COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday morning for and against the conviction and death penalty sentence in the appeal of a man who was sentenced to death for shooting and killing Twinsburg police officer Josh Miktarian during a traffic stop around 2 a.m. July 13, 2008.
Miktarian, 33, who was on the Twinsburg Police Department for 11 years and was a 1993 graduate of Tallmadge High School, was married to Holly Miktarian, a former Oakwood police officer, and they had an infant daughter, Thea.
Miktarian made the traffic stop at the intersection of state Route 91 and Glenwood Drive because of loud music and suspected drunk driving. Driver Ashford L. Thompson, then 23, whose girlfriend Danielle Roberson was in the passenger seat, pulled into the driveway of his former home on Glenwood.
Miktarian called for back-up and approached the car. When Miktarian was handcuffing Thompson to place him under arrest, they struggled. Thompson had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and he pulled his gun during the arrest and shot Miktarian four times, according to court testimony.
Miktarian's K-9 partner Bagio was locked in the police cruiser as Miktarian struggled with Thompson. (Afterwards, Bagio was retired from the police department and lived with Miktarian's wife and daughter. He was later diagnosed with cancer and, when complications arose, he was euthanized in April 2011.)
The couple then drove off, leaving Miktarian on the ground. Within two minutes of the traffic stop, a neighbor called 911, saying she heard popping noises outside. Miktarian was shot once through the forehead and three more times through the side of his head as he was lying on the ground.
The couple then drove to Thompson's sister's home in Bedford Heights where Roberson tried but failed to remove the handcuffs Miktarian had placed on Thompson.
Thompson's sister, Bridget Robinson, took the gun from Thompson and put it on the stove. Bedford Heights police arrested Thompson at his sister's home within an hour of the shooting. Miktarian was taken by Life Flight to MetroHealth Medical Center where he died.
At Thompson's trial, although she had the option of reducing his sentence to life in prison, Summit County Common Pleas Judge Elinore Stormer went along with the jury's death penalty recommendation for Thompson, then 25. The official sentencing came less than two weeks after the jury, needing only three hours of deliberation, recommended Thompson get the death penalty.
Two of the nine charges for which he was convicted carried with them death penalty and firearm specifications. Thompson was sentenced to death on June 23, 2010. He is currently on death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
On Aug. 23, 2010, the capital case was stayed by the state trial court to await a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Arguments before the court were carried live online from the Ohio Supreme Court from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Public defender Rachel Troutman spoke on behalf of Thompson and the Summit County Prosecutor's office was represented by Assistant County Prosecutor Richard Kasay.
According to the Ohio Supreme Court's summary, Thompson's attorneys argue that 18 legal and procedural errors were made during his trial, and those errors are grounds for the court to reverse his convictions and death sentence.
According to the summary, among the arguments his attorney likely will make in court are that "...prosecutors challenged an African-American woman in the jury pool because of her race. The juror implied that she may have been the holdout in a hung jury in a case she served on 15 years earlier, and prosecutors asked to remove her for that reason. Thompson's attorneys contend that the judge did not sufficiently evaluate whether the prosecutors' race-neutral reason for challenging this juror was actually a pretext for dismissing her because she was African-American, indicating that she would not be able to impartially consider the state's case against Thompson, who is African-American."
In addition, "...Thompson initially pleaded guilty to the charges in this case, but then withdrew his plea and pleaded not guilty. His attorneys quote the questioning of one juror, who indicated that people in the jury pool were aware of and discussing Thompson's initial guilty plea. Thompson's attorneys argue that some jurors may have heard about his prior plea after they were selected for the jury. This knowledge may have tainted the jury and violated Thompson's constitutional rights to an impartial jury and due process, they conclude."
Prosecutors argue that "...two African-Americans served on Thompson's jury of twelve. They counter that Stormer did properly evaluate the reason the state challenged the African-American woman who had served in an earlier criminal trial. The judge concluded that the state believed the woman had held out for an acquittal in the prior trial and the state properly asked to dismiss the juror for that race-neutral reason, the prosecutors argue."
In addition, prosecutors contend "...that Thompson's attorneys have shown no evidence that anyone on the jury knew about his initial guilty plea. The prosecutors also assert that Thompson cannot prove, as required, that if the court made an error related to this issue the outcome of the trial would have been different. As a pretrial publicity issue, Thompson must show that one or more jurors were actually biased against him because of this knowledge, and the state argues he cannot demonstrate this bias."
In a related matter, Roberson and Robinson were arrested on May 1, 2012. They each pleaded guilty to attempted obstruction of justice in January 2013. On Feb. 6, 2013, Roberson and Robinson were sentenced for their roles in helping Thompson.
Roberson was sentenced to six months house arrest and given two years probation. Robinson was sentenced to two years of probation. Both also admitted lying to police that night.