Wife convicted of planning doc’s murder avoids death penalty
The Associated Press
AKRON — A federal court jury on Wednesday spared a woman the death sentence for hiring her lover to kill her wealthy husband on the Ohio Turnpike two years ago, and instead said she should spend the rest of her life in prison.
Donna Moonda, 48, who was convicted of murder-for-hire earlier this month, quietly cried upon learning her sentence.
Moonda’s attorney David Grant had asked the jury in U.S. District Court not to sentence her to death because she suffers from a personality disorder and because the shooter, Damian Bradford, 26, was sentenced to just 17½ years in prison.
Prosecutors said she had promised her drug dealer boyfriend half of Dr. Gulam Moonda’s multimillion-dollar estate in return for the killing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Barr said Moonda deserved a death sentence because she had her husband killed for the worst possible reason — money.
Moonda was given a private moment with her tearful 77-year-old mother, Dorothy Smouse, after the jury gave its sentence. Smouse was sitting in the backseat of the car when the 69-year-old doctor was shot on May 13, 2005, along the turnpike south of Cleveland.
“This might be the last opportunity for Donna and her mother to hug,” Grant said.
About three hours into their deliberations, jurors asked Judge David D. Dowd Jr. if there was any other sentence they could consider on the charge of murder-for-hire.
Dowd told them there was no other option. Several jurors nodded their heads in understanding. They returned a decision about an hour later.
“Had they had the option, she probably would have been sentenced to less than life without parole,” Grant said.
U.S. Attorney Greg White said afterward that he was pleased with the outcome.
White believed the jury’s decision was influenced by Bradford’s sentence and that he will be out of prison sometime around his 40th birthday.
“Some things are distasteful in law enforcement,” he said of the deal with Bradford.
Bradford, of Monaca, Pa., who met Moonda in drug rehab, testified during Moonda’s trial that he followed the couple from their Hermitage, Pa., home near the Ohio state line and shot the doctor in the side of the head after she pulled over on the turnpike, supposedly to let her husband take the wheel.
Grant said his client was holding up well.
“She’s ready for the next fight,” Grant said of Moonda, who maintains her innocence and will appeal after she is sentenced Sept. 17. Dowd can’t change the jury’s sentence.
A longtime colleague of Gulam Moonda’s said he was satisfied with the jury’s decision.
“Life in prison without parole is a pretty severe sentence,” said Dr. Ravi Sachdeva, a surgeon who worked with the late doctor at Sharon Regional Health System in Sharon, Pa. “I feel sorry for her family. I hope they can get over what she did.”
Sachdeva said the estate that Moonda and Bradford plotted to obtain will go to the doctor’s family and charity.