December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Plea possible in fatal Gas USA robbery

Attorneys Dan Wightman and J.Anthony Rich talk with their client, Vincent Jackson Jr. A potential conflict with the ownership of a building Rich rents halted activity in the trial while a decision is made. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Attorneys Dan Wightman and J.Anthony Rich talk with their client, Vincent Jackson Jr., last month. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — Vincent Jackson Jr. is expected to appear in court today for a hearing in which he could plead guilty before a three-judge panel to aggravated murder and other charges in connection with the June 2008 slaying of Gas USA clerk Qiana Walton during a robbery.

The hearing follows weeks of wrangling between Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office and county Common Pleas Judge James Burge over whether Burge could serve on the panel.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor ruled Friday that Burge cannot be one of the judges because he previously had removed himself from all cases involving Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo, who is the lead prosecutor in the Jackson case.

Jackson had been scheduled to go on trial last month, but just before jury selection was set to start, he agreed to plead guilty to a panel of three judges, who would decide if he should receive the death penalty in the case.

That hearing never took place because once Burge was selected by random draw, Cillo objected and then asked O’Connor to intervene when Burge refused to get off the case.

The panel now consists of judges James Miraldi, John Miraldi and Mark Betleski.

Will said Monday that his understanding is that Jackson will enter a guilty plea during the hearing today, but the judges won’t hear evidence until later this month on whether to accept the plea. If they do accept the plea, the case’s sentencing phase will take place in April.

The three judges must agree unanimously to impose the death penalty after hearing evidence from Jackson’s lawyers, who will try to convince them a lesser sentence would be appropriate.

But Will said he doesn’t know for certain what Jackson and his lawyers will do during today’s hearing.

“We’ll be prepared to move it forward,” Will said.

The case has been delayed for legal reasons as well because Jackson had a stroke in 2012 while he was awaiting trial in the Lorain County Jail.

“The case needs to be resolved. It’s got to move forward,” Rich said.

But he also said that he couldn’t comment on exactly what his client will do today.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.