One juror. That’s all Bobby L. Cutts Jr. needs to spare his life. A single juror who votes against the death penalty. After a weeklong break, Cutts’ aggravated murder trial resumes Monday with the penalty phase.
That’s all Bobby L. Cutts Jr. needs to spare his life. A single juror who votes against the death penalty.
After a weeklong break, Cutts’ aggravated murder trial resumes Monday with the penalty phase.
On Feb. 15, a Stark County jury convicted the former Canton, Ohio, police officer of murder for the death of Jessie M. Davis and two counts of aggravated murder for the death of Davis’ unborn daughter.
Now, the 12-member panel must recommend sentences on the two counts of aggravated murder. They have four options: Death, life without parole, life with parole eligibility after 30 years and life with parole eligibility after 25 years.
The burden to prove Cutts, 30, should die remains with county prosecutors, but most of the testimony likely will come from defense witnesses.
In the trial’s first phase, the jury has found aggravating circumstances, namely: Cutts killed two or more persons; he committed aggravated murder in connection with an aggravated burglary; and the viable fetus was a victim under the age of 13. Davis was just weeks shy of giving birth when Cutts killed her, and the child could have survived on its own at that point, doctors said.
The prosecution has to prove that an aggravating circumstance by itself outweighs all mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
Those factors include the “nature and circumstances of the offense,” the defendants’ “history, character and background,” lack of a prior criminal record, age and any other factors.
Defense teams hire experts to comb through a defendant’s background looking for information that might convince a jury to choose a life sentence. Mental health problems. Troubled family life. Victimization.
Parents and siblings of the defendant, psychologists and other professionals often are called as witnesses.
It’s not clear who Cutts’ defense will call to the stand. A gag order prevents both sides from talking publicly about the case.
The rules of evidence are relaxed when it comes to presentation, and the defendant can make an unsworn statement to the jury.
If the jury recommends death, the case isn’t over. Common Pleas Judge Charles E. Brown Jr. has to reach his own conclusion based on the evidence, although it is rare for a judge to go against the jury’s decision.
But a single juror can veto the death penalty. The judge is then bound by one of the life sentences selected by the jury, although he can run it consecutively with other charges. The minimum term Cutts can get is a life term with a chance at parole in 25 years.
Death sentences are automatically appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Last year, Stark County had two death penalty trials. In the first, the jury said Edward L. Lang III, 19, should die for killing two people during a robbery involving a drugs and money. The second trial, that of 20-year-old Justin L. Lucas, resulted in the jury choosing a sentence of 30 years to life. Lucas killed a man during a robbery.
Reach Repository writer Shane Hoover at (330) 580-8338 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org