ELYRIA — Lorain County Probate Judge James Walther has scrapped his plan to become certified to work on death penalty cases.
Walther, who was scheduled to take the Ohio Supreme Court training next week, said Wednesday that once he became certified he planned to put his name in the pool of county judges eligible to serve on the three-judge panels that decide capital cases when a defendant waives a jury.
But Walther said the Supreme Court told him that if he became death-penalty qualified his name also would be included on the list of judges that would be assigned to oversee death penalty cases even before they make it to trial.
“It’s their opinion that you’re either in or out,” Walther, who also serves as the county’s presiding judge, said.
Walther said his court, which doesn’t include a staff attorney, a court reporter or a bailiff, isn’t really set up to oversee a complex criminal matter like a death penalty case. He does handle most of the criminal nonsupport cases in the county.
He said if he were to take on a capital case and it did end up going to jury trial — which typically last for weeks when a potential death sentence is on the line — he would have to put his other responsibilities on hold. That’s something he said he’s not willing to do.
“I’ve decided, and the other judges agreed, that it’s best I don’t take those kinds of cases,” Walther said.
That means Walther’s name will not be in the mix on April 15, when he is slated to select a three-judge panel to sit on the trial of Clarence Adams III set to begin later this month. Adams, who is one of two men facing aggravated murder and other charges for the 2012 beating death of Lamar “Mark” Taylor in Lorain, waived his right to have a jury decide his fate Monday.
At the request of Adams’ attorneys, Walther and county Common Pleas Judge John Miraldi agreed to delay selecting the other two judges who will sit with Miraldi until Walther was certified.
Common Pleas Judge James Burge also has been eliminated from the pool based on a ruling in a separate capital murder case by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor earlier this year.
O’Connor determined that since Burge has removed himself from involvement in cases being handled by Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo, he couldn’t serve on a three-judge panel for admitted killer Vincent Jackson Jr. Cillo works as a prosecutor on all of the county’s death penalty cases.
Burge has said he agreed with Walther’s decision to take him out of the pool because of O’Connor’s order.
Adams has requested that Walther roll dice to select which judges will serve on the panel. Walther had used playing cards when selecting judges in the Jackson case, but Adams said Monday he views the use of cards as “child’s play with my life on the line.”