Wednesday, March 24, 1999
Judge upholds new murder law
Despite confusion, it makes it easier for stiff penalties
BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ohio's new murder law may be troublesome, complicated and confusing, but a judge ruled Tuesday that it's still valid.
The judge's decision in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court is a victory for prosecutors who want to use the new law to crack down on violent felons.
The law, approved by the legislature last year, changes the definition of murder in Ohio and makes it easier for prosecutors to seek long prison sentences.
After it was used in several recent cases, defense attorneys challenged it on grounds it was poorly written and unconstitutional.
In his ruling Tuesday, however, Judge Thomas Crush concluded that while the law may be confusing, it is not improper.
It is evident that the recently enacted murder statute is valid, the judge wrote in his decision.
But the judge noted several times in his 12-page decision that the state legislature could eliminate a great deal of confusion by making some minor changes to the murder statute.
The main source of confusion is the similarity between it and the existing manslaughter law.
The manslaughter law traditionally is used in cases that involve a defendant who did not intentionally cause the death of another. The murder law is used when prosecutors prove the defendant purposely caused the death of another.
The new law expands the definition of murder to include anyone who causes the death of another while committing a felony of the first or second degree.
The manslaughter law is applied to cases in which someone causes the death of another while committing a felony.
Defense attorney Kenneth Lawson, who represents accused killer James L. Clark, had argued it is impossible to charge someone under the murder statute because all felonies already are covered by the manslaughter statute.
But assistant prosecutor William Breyer told the judge Mr. Lawson was reading the statute incorrectly.
He said the murder statute would take precedence over the manslaughter law because it is more narrowly defined.
Although the judge called the law absurd during a hearing last week, his ruling Tuesday states that he was able to make sense of it after reading it more closely.
Prosecutor Mike Allen said the law is complicated but clear. We're very happy with the judge's ruling, he said.
Mr. Lawson, whose client now faces a murder charge, said the case ultimately could be decided by an appeals court.
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