Tuesday, 13 December 2016 09:24

SUPCO Denies Cepec Death Appeal

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A Medina County man serving time on Ohio's Death Row lost in his bid to have his conviction overturned.
 
Steven Cepec appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court his conviction in the 2010 murder of Frank Munz, turning aside all of his claims. All but one justice joined with Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor in the opinion, but Justice William O'Neill dissented on the death penalty sentence. O'Neill has been a vocal opponent of capital punishment.
 
Cepec was convicted of using a hammer to bludgeon and a lamp cord to strangle Munz to death on property where Cepec was staying in a recreational vehicle after he was released from prison on an earlier offense. The trial court denied Cepec's bid to have damaging statements he'd made to police excluded from the trial. The jury found him not guilty of planning the murder, but he was found guilty of murder in the commission of a robbery as well as kidnapping and burglary.
 
When Cepec was first sentenced, an execution date of June 2014 was established but that execution warrant remains on hold pending appeals.
 
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(CourtNews/Ohio Supreme Court) The convictions and death sentence of a former inmate who fled from a halfway house and killed a Medina County man were affirmed today by the Ohio Supreme Court.
 
In an opinion written by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, the Court rejected all the legal claims made by Steven E. Cepec, who was convicted for the June 2010 murder of Frank Munz, a man living near the property where Cepec was staying. Police captured Cepec after responding to a 911 call from Munz’ nephew, who was in the house at the time of the murder.
 
Justice William M. O’Neill voted to uphold Cepec’s convictions but dissented from the imposition of the death penalty.
 
Cepec Stops Periodically at Munz Home to Use Phone
After violating his parole for an earlier offense, Cepec was sent in May 2010 to a halfway house to complete a drug treatment program. On the day he was admitted to the program, he left to go to the hospital but never returned to the halfway house.
 
Cepec and his girlfriend moved from place to place during the following days, sometimes staying in a recreational vehicle parked in a Medina County barn owned by his girlfriend’s father. Cepec had visited the Munz house several times to use the phone.
 
On the afternoon of June 3, Frank Munz’s nephew, Paul, was at home and heard his uncle and Cepec talking. Paul then heard “two loud thumps,” his uncle shouting, someone choking, silence, and panting. After locking himself in a bedroom, Paul heard footsteps around the house, the sounds of a faucet running, and tin cans full of change being emptied. He called 911 when someone tried to open his door.
 
Officers from the Medina County Sheriff’s Office responded to a burglary in progress at the Munz house. A deputy saw Cepec in the garage and ordered him to the ground, but Cepec instead ran into the woods. Officers discovered him hiding in brush and arrested him.
 
Back at the house, police found Frank Munz lying on the kitchen floor. He died from blunt impact to his head, trunk, and extremities inflicted with a claw hammer and from strangulation with a lamp electrical cord. Paul was still in the locked bedroom.
 
Jury Finds Cepec Guilty of Nearly All Charges
Cepec pleaded not guilty to multiple charges. In a hearing, he asked the trial court to exclude certain statements he had made to the police, but the court denied his motion and the statements were admitted during trial.
 
A jury found Cepec not guilty of aggravated murder with prior calculation and design, but guilty of aggravated murder in the course of aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and aggravated burglary, along with other charges and specifications. The jury recommended a death sentence, and the trial court agreed. The court imposed the death penalty for the aggravated murder conviction plus 10 years for the aggravated-burglary conviction and a repeat-violent-offender specification.
 
Cepec filed an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court, which hears all death-penalty cases.
 
Cepec Raises Seven Issues, Including Request for Attorney During Police Interview
The Court reviewed seven claims from Cepec alleging legal and procedural errors from the time of his arrest through sentencing.
 
In one claim, Cepec stated that he asked for, and was denied, a lawyer during police questioning and that his statements made in that interview should have been suppressed at trial. To explain the blood on his pants and shoes, Cepec told the officers during the interview that he discovered Frank lying on the kitchen floor when he went into the house to make a phone call. He denied any involvement in Frank’s murder and suggested the officers test his hands as proof. One detective asked another to get a special light and chemical to check Cepec’s hands for blood. Cepec asked, “Well, before you use it, can I have a lawyer here?” A detective responded that he didn’t think a lawyer was needed for that. Cepec continued to speak to the detectives and deny that he had been involved in Frank’s murder.
 
