December 20, 2014

Elyria
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UPDATED: Three-judge panel sentences Vincent Jackson Jr. to life in prison

Vincent Jackson Jr. reacts to his sentencing with attorneys Dan Wightman, left, and J. Anthony Rich on Wednesday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Vincent Jackson Jr. reacts to his sentencing with attorneys Dan Wightman, left, and J. Anthony Rich on Wednesday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — Vincent Jackson Jr. will spend the rest of his life in prison for gunning down Qiana Walton during a 2008 robbery, a three-judge panel ruled Wednesday.

Jackson, 33, who could have received a death sentence in the case, appeared relieved by the decision. He will not be eligible for parole.

Walton’s family was largely stoic as the decision was announced.

“It’s over,” Robert Walton, Qiana Walton’s father, said as he and his family left the courtroom, but he otherwise declined to comment.

The decision to let Jackson live was not unanimous among the panel. Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Miraldi, along with Judge John Miraldi, voted against a death sentence, while Judge Mark Betleski disagreed.

Jeanunnatta and Robert Walton II, the parents of Qiana Walton. react Wednesday to Vincent Jackson Jr. sentencing verdict at the Lorain County Justice Center

Jeanunnatta and Robert Walton II, the parents of Qiana Walton. react Wednesday to Vincent Jackson Jr. sentencing verdict at the Lorain County Justice Center

Jackson shot Qiana Walton once in the head with an AK-47 on June 14, 2008, while robbing Gas USA, where she worked as a clerk. Jackson fled the store with about $12,000 in cash, but was arrested at his sister’s nearby home hours later following a standoff with police.

Although Jackson apologized to Walton’s family during a statement Tuesday, prosecutors have argued that he wasn’t remorseful. Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo has said Jackson called Walton a “b—-” after shooting her.

“There was no disagreement among us as to how terrible the tragedy was and how unnecessary it was,” James Miraldi said.

But the two Miraldis found that the mitigating evidence presented by Jackson’s defense attorneys detailing his troubled childhood and mental health issues outweighed the circumstances of the crime. Jackson’s plea to the charges against him was also considered an expression of remorse, another factor the judges were able to consider.

James Miraldi said their reasoning would be spelled out in more detail in a written opinion April 21, when Jackson will be formally sentenced. The judges all declined additional comment following the hearing.

During the hearing, Miraldi said serving on the panel a “very sobering experience.”

Defense attorney Dan Wightman said he and fellow lawyer J. Anthony Rich were “confident, but still concerned” going into Wednesday’s hearing to learn their client’s fate.

Wightman said he felt they had presented a good case about how problems in Jackson’s life led him to where he was. He also said that his client had been ready to plead guilty and accept a life prison sentence, but prosecutors refused that offer.

“He didn’t really want to fight this case,” Wightman said.

Jackson eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and other charges, but refused to do so on the capital specifications that carried the potential death sentence. The panel of judges found him guilty of the specifications following a one-day trial last month.

Rich said he didn’t want to say much about Wednesday’s decision because, despite getting the outcome he was seeking, the case remained a tragedy.

“I don’t want to say anything more out of respect for the Walton family,” he said. “This is nothing to gloat about. It’s nothing to be happy about.”

County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he felt the nature of Jackson’s crimes warranted the death penalty, which is why his office had pushed for it. But he also said the decision has been made and there is no appeal.

“I do not have to agree with any court’s decision, but I do have to accept it and abide by it,” he said.

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