Lance Hundley was led back into court Tuesday morning as family members and many of the jurors who convicted him last month watched.
Judge Maureen Sweeney began the sentencing by reviewing Hundley’s case – a brutal murder that claimed the life of Erika Huff in November 2015.
Last month, a jury found Lance Hundley guilty on all counts, including aggravated murder, attempted murder, felonious assault and aggravated arson. That jury suggested a death sentence. Now, it was up to Judge Sweeney if she would take up their recommendation.
“The court finds that the aggravating circumstances in count one outweigh the mitigating factors for proof behind a reasonable doubt. The court, therefore, accepts the recommendation of the jury,” Sweeney said.
Hundley was accused of killing Huff, beating her mom Denise Johnson and then trying to burn their house down to cover it up.
Hundley claimed that the victim’s elderly parents and an unknown third person killed Huff, who was confined to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis. He insisted he did not kill Huff and repeatedly hit her mother with a hammer in self-defense.
Prosecutors said, however, that Hundley concocted the story, hoping to create doubt.
“He beat her, he stomped on her and then he strangled her,” Atty. Dawn Cantalamessa said. “He then had to get rid of the only witness who came to the house — Denise Johnson.”
Kristin Howard, a family friend of Erika’s, read from her eulogy at the sentencing hearing. She said the victim did what she could to overcome the worsening effects of multiple sclerosis, only to lose her life too soon.
“She loved and was loved. She was a loyal and giving mother, daughter, sister, friend, co-worker and neighbor,” Howard said.
In addition to the death penalty, Hundley was also sentenced to 22 years for the attempted murder of Huff’s mother and setting fire to the victim’s home.
Afterward, one of the jurors in the case who didn’t want to be identified said Hundley’s own testimony ensured his guilt but that signing the forms last week recommending the death penalty was difficult to do.
“His story was full of holes. The prosecution was able to just punch it apart,” the juror said. “There is no greater evil than the crimes that he committed, and it was up to us to punish him to the fullest extent of the law.”
For the family, today meant an end to their two-and-a-half year wait for justice. Erika’s brother, Jonathan Huff, said it’s been a longtime coming.
“I mean, you can see him firing attorneys and going around in the circle with this process. Finally, we have closure,” Huff said.
As with all death penalty cases in Ohio, Hundley’s appeal will be automatic.