The detectives never conducted the chemical test, and one detective later testified that the reference to the test was only an interview technique and that they would not have done the test because it was toxic to humans.
 
Chief Justice O’Connor noted that Cepec had been read his Miranda rights before the interview, he had not asked for counsel before then, and he asked for a lawyer only in the context of the discussion about the chemical test, which was never administered. His question was not a general request for a lawyer, the Court concluded, stating that Cepec “did not unequivocally invoke his right to counsel for all purposes of the interview.”
 
The Court also rejected Cepec’s assertions that his lawyers were ineffective, that the trial court should have held a hearing about Paul Munz’s competency, that the trial judge was biased against him, that parts of the prosecutor’s closing arguments and rebuttal amounted to misconduct, and that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
 
Court Conducts Independent Evaluation of Death Sentence
As required by statute, the Court then independently reviewed the imposition of the death penalty for appropriateness and proportionality. Chief Justice O’Connor concluded that the evidence supported the jury’s finding of guilt on the aggravating circumstances that Cepec committed aggravated murder while committing aggravated robbery, while committing aggravated burglary, and after breaking detention by fleeing the drug treatment program.
 
The Court evaluated mitigating factors, such as Cepec’s family history, behavioral disorders as a child, mental-health issues as an adult, and substance-abuse problems. Noting that Cepec’s conduct on the day of the murder confirmed that he knew his actions were criminal, the Court determined the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.
 
In the last step of the independent evaluation, the Court stated that the death penalty in this case was proportionate to other aggravated-murder cases with similar circumstances and affirmed Cepec’s convictions and death sentence.
 
Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French joined the chief justice’s opinion.
 
Justice O’Neill joined the Court in affirming Cepec’s convictions, but dissented from imposing a sentence of death based on his dissent in State v. Wogenstahl (2013). In Wogenstahl, he concluded that the death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Tuesday, 13 December 2016 09:09

ME: Unarmed Alameri Shot 5 Times

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The 26 year old Case Western Reserve University student shot and killed in what is described as a struggle with a Hudson police officer was hit at least five times by bullets.

The Summit County Medical Examiner says autopsy results do not include toxicology tests at this time, but Saif Mubarak Alameri of the United Arab Emirates was shot once in the head, once in the face and three times in the left leg during the incident with police Officer Ryan Doran, a 12-year veteran of the Hudson Police Department. Dashcam video from that day has audio of six shots fired.

Alameri had flipped his vehicle on the nearby Ohio Turnpike then fled the scene on foot; witnesses say he had been "running wildly" when he went into a wooded area along Hudson-Aurora Rd. when Doran found him. In the dashcam video, a dog can also be heard inside the vehicle reacting to the sound of shots fired. 

Alameri was not armed, investigators from Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation report. Doran remains on paid leave.

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(Summit County Medical Examiner) This is a update concerning the death of Saif Mubarak Alameri who was shot during a struggle with a Hudson Police Officer. The autopsy examination revealed a total of 5 definite gunshot wounds. One to the head, one to the face and three to the left leg. Toxicology testing is not completed at this time. There is no other information to release at this time

Monday, 12 December 2016 11:30

Underground Vault Fire Leads To Downtown Outage

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A fire in an electrical vault underneat the Everett Building located at 39 E. Market Street in downtown Akron lead to about 220 FirstEnergy customers sitting without power for about an hour Monday morning. 

According to Akron Fire Department, the fire started just before 7:30 Monday morning. As Akron Fire crews responded, FirstEnergy was called to the building to shut off power. Due to heavy smoke, Mark Durbin with FirstEnergy says crews could not access the vault to shut off power. They were forced to de-energize the nearest substation, which in turn shut off power to roughly 220 downtown FirstEnergy customers, Durbin says. 

As of 10:30 a.m., power to those most all of those customers had been restored. Durbin said power at the Everett Building and two nearby buildings was still affected at that time. 

Akron Fire was still on the scene as of 11:30 a.m., Monday, and power to the Everett Building had not yet been restored. 

Meanwhile, Akron Municipal Court offices closed their operations for the remainder of the day, Monday, as of 10 a.m. In a press release, Akron Municipal Court advised anyone with scheduled court business call the office on Tuesday for rescheduling instructions. 

Stay with WAKR.net for updates on this story. 

