XENIA — Watching families split the courtroom, listening to emotional testimony, weighing evidence and arguments of attorneys — Greene County residents did this and more inside jury boxes this year.
Here’s a look at five jury trials the Gazette covered in Greene County Common Pleas Court in 2019, and the verdicts that were returned.
5 – State of Ohio vs. Dustin S. Cochran
Jurors took two hours May 22 to find Dustin Cochran, 24, guilty in what was described as the most heinous non-fatal crime ever seen in Greene County. Judge Michael A. Buckwalter handed down the maximum sentence — 36 years — to Cochran for kidnapping, felonious assault, endangering children and domestic violence.
Testimony revealed that over four days in August 2018, Cochran tortured a victim inside a Fairborn residence in front of two young children. The state alleged that Cochran fired a handgun at the victim’s head and assaulted the victim using various objects, leaving the victim head-to-toe injured.
Assistant Prosecutor Bill Morrison described the violence as “terror.” Buckwalter described the “four days of horror” as “pathologically torturous and evil.” Defense Attorney Griff Nowicki argued that there was no DNA evidence on the weapon and that there was no evidence of the weapon having been fired.
4 – State of Ohio vs. Kathy J. Smith
A jury found driver Kathy Smith, 65, guilty Jan. 31 in the OVI-related crash that killed driver Raymond Deyo and injured his wife Linda Deyo, both 68 of Bowersville. The two-car crash happened on Hussey Road in Caesar Creek Township on Aug. 27, 2016.
Smith was convicted of two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, two counts of aggravated vehicular assault, and operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Judge Stephen A. Wolaver sentenced her to seven years in prison and suspended her license for life.
Assistant Prosecutors Cheri Stout and David Morrison argued that Smith’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .343 and her verbal admittance to having had wine — coupled by her car’s estimated speed, bad weather and unsafe tire tread — proved she was intoxicated and driving recklessly. The legal limit for driving in Ohio is .08.
Defense Attorney Peter Certo argued that Smith’s BAC test result was inaccurate and impossible — a “false positive” — and that there was no evidence of recklessness.
3 – State of Ohio vs. Justin D. Reeves
Justin Reeves, 33, of Fairborn, will spend 10 years to life in prison for the rape of a child younger than 13. A jury deliberated for more than eight hours in the case, returning two guilty verdicts Aug. 15 and remaining “hopelessly deadlocked” on the other 13 charges.
Both the victim and the defendant took the stand during the trial, answering questions about the alleged incidents that happened in a Fairborn home in 2017 and 2018.
Attorneys told the jury that it all came down to credibility, Bill Morrison calling it a “he-said, she-said” case. Defense Attorney Adam Arnold argued that there was no physical evidence or eye witnesses and the window of time was too broad.
If released, Reeves will be subject to supervision and must register as a Tier III sex offender for life.
2 – State of Ohio vs. Kali N. Christon
The murder of a 6-week-old baby in a Fairborn home was the center of the trial for accused Kali Christon, 23, in July. Christon is now serving 15 years to life in prison for the March 8, 2018 incident in which the infant suddenly “went limp.”
Medical evidence played a major part in the three-day trial, with the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office identifying the brain bleeding as consistent with blunt force trauma. Dr. Kelly Liker, chief of division of child advocacy at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said a torn frenulum — as found in the baby — is often indicative of force-feeding a bottle or pacifier to keep a baby from crying, and the hemorrhages in the eyes were consistent with injuries caused by shaking a baby.
Nowicki argued that others could have harmed the baby during the few minutes the defendant was away from the child, and that the defendant desperately tried to resuscitate the child. Assistant Prosecutor David Hayes said justice was served for the baby and baby’s mother.
1 – State of Ohio vs. Tova I. Wallace-Lee
The families of two young Xenia women came together in a courtroom April 25 for the sentencing of one of them.
A jury returned guilty verdicts for Tova Wallace-Lee, 21, for fatally stabbing Tre’Ana Tarver, 19, on Nov. 3, 2018 in Xenia.
The two women exchanged Facebook messages all day planning the physical fight that would happen that night in Wallace-Lee’s backyard on East Church Street. Wallace-Lee admitted to stabbing Tarver in the chest with a kitchen knife, testimony revealed.
Wallace-Lee was the first person in Greene County to claim self-defense in a murder trial since a law change went into effect the previous month. Up until March 28, if a person claimed self-defense in Ohio, the burden was on them to prove it. The new law shifts that responsibility to prosecutors.
Tarver was a Xenia High School graduate, studying chemistry as a Central State sophomore. Wallace-Lee has begun her 15-years-to-life term in prison for murder and felonious assault.
Other noteworthy cases
Jacob Pflanzer, 29, was acquitted Sept. 25 of charges alleging that he sexually assaulted a woman in a Yellow Springs home on April 8, 2018. Pflanzer was on trial facing four counts of rape and one count of gross sexual imposition. The 22-year-old victim took the stand to describe the alleged violent assault, explaining that the sex was non-consensual; the defense argued that it was consensual. A jury deliberated for around three hours before finding him not guilty of all charges.
Zyrian S. Atha-Arnett, 26, of Enon was indicted and pleaded not guilty in Common Pleas Court Nov. 21 to the murder of 26-year-old Leonid “Lonya” Clark of Yellow Springs. The case began as a missing persons investigation in February when Clark’s family reported him missing to the Yellow Springs Police Department, and later became a homicide investigation when Clark’s body, with multiple stab wounds, was found on the banks of the Little Miami River just west of Grinnell Road in April. Atha-Arnett is being held on a $900,000, no 10 percent bond. A jury trial is currently scheduled for Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.
Call 947-502-4498 or follow Anna Bolton, Reporter on Facebook.