ELYRIA — Nearly six years after Qiana Walton was gunned down while working the late shift at Gas USA, her killer admitted his guilt.
Vincent Jackson Jr., 33, pleaded guilty Thursday to aggravated murder, murder, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and having weapons under disability.
The three-judge panel hearing the case accepted guilty pleas to all of those charges except for aggravated murder. Under state law, the judges must hear the evidence against Jackson before they can accept that plea because it carries a potential death sentence.
That evidence will come in a hearing March 18 in which prosecutors also will have to convince the judges to accept the capital specification. Over the objections of prosecutors, Jackson did not plead guilty to the capital specification. The judges will have to determine whether to find him guilty of that before they can decide what sentence to hand down.
If Jackson isn’t sentenced to death, he could receive a life prison term.
At the beginning of the hearing, Jackson thanked Lorain County Common Pleas judges James Miraldi, John Miraldi and Mark Betleski for letting him plead guilty.
“I know this case has been going on for quite some time and it caused a terrible burden on both families,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to do the right thing here, trying to accept responsibility.”
Legal wrangling and a stroke Jackson suffered in 2012 while in the Lorain County Jail led to extensive delays in bringing the case to trial. A jury trial was slated to begin last month, but at the last minute Jackson asked to plead guilty to a panel of three judges instead.
But when county Common Pleas Judge James Burge was selected for the panel, Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo objected because Burge had removed himself from all of Cillo’s cases in January. Cillo is the lead prosecutor in the Jackson case.
When Burge refused to take himself off the panel, Cillo and county Prosecutor Dennis Will took the matter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who ordered Burge off the case last week.
Defense attorneys had hoped that Will’s office would agree to let Jackson plead guilty to a life prison sentence, but prosecutors refused to agree to that, citing the wishes of Walton’s parents, who sat quietly in the back of the courtroom during Thursday’s proceedings.
Under Ohio law, the judges will be able to consider Jackson’s guilty plea as a sign of accepting responsibility for his actions if they end up considering a death sentence.
The Elyria police investigation into Walton’s June 14, 2008, slaying determined that Jackson, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, went into the gas station as Walton was closing up for the night and demanded money.
She cooperated, disabling the alarm and handing over $12,000 before he shot her once in the head, killing her instantly. Prosecutors have said they believe Jackson killed Walton because she had waited on him a few days before the robbery and could have identified him.
The killing, which was captured by security cameras, took place less than a month after Jackson had been released from an Illinois prison, where he had served an eight-year sentence for shooting a man in the head in Chicago. The victim in that shooting survived his injuries.
Elyria police arrested Jackson a few hours after the robbery following a brief standoff at his sister’s West Avenue home.
Following Thursday’s hearing, defense attorney J. Anthony Rich said he was glad the case is moving toward a conclusion.
“It was time we wrapped it up,” he said.