Sunday, 11 December 2016 11:46

Fire Funeral Services Set For Monday

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The four members of a family killed in last weekend's fatal fire on East Tallmadge Avenue will be remembered and laid to rest Monday in a service at Akron's Celebration Church.

Celebration Church is on Dan Street. The church is holding visitation from 4:00 to 7:00 Monday followed by a Celebration of Life from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

37-year old Omar Riley, 34-year old Shirley Wallis and their two daughters, nine year old Aniyla and eight year old Shanice Riley all perished in the blaze December 3 which started in the back of their rented home.

Akron firefighters couldn't find evidence of any smoke detectors in the home.

A 12-year old daughter of Wallis', Shaniya, is recovering from her burns and injuries at Akron Children's Hospital. Akron firefighters pulled her from the fire and brought her back to life.

Another woman living in the home, Jennifer Grubbs, escaped by getting out of the burning house from a second floor window.

Sunday, 11 December 2016 11:38

Akron Man Dies In Copley Crash

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An Akron man is dead following an early morning crash on South Cleveland Massillon Road in Copley.

The State Highway Patrol reports the one-vehicle wreck happened just north of N. Sunnyfield Drive. 32-year old Darrelle Fisher of Pine Knolls Drive, Akron, was behind the wheel when the vehicle went off-road and hit a utility pole. Fisher was thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead on the scene.

A passenger, 22-year old Shaquilla Thomas of Akron, was also injured in the accident and taken to Akron General with non-life threatening injuries. Troopers say she was only wearing a lap belt and didn't have the shoulder strap in use.

"Driver impairment" is suspected.

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(OSHP) Copley Township- The Canton Post of the Highway Patrol is investigating a one vehicle fatal crash that occurred on Saturday, December 10, 2016 at 00:29 A.M. on South Cleveland Massillon Road just north of N. Sunnyfield Drive.

Darrelle Fischer, age 32, of 750 Pine Knolls Drive, Akron, Ohio was operating a 2002 Pontiac Montana northbound on South Cleveland Massillon Road. Fischer had a right front passenger who was identified as Shaquilla K. Thomas, age 22, of 746 Baird Street Akron, Ohio. The investigation determined Fischer's Pontiac traveled off the right side of the roadway and struck a utility pole just north of N. Sunnyfield Drive. After impact, Fischer was ejected from the vehicle.

Fischer sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased on scene by the Summit County Coroner's Office. Fischer was subsequently transported to the Summit County Coroner's Office.

Thomas sustained non-life threatening injuries and was transported to Akron General Hospital by Copley Fire Department. Thomas was only wearing a lap belt and wasn't utilizing the shoulder strap provided. The crash currently remains under investigation. Driver impairment is suspected in the crash.

Sunday, 11 December 2016 11:33

Norton PD Officer Suffers Minor Injuries

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A Norton police officer is recovering from minor injuries suffered when the cruiser he was in was hit by another vehicle while on a traffic stop.

Norton Police Chief John Delassandro issued a statement saying the officer was on I-76 westbound near Medina Line Road at 4:00 a.m. Saturday when he was hit by a vehicle driven by a female motorist. Both were injured and transported to local hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. 

The incident remains under investigation.

Friday, 09 December 2016 17:04

Phillips Denied Clemency Recommendation

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The Akron man who's been on death row since 1993 may have just over a month left on earth. 

The Ohio Parole Board today recomended no clemency for Ronald Phillips, who first began serving his sentence 23 years ago after he was convicted of the rape and murder of his then-girlfiend's three year old daughter. 

The crime was horribly brutal; an autopsy found "severe trauma" in the death of Sheila Marie Evans, including damages to her internal organs and more than 120 bruises over her tiny body. Prosecutors said the injureis reflected several hours of a severe beating, then rape, before she died days after she was hospitalized.

The recommendation now moves to Governor John Kasich, who hasn't been receptive to considering Phillips' case in the past. Barring any last-minute court appeals, Phillips will die by lethal injection on January 12, 2017 in the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville, Ohio.

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(Summit County Prosecutor) Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh announced today that the Ohio Parole Board voted to recommend convicted murderer Ronald Phillips be denied clemency. Phillips' clemency request and the Board's recommendation now go to Ohio Governor John Kasich, who makes the final decision to grant or deny clemency.

