Killer’s arguments initially rejected
Thursday, April 28, 2011
A federal magistrate earlier this week recommended rejecting death row inmate Gerald Hand’s latest attempt to have his 2003 murder conviction overturned.
In a 185-page recommendation issued Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Metz rejected or dismissed all 15 points lawyers representing Hand have raised in an attempt to have his case revisited. Defense attorneys had argued among other things that a judge improperly instructed jurors or failed to dismiss improper evidence, and that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence.
They had also argued that Hand’s previous defense attorneys did not mount a competent defense by failing to properly screen jurors and by not seeking out what medications Hand was taking during the trial.
Metz also rejected arguments that death by lethal injection, Ohio’s form of execution, is unconstitutional.
The court had partially granted Hand’s 2007 request to compel members of his previous legal team, including local attorneys Terry Sherman and Richard Cline to testify. That testimony took place in hearings on Feb. 11 and 12, 2010.
However, Metz found that Hand’s defense had been legally sufficient.
Hand’s legal team plans to object to the magistrate’s latest recommendation, Cincinnati-based defense attorney Jennifer M. Kinsley said in Wednesday court filing.
Hand’s lawyers have until June 13 to file those objections.
Once the magistrate makes a final recommendation, Hand’s lawyers will object again, Kinsley said in an email to the Gazette. Once that recommendation is vetted, the U.S. judge that supervises the magistrate will make a ruling.
The latest step in the process could take anywhere from a few months to a year, Kinsley said.
Hand, 62, has been in prison since June 2003. A Delaware County jury convicted him in the 2002 murders of his fourth wife, Jill Hand, 58, and a friend, Walter Welch, 55, and sentenced him to death.
Hand has no current execution date. At one time, he was scheduled to be executed on April 25, 2006, but a judge postponed that date as the appeals process plays out, according to court records. The average death row inmate in Ohio waits 13 years before he or she is executed.
Hand arranged for Welch to kill his fourth wife at the Hands’ Delaware County home, prosecutors argued in 2003. However, he then shot them both, killing them. Hand’s conviction was the first Delaware County death penalty conviction in recent memory.
The A&E cable television network portrayed Hand’s case as “The Black Widower” in 2004. During the trial, witnesses testified Welch had helped Hand kill his first two wives in Columbus. The two men split the resulting life insurance windfall, prosecutors argued.
Delaware County Common Pleas Court, the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court have all either denied Hand’s appeals, affirmed his conviction or otherwise ruled against him a half dozen times since 2005.
Since Hand has exhausted his appeals at the state level, he has turned to the federal courts. Once the U.S. district judge makes a ruling, Hand’s lawyers can take the case to a federal appeals judge and then the U.S. Supreme Court after that.
Other links : 1. http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/PIO/summaries/2006/0118/031325.asp
Court Affirms Convictions, Death Sentence in Galena Double Murder Case
2003-1325. State v. Hand, 2006-Ohio-18.
Delaware C.P. No. 02CRI-08-366. Judgment affirmed.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, Singer, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.
Arlene Singer, J., of the Sixth Appellate District, sitting for O'Connor, J.
Adobe PDF Link opens new window.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion released by the Court, but only for those cases considered noteworthy or of great public interest. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of Court opinions. The full text of this and other Court opinions from 1992 to the present are available online from the Reporter of Decisions. In the Full Text search box, enter the eight-digit case number at the top of this summary and click "Submit."
(Jan. 18, 2006) A unanimous Supreme Court of Ohio today affirmed the aggravated murder convictions and death sentence of Gerald R. Hand for the January 2002 shooting deaths of his fourth wife, Jill Hand, and Lonnie Welch, a longtime friend and former employee who was alleged at trial to be Hand's co-conspirator in the unsolved murders of his first two wives in 1976 and 1979. The Court's opinion was authored by Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton.
