Lawyers discuss capital charges, jail housing for defendant in Struthers boy’s murder

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Even if a jury convicts Brandon Crump of murder with death penalty specifications, he will not receive the death penalty

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Brandon Crump is indicted on death penalty specifications for the September shooting death of a 4-year-old Struthers boy.

Yet, if he is convicted by a jury, even with those death penalty specifications, he will not receive the death penalty, lawyers said Thursday. The statements were made during the first pretrial in the 18-year-old’s aggravated murder case for the Sept. 21 shooting death of Rowan Sweeney in Struthers and the wounding of four other people.

Crump, 18, was originally charged as a juvenile with aggravated robbery in the case. His case was bound over to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court as an adult on the aggravated robbery charge after a preliminary hearing. After he turned 18, he was indicted for Sweeney’s death with death penalty specifications.

However, lawyers in the case and Judge Anthony D’Apolito each said Thursday that even if Crump is convicted with the specifications, he can not be put to death because the state Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles can not receive the death penalty or life in prison with no parole.

Because the crime happened when Crump was 17, that rule would apply to him.

Judge D’Apolito said the state legislature is expected to codify that rule later this month.

The most severe penalty Crump can receive is 24 years to life in prison.

One of Crump’s court-appointed lawyers, Lou DeFabio, said he is considering filing a motion to withdraw the capital specifications from the case, but Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa said if such a motion was filed, she would object.

Cantalamessa said her office wants to keep the specifications even though she knows Crump can not receive the death penalty. She said she wants the process the jury has to follow to stay the same for Crump as it does for the other man in custody for Sweeney’s death, Kimonie Bryant, 24.

Bryant turned himself in shortly after Sweeney was murdered and is facing death penalty specifications also.

A third defendant, Andre McCoy, 21, also faces capital charges for the boy’s death, but his status is unclear. He was shot in the head in the attack that also wounded three others and his medical condition is not clear. He has yet to be arraigned.

If a jury found Crump guilty of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, a second phase of the trial, a mitigation phase, will be held. Typically in a mitigation phase, defense attorneys try to convince jurors to spare a defendant from the death penalty by presenting evidence of factors in a defendant’s life to keep them from receiving the death penalty.

It is not clear how a mitigation phase would work for a defendant who can’t be put to death even if found guilty, but DeFabio said he needs to find a mitigation expert to interview Crump in case that phase of the trial is held.

Attorneys are prohibited on specifics of the case because of a gag order.

Police said Sweeney was killed after Bryant, Crump and McCoy stormed into the Perry Street home in Struthers of Sweeney’s mother Sept. 21 to rob her boyfriend of his stimulus check.

Judge D’Apolito also said he is weighing appointing Jeff Kurz, who was Crump’s attorney in juvenile court, after Kurz receives his certification to engage in defense of death penalty defendants. In the meantime, a second attorney, Ed Hartwig, will join DeFabio. Both are certified to act as counsel for death penalty defendants.

Cantalamessa said she would also object if Kurz is appointed because two court-appointed attorneys should be sufficient in a death penalty case.

“It’s a waste of taxpayer’s money,” she said.

Judge D’Apolito said he has not made up his mind but one of the reasons he is considering the move is to make sure no issues can be raised on appeal that there was not enough defense lawyers. He also said the state has unlimited resources and can have as many attorneys as they wish work on the case.

“This is not the usual capital case because we had someone bound over as a juvenile,” Judge D’Apolito said.

Kurz also asked the judge is his client can stay in the juvenile pod of the jail to keep away from people who have threatened his client, including a person he described as an “associate” of Bryant’s.

Cantalamessa said that Crump is now 18 and he should be held in the adult portion of the jail in general population. She also said defense counsel has not told prosecutors who may be threatening their client.

Judge D’Apolito did not make a decision, but told defense attorneys to file a motion asking that Crump remain where he is and prosecutors will have a chance to respond. He said he is inclined to having Crump go in the general population with special protection by corrections officers, but he would like to hear the arguments first.

A new trial was also being picked. Crump was originally scheduled to be tried in May. Bryant will be tried in September.

Bryant’s mother and Crump’s girlfriend are also facing tampering with evidence charges in the case.

Crump, McCoy and Bryant face charges of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications; four counts of attempted murder and felonious assault; aggravated robbery; aggravated burglary; and conspiracy.

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