In 1993, a Summit County jury found Phillips, then 19, guilty of Aggravated Murder, Felonious Sexual Penetration and three counts of Rape. In January of that year, Phillips brutally assaulted and raped three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans. Evans died as result. Among her injuries were severe trauma to her internal organs and more than 125 bruises to her face, torso, arms, legs and genitalia.

"Phillips brutally beat and assaulted Sheila Marie over several hours. She suffered for days before dying from her injuries. Phillips deserves the ultimate punishment for what he did," said Prosecutor Walsh. "This is the third time the Ohio Parole Board has denied Phillips clemency. My hope is that Governor Kasich follows the Parole Board's recommendation and denies Phillips clemency and gives peace to Sheila's family."

In its recommendation against clemency, the Board cited several reasons, and again called the repeated beating and rape of Sheila Marie Evans "clearly among the worst of the worst capital crimes."

Phillip's execution is scheduled for January 12, 2017.

Friday, 09 December 2016 06:46

UPDATE Orrville PD Looks For Missing Woman

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UPDATE Orrville police reported this afternoon Ralston had been found safe and returned to her home.

Previous coverage:

Orrville police hope you'll help find a woman missing since Wednesday night. 55-year old Patricia Ralston suffers from mental disabilities, last seen walking on Hostetler Road. She's described as white, 5'4", about 150 pounds.

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(Orrville Police) A Missing Adult Alert has been issued by the Orrville Police Department for Wayne County.

Information as of: December 8, 2016 at 8:17 PM

Be on the lookout for a missing adult. On December 7, 2016 at 8:30 PM, Ms. Ralston left her residence and failed to return.

The incident took place in Wayne County, OH On Hostetler Road in the city of Orrville.

The adult's name is Patricia Ralston and the individual is missing. The adult is a White female, age 55, is 5'04 tall, weighs 150lbs, and has brown hair and brown eyes. Mr. Ralston suffers from mental disabilities.

Call or dial 911 if you see the adult. You can also call 1-866-693-9171 or 911 to be transferred directly to the investigating law enforcement agency or to hear the alert information.

Thursday, 08 December 2016 11:34

The Buchtelite Halting Publication

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"The Buchtelite," the independent student newspaper of the University of Akron, will halt publication starting next semester, according to a press release today.

Information provided says that with two of the paper's nine editors graduating and four more either studying or working abroad, the paper simply cannot operate with the remaining staff. It's the second time in less than three years the paper has gone on hiatus.

Temporary advisor of the paper, Val Pipps, says they're looking to hire someone who can select and manage a staff so that when they are back up an running they don't run into the same issues.

Below is the press release from The Buchtelite:

The Buchtelite, the 127-year-old independent student newspaper of The University of Akron, will suspend publication at the beginning of next semester, marking the second time in less than three years that the paper has gone on hiatus.

“The Buchtelite is important to the University, it’s important to the school,” said Theodore Avtgis, director of the School of Communications since July 1 of this year. “We will seek out alternatives to keep the paper alive for next semester.”

But with two of the paper’s nine editors graduating, and another four going out of the country to either work or study, it is unclear how long this suspension will last.

The paper’s current temporary adviser, Val Pipps, is leading the search for a new adviser next semester, who will be able to reconfigure the paper for what will likely be a full comeback in the fall of 2017.

“We’re looking for someone who will be able to hire a staff, work with that staff, and also sort things out on the organizational side of the paper so that, when it does come back, it won’t run into these same problems again,” Pipps said.

The Buchtelite is an independent student newspaper, which further complicates the matter of its continuance. Without any clear and established oversight, it falls into a “sort of no-man’s land,” as described by one of the paper’s former advisers, Roger Mezger.

Because general oversight (i.e., accounting) falls to UA’s Student Affairs, and the School of Communication hires and pays the adviser, neither entity is totally invested in the paper, Mezger added.

The Buchtelite’s status as independent also means that it does not receive any funding from the University itself, but relies only on revenue generated by its own business staff.

This business staff has not had any sort of professional guidance since 2013, when an Accounts Coordinator, who was a part-time University employee and managed the business side of the paper, left after a dispute with her superiors, according to a document from Mezger.

Two other factors have contributed to The Buchtelite’s funding issues: the University-wide cutbacks under former President Scott Scarborough in fall of 2015, which caused several key UA employees, who had an interest in keeping The Buchtelite running, to leave; and a changing media landscape in general, in which people turn more toward national, digital media and less toward local print media.

