Saturday, May 22, 1999

Jury says strangler should die

Judge to make final decision

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Relatives of convicted murderer Fred Furnish sobbed as a jury recommended Friday that he become the first Kenton County defendant in 11 years to be sentenced to the death penalty.

        After three hours of deliberation, a nine-woman, three-man jury recommended that Mr. Furnish be put to death for strangling Jean Williamson, a 66-year-old Crestview Hills widow.

        Kenton Circuit Judge Steven Jaeger set formal sentencing for July 6, pending a presentence investigation. The judge can follow the jury's recommendation, or he can decrease the sentence if he so chooses.

        On Tuesday, the same jury will decide what penalty the 31-year-old Covington man should receive on charges of robbery, burglary, theft, and receiving money by fraud stemming from the same home invasion last June that ended with Ms. Williamson's death.

        Relatives of Ms. Williamson and the defendant declined to comment after the jury rendered its verdict.

        “I think (the verdict) was fair, based on the evidence that was presented,” said Kenton Commonwealth Attorney Don Buring. He said the defendant's character, his previous criminal record and the nature of a crime in which the victim was killed “in her own home in the sanctity of her bedroom” all factored into the decision to seek the death penalty.

        While disappointed in the verdict, Bill Spicer, one of three public defenders in the case, complimented the jurors for taking their job seriously.

        “I think we did the best we could, with what we were able to present to the jury,” Mr. Spicer said. He said the defense case was made more difficult when Mr. Buring withheld some evidence fa vorable to Mr. Furnish until several days into the trial.

        The defense team also had made an unsuccessful attempt to get Judge Jaeger to consider life without parole as a sentencing option. A new law that took effect in July 1998 made that an option, but Judge Jaeger denied the defense request, saying Mrs. Williamson's slaying had taken place a month before its start-up date.

        “I think that was a big factor” in the outcome, Mr. Spicer said.

        The jury also had the options of recommending a 20-year sentence, life, or life without benefit of probation or parole until the defendant had served at least 25 years.

        A Kenton County jury last recommended the death penalty in 1988. That's when Gregory Wilson was sentenced for the murder, rape and robbery of Covington resident Deborah Pooley. He is awaiting appeals.

        Defense witnesses told the jury Mr. Furnish had a normal upbringing, but turned to crime in his late teens, when he began to use drugs. A doctor testified that the defendant's chemical dependency made it difficult for him to tell right from wrong.

        However, Mr. Buring said the evidence showed Mr. Furnish to be a cold, calculating killer who thought only about himself and showed no remorse.

        In arguing against the death penalty, Mr. Spicer said the evidence against Mr. Furnish was circumstantial, and that there was no premeditation on his client's part.

        Mr. Buring disagreed.

        He said the defendant chose a home he had stolen from before, in a neighborhood where he was not likely to be recognized. He added Mr. Furnish wore a hat, sunglasses and gloves in an attempt to disguise himself.

        “The defendant knew that what he did was wrong, and that what he did was cold and calculating in murdering Jean Williamson,” Mr. Buring said.


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