YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Prosecutors Thursday filed a motion in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court opposing a request by a murder defendant in a cold case to have two extra attorneys appointed to his defense team for an upcoming hearing.
In their motion, Assistant Prosecutors Ralph Rivera and Edward Czopur told Judge Anthony Donofrio they do not oppose the defendant, Bennie Adams, 65, having counsel, but that Adams already has two competent court-appointed attorneys.
They said, “The State does oppose the appointment of four total publicly funded defense counsel for a single hearing in this non-capital case.”
Adams will have a two-day hearing June 12 and 13 before Judge Anthony Donofrio after a federal judge ruled that jurors in his original case may have been tainted by bias because of a past rape conviction.
Adams was convicted in 2008 of the Dec. 29, 1985, murder of Youngstown State University student Gina Tenney, who was from Ashtabula.
Although police at the time thought they had enough evidence to charge Adams for Tenney’s death, prosecutors refused to present the case to a grand jury. Adams was convicted of an unrelated rape in 1986 and spent 18 years in prison.
In 2006 the Tenney case was reopened when Marc Dann, the attorney general at the time, invited police departments to submit DNA in cold cases to be tested. Adams was charged after DNA in the Tenney was submitted to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
Adams was originally sentenced to death by Judge Timothy Franken after a jury recommended the sentence, but that sentence was overturned on appeal and he was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 20 years. He is up for parole again in 2028.
Adams filed a claim in federal court that he deserves a new trial because jurors were biased against him because of his previous rape conviction. U.S. Judge James Gwin ruled in February that Adams was entitled to a hearing to determine if the claims of bias are true.
Although Judge Gwin noted in his ruling that a previous magistrate had found Adams’ claims of bias without merit, a hearing was never held. Because federal law stipulates that a hearing must be held in such circumstances, Gwin ruled that Adams is entitled to a hearing.
Adams’ attorneys submitted an affidavit from a juror who said another juror approached him before they reached a decision on whether Adams should get the death penalty and told him “if it makes you feel any better, Bennie Adams was in prison for 17 years.”
The juror also said in his affidavit that at a dinner afterward with other jurors, a female juror approached him and told him “he had been dying to tell him that Bennie Adams had been in prison for rape for years.”