UA’s student newspaper, in short, does not make enough money to continue publication in the same form, nor generate enough incentive to have a steady, secure business and editorial staff.

“This year, it was difficult for us, a staff with over a year of experience, to even run the paper because, to say it simply, people don’t care very much,” managing editor Logan Lane wrote in an emailed statement. “The paper is treated as a campus novelty, something that needs to be kept alive because [people] feel like it should be. There’s no faculty or departmental effort to monitor or even keep the paper running.”

When The Buchtelite does return, it could be in a different format than the current one, which publishes two print issues per week and maintains a website.

One option, which many other college newspapers have taken up, is to go entirely online. Another option is to retain a print format, but reduce the numbers of issues per week and change the style of the printing.

Another possibility is for the paper to align with the University’s other student media, WZIP and Z-TV, which would act as a sort of organizational umbrella, one of whose functions would be publishing a newspaper.

More important possibilities regard the paper’s funding and editorial model, according to Pipps. Though it is now independent from the University, The Buchtelite could drop this status and merge into the College of Business Administration (for business and advertising) and the School of Communication (for an editorial staff and writers), becoming a laboratory enterprise for experiential learning.

Currently, only Buchtelite editors are paid; all writing and photography contributions come from volunteers. So unlike other area universities with a student newspaper, including Ohio State, Kent State and Youngstown State, communications students at UA are not required to contribute to The Buchtelite.

“I would say that that was the main problem this year,” said News Editor Kristina Aiad-Toss. “It’s very difficult to get students to volunteer their time and effort when they’re already involved in so many other things.”

If the paper were to become an experiential laboratory, some such problems might disappear.

“I’m saddened to hear [the news],” said UA Dean of Students Michael Strong, who worked for a student newspaper when he was in college. “As a member of our community I read The Buchtelite and I look forward to seeing it.”

Ashley Ritter, a senior public relations student who infrequently reads the paper, says she thinks it important nonetheless.

“I like that students can get experience [in writing for] publications, and I think a lot of students enjoy seeing what their peers are thinking about,” Ritter said.

Chris Horne, editor of Akron’s main cultural newspaper, “The Devil Strip,” expressed a similar sentiment.

“Student-run publications are always at risk because of attrition,” Horne wrote in an emailed statement, “[but] I’m usually going to side with there being more voices [in the community], not fewer…I think this is a loss to our community but I’m hopeful it isn’t a permanent loss.”

John Zipp, president of the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, has often added an important perspective to various Buchtelite articles over the past two years.

“An engaged student press is an extremely important voice for students, and I hope that The Buchtelite comes back even stronger in fall 2017,” Zipp said. “With limited resources, I think that the paper has repeatedly produced well-done…articles.”

Those interested in joining The Buchtelite staff when it does return, or who in any other way have comments or questions regarding the newspaper, may direct their inquiries to Professor Val Pipps at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thursday, 08 December 2016 05:19

UPDATE Missing Medina Man Sought

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UPDATE Medina police update the story; Lane returned home and is safe.

Previous coverage:

Medina police issuing a Missing Adult Alert late last night; they're looking 82-year old Edgar Lane, last seen on Liberty Street around 3:00 Tuesday afternoon. He was last heard from in a phone call a few hours later. Lane suffers from Dementia and other health issues.

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(Medina PD) A Missing Adult Alert has been issued by the Medina Police Department statewide.

Information as of: December 7, 2016 at 10:01 PM

Be on the lookout for a missing adult. On December 6, 2016 at 3:00 PM, Mr. Lane left his residence and hasn't returned. His last contact by phone was on 12/6/16 at 6:30 PM.

The incident took place in Medina County, OH On Liberty Street in the city of Medina.

The adult's name is Edgar Lane and the individual is missing. The adult is a Black male, age 82, is 6' 03" tall, weighs 220 lbs., and has black hair and brown eyes. Mr. Lane suffers from Dementia, other health issues and may be in need of medication. Law enforcement is concerned for his safety.

Call or dial 911 if you see the adult. You can also call 1-866-693-9171 or 911 to be transferred directly to the investigating law enforcement agency or to hear the alert information.

To view photographs, visit the Endangered Missing Adult Alert website at: http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Law-Enforcement/Local-Law-Enforcement/Missing-Adult-Alert

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