On the evening of Jan. 15, 2002, Hand made a 911 call telling police that an intruder at his Galena home had shot his wife and he had then shot the intruder in self-defense. When police arrived, they found Jill dead in the front hall from a single gunshot to the head, and Welch's body in the driveway of a neighbor, approximately 50 yards from the Hands' front door. Welch had been shot once in the face from close range, and had several bullet wounds in his back. A ski mask was found on the ground near Welch's body.
Hand told police that Welch, whom he said he did not recognize at the time, had broken into the house and killed Jill in the front hall. He said he had retrieved two guns he kept in an upstairs bedroom, shot Welch in a downstairs hallway and continued to fire at him as he chased the intruder out of the house and across the yard till Welch fell dead. Hand became a suspect when forensic evidence at the crime scene did not match his description of events, and investigators learned that Welch had been the best man in Hand's wedding and that Hand had severe financial problems but had borrowed to keep paying premiums on approximately $1 million in life insurance policies on his wife.
In subsequent interviews, relatives and a former jail cellmate of Welch's told police Welch had admitted to them that he had conspired with Hand in the murders of both Hand's first wife, Donna, in 1976 and his second wife, Lori, in 1979. Both women were killed in the basement of Hand's home in Columbus while Hand was in conspicuous public places in the company of multiple witnesses. In both cases the house was ransacked but there was no sign of forced entry. Neither Hand, who collected sizable insurance benefits in both cases, nor Welch was ever charged, and both crimes remained unsolved at the time of Jill's murder in 2002.
Based on this and other evidence, Hand was arrested and indicted for the aggravated murders of both Jill Hand and Welch. The indictments included death penalty specifications alleging that the killings were part of a single “course of conduct” in which Hand caused the deaths of two or more persons, and that Hand killed Welch to prevent him from disclosing Hand's involvement in the killings of his first two wives and in the planned murder of Jill.
At trial, the judge admitted testimony by several of Welch's family members and friends about Welch's statements to them admitting his own involvement and implicating Hand in the murders of Donna and Lori Hand. These and other prosecution witnesses were also permitted to testify about alleged recent conversations they had with Welch in which he said he had been offered a large sum of cash to kill “the boss's wife,” and indicated just before he and Jill Hand were killed that he was about to “take care of his business” and collect the money he had been promised. All of this testimony was admitted over objections by Hand's attorneys that it was inadmissible “hearsay,” i.e. testimony by a witness not about what that witness personally saw or heard the defendant do or say, but about what a third party who is not present in court told the witness about the defendant.
The jury also heard testimony by a jail cellmate of Hand's about statements in which Hand had allegedly admitted to the cellmate that his purpose in killing Welch was to eliminate the risk of discovery of his past crimes and to conceal Hand's role in the murder of Jill. In June 2003, a jury convicted Gerald Hand of the aggravated murders of his wife and Welch, and sentenced him to death.
In today's decision the Court rejected all 13 allegations of legal and procedural error by the trial court that Hand's attorneys had advanced as grounds to reverse his convictions or reduce his sentence.
Writing for the Court, Justice Stratton said the trial court applied the correct standard of proof and did not abuse its discretion when it allowed the prosecution to present hearsay testimony about Welch's statements to friends and family members. Justice Stratton cited several exceptions in Ohio 's rules of evidence that authorize trial courts to admit hearsay testimony notwithstanding the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.
She agreed with the trial court's finding that the proffered hearsay testimony in this case was admissible under Evid.R. 804(B)(6), which specifically allows such evidence when a witness with first-hand knowledge of a crime is dead or otherwise unavailable to testify “‘if the unavailability of the witness is due to the wrongdoing of the (defendant) for the purpose of preventing the witness from attending or testifying.'” Noting that the trial court had conducted a pretrial evidentiary hearing to evaluate the state's proposed hearsay evidence, Justice Stratton wrote that “(t)he trial court's preliminary determination that Welch's statements were admissible included a finding that Hand killed Welch to eliminate him as a potential witness. Indeed, Hand admitted to Grimes [his cellmate] that he killed Welch to achieve that purpose (i.e. prevent him from being a witness …). Thus, Hand forfeited