Thursday, December 28, 2000

Death for Cincinnati killer is upheld

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously upheld the death sentence Wednesday for a Cincinnati man convicted of killing a New Jersey grandmother in a Blue Ash hotel.

        Hotel employee Elwood Jones was sentenced to die for the 1994 robbing and beating death of hotel guest Rhoda Nathan.

        Police discovered Ms. Nathan's pendant in Mr. Jones' car, and a doctor testified a wound on the suspect's hand was a human bite mark.

        Mr. Jones, who says he's innocent, wanted the high court to reverse the death penalty. He argued his defense attorneys should have tried to block the doctor's testimony. He also said prosecutors made several statements that prejudiced the jury.

        Though the seven justices did criticize prosecutors for making improper comments and three criticized Mr. Jones' attorneys, none said the errors required a mistrial.
        “Given the myriad safeguards provided to assure a fair trial, and taking into account the reality of the human fallibility of the participants, there can be no such thing as an error-free, perfect trial,” Justice Alice Robie Resnick wrote for the court.

        The ruling continues a trend in which the justices upheld death sentences in cases where they criticize prosecutors for misconduct.

        Statements by prosecutors that play on jurors' emotions, that stray from the evidence or that paint defense tactics as dishonest are improper. These restrictions are meant as a safeguard so that juries consider only the facts and hand down death sentences for only the most heinous crimes.

        An investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer in September showed the high court has criticized Hamilton County prosecutors for making improper courtroom statements in 14 death penalty cases since 1988. That's one out of every three death sentences Hamilton County prosecutors have won over the past 12 years.


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