Gerry Ricciutti - YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) - He has been sitting on Ohio's death row for more than 17 years and has been behind bars even longer than that.But now a Youngstown man convicted of murder is hoping for another chance at life.
Willie Herring, 37, sat in court Monday afternoon with one of his public-defender attorneys chatting with family members. In January 1998, Herring was convicted and sentenced to die for masterminding a robbery and shooting inside the old Newport Inn on Youngstown's south side.
Herring was one of five men accused in the April 1996 robbery and shooting that left three people dead and two others wounded. Four other defendants also were convicted, but none received the death penalty.
Prosecutors at the time said Herring obtained the firearms used in the crime and passed the guns out to the other defendants.
In December 2014, the Supreme Court of Ohio determined Herring's original defense team failed to provide enough information during the penalty phase of his trial. Now, prosecutors and defense lawyers are trying to determine whether another penalty phase of the case is needed.
"That is what the statute calls for, that a jury would have to impaneled just to basically determine what the appropriate sentence would be," Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said. "It is a balancing act on finality as opposed to what we might see as justice with regard to the death penalty, or life in prison, and you've got different options here."
The new sentencing hearing was held before Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge John Durkin, who presided over Herring's original trial. It was the judge's first death penalty case.
State law at the time of the crime would leave only death or life in prison with parole eligibility after 20 years as potential sentences.
Another hearing is set for May 28. For now, Herring will remain in the Mahoning County Jail.
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