during closing arguments in the sentencing hearing. "He didn't have a chance."

It is up to jurors to decide whether the appropriate sentence is death or life without parole.

The jury, which last week found Mr. Hughbanks guilty of two counts of aggravated murder, began deliberating at 1:35 p.m. and continued until about 9 p.m. Jurors were to be sequestered for the night and resume deliberations today in Judge Melba Marsh's Hamilton County courtroom.

A day before they began deliberating, Mr. Hughbanks told the jury he would not beg for his life, saying he knew what he did was wrong and he deserved whatever punishment it imposed. He also offered to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Leemans' children.

"If you find that my life has to be taken, then let it be taken," he said Wednesday. "I'll give it to you."

Such comments are proof, prosecutors say, that Mr. Hughbanks was fully aware of the crime he committed -- not, as the defense says, mentally ill and suffering from delusions and depression.

"It shows that he understands the magnitude of what he has done," Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Richard Gibson said.

Defense attorneys said Mr. Hughbanks' abusive home life, frequent hospitalizations in mental wards, and his numerous suicide attempts warrant a life sentence.

"All these times, he's telling people, "I need help,' " defense attorney Stephen Wenke said.

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