YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A hearing will be held later today in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to find out if the attorneys who represented a man whose murder conviction was overturned last month will represent him when he is retried.
Judge Anthony Donofrio held the hearing for James Jarrell, 39, whose 2018 convictions on charges of murder, tampering with evidence and receiving stolen property for the stabbing death of his stepmother in her West Side home were overturned June 22 by the Seventh District Court of Appeals.
At the hearing Tuesday, Judge Donofrio appointed Lou DeFabio, who filed Jarrell’s appeal, as his new trial counsel. A new trial date has not been set yet.
The appeals court said that the trial court erred when not allowing Jarrell to introduce evidence of battered child syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder as a mitigating factor during his trial and sent the case back to Judge Donofrio to be retried.
Jarrell was convicted before Judge Lou D’Apolito, who has since retired. The case was sent back to Judge Donofrio because he assumed Judge D’Apolito’s seat on the bench.
Judge D’Apolito sentenced Jarrell Oct. 16, 2018, to 19 years to life in prison for the July 7, 2015, stabbing death of 55-year-old Tina Jarrell in the kitchen of her Wellington Avenue home on the West Side.
The original case was delayed several times, as Jarrell tried to commit suicide at the county jail and also had an evaluation done to determine if he was competent to stand trial. Prosecutors, meanwhile, said he was malingering and simply did not want to go to trial.
Jarrell also tried twice to fire his attorneys before trial and both times Judge D’Apolito ruled against him.
Defense attorneys told jurors during opening statements that Jarrell and his stepmother both used drugs and that when the defendant was younger she had sexually abused him. He said the day she was killed, the victim and James Jarrell were both going to use drugs again but a heated argument ensued, then a struggle and Tina Jarrell wound up dead.
Prosecutors countered by telling jurors Jarrell used the cash he took from the victim to buy drugs and was seen on video using her credit cards at several gas stations and that even though he was covered in blood, he washed his hands before he left the crime scene.
Jarrell appealed his convictions and while the appeals court ruled in his favor on the PTSD issue and ordered his conviction overturned, the court found two other claims raised by his lawyers to be without merit.
His original trial counsel was defense attorneys Ron Yarwood and Andrew Zellers.