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Ohio Supreme Court: Inference of Motive Justifies Death

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence of a man who was sentenced to death by a three-judge panel on a mere inference of motive.

David Williams, Nicholas Wiskur and Robin Patterson entered into a failed Ohio business partnership called United Contractors Unlimited (UCU), beginning in August 2008. By February 2009 the company had reached "the point of being defunct," according to Wiskur.

Williams provided $100,000 in seed money and was a mentor to the other partners. Robinson served as the office manager. Patterson's boyfriend, Gregory Osie worked occasionally for UCU or Williams.

Williams believed that Patterson was embezzling money from the company by issuing fraudulent payroll checks. He threatened to press charges against her for stealing about $18,000.

During the early morning hours of February 14, 2009, Osie went to Williams' house to speak to him about the supposed embezzlement. They argued and Osie ultimately stabbed Williams 10 times in the chest and abdomen, and slashed his throat.

Osie was quickly identified as a suspect and confessed to killing Williams. He was indicted on two counts of aggravated murder. Each count alleged three death specifications, including felony-murder and witness-murder specifications.

Under Ohio law, Osie was entitled to a jury trial. The death penalty could not be imposed unless all twelve jurors unanimously agreed that it was the appropriate penalty. Nevertheless, pursuant to R.C. 2945.06, Osie elected to waive a jury trial and be tried by a three-judge panel, whose verdict must also be unanimous. The panel found Osie guilty of one count of aggravated murder and sentenced him to death.

The Ohio Supreme Court issued a 72-page opinion, affirming Osie's conviction and death sentence, rejecting all but one of the 32 claims he asserted on appeal. The Court agreed with Osie that the death specifications should have merged, but concluded that "the error can be corrected by our independent review, and so there is no need to remand this case for resentencing."

Three judges dissented. Most notably, Justice O'Neill criticized the majority's willingness to sentence Osie to death on a mere inference that the motive of his crime was to prevent Williams from filing criminal charges.

"At the bottom line, a sentence of death should never have been imposed in this case," O'Neill declared. "The question before the three judge panel was whether the motive behind the murder was to silence his girlfriend's employer, who was threatening to go to the police over her embezzlement of company funds."

O'Neill explained that "Before the state of Ohio, in the name of its citizens, can take another life, it must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the motive to silence this witness was the driving force behind the fatal act. Other than the death there is no direct evidence and precious little circumstantial evidence of that intent. Accordingly, I would hold as a matter of law that the state has failed in that endeavor."

"To arrive at the majority's tortured conclusion, the specific purpose to kill a witness to prevent him from testifying about a crime that has not yet even been reported to the police must be inferred from circumstances surrounding the killing," he argued. "Have we really arrived at the point where we are willing to execute someone based upon an inference? And are we now ready to simply ignore the perfectly reasonable contrary view of the offense that the killing simply stemmed from an argument where the defendant, high on cocaine, lost control of himself'?" The majority's answer to both questions was clearly "yes." See: Ohio v. Osie, 140 Ohio St. 3d 131 (Ohio 2014).

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Related legal case

Ohio v. Osie