ELYRIA — Convicted killer Neil Simpson spat in the face of a juror before launching into an expletive-laden tirade as he was hustled out of the courtroom Monday — the first day of a hearing in which jurors will decide whether or not he should receive the death penalty for the 2007 shooting death of Granny D’s Pizza owner David Kowalczyk.
When he returned to court later Monday, Simpson’s head and face were covered in a mosquito netting-like “spit mask.”
“I was unhappy with the verdict,” Simpson said to Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski. “I told you before I didn’t kill that man.”
Simpson also told Betleski that he meant to no disrespect to the court or the deputies charged with courthouse security.
After he was removed from the courtroom earlier, Simpson told deputies something similar, Lorain police Detective Steyven Curry testified. As soon as he was out of the courtroom, Simpson immediately calmed down, Curry said.
That was proof, Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said, that Simpson had planned to spit on jurors, who returned guilty verdicts on aggravated murder and other charges in March.
Just before Simpson walked toward the witness stand, a route that took him directly past the jury, Betleski had asked him if he wanted to make a statement from the table where he and his attorneys were sitting or from the witness stand.
Simpson, who was wearing a jail uniform and shackles at his own request, said he wanted to speak from the stand and was walking past the jury when he turned and spat directly into the face of a juror. Spittle appeared to hit another juror as well, but defense attorney Mike Camera said only one juror told Betleski he had been hit.
As soon as the spit left Simpson’s mouth, which drew a shocked gasp from many in the courtroom, deputies grabbed him and forced him out of the room.
“I don’t think his outburst helped his case,” Camera said later.
Betleski later called each juror into a private meeting with himself and attorneys in the case to discuss whether they could remain fair and impartial. He said all 14 jurors — 12 who made the decision to convict Simpson during his March trial and two alternates — said they wouldn’t let the incident affect their judgment.
Betleski rejected a request from Simpson’s other attorney, David Doughten, to declare a mistrial.
“The general law is the defendant cannot take an action and then claim that action as a reason for mistrial,” Camera said.
Betleski also said that Simpson would not be allowed in the courtroom when the hearing resumes today. Instead, Simpson and Camera will watch the proceedings from the county jail and communicate with Doughten via telephone.
Betleski said he couldn’t rely on Simpson’s assurances that there would be no further trouble during the hearing. He said he also factored homemade knives found in Simpson’s cell a few weeks ago into his decision to bar Simpson from the courtroom.
Simpson’s outburst also cost him several witnesses who had been expected to testify on his behalf. Doughten said several of Simpson’s family members and friends had been prepared to testify about the difficulties he’s faced in life, including his limited intelligence. Those people no longer wanted to testify, Doughten said, and Simpson no longer wanted them to.
Instead, Simpson’s only witnesses will be two mental health experts who have examined Simpson and determined that he suffers from antisocial personality disorder, which is also commonly referred to as sociopathic personality disorder or psychopathy.
A videotaped deposition of Simpson’s aunt also will be played for the jury, Doughten said.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will declined to comment on the incident or whether Simpson will face charges for spitting on the juror.
This isn’t the first time Simpson has created controversy since his arrest in connection with the Granny D’s murder and three other Lorain robberies in June 2006.
He has also demanded that the charges against him be dropped and he be given $170,000 from the county in exchange for not suing prosecutors, Betleski and police. He also has asked for a week-long conjugal visit with his wife and that Cillo take over as his defense lawyer.
None of those requests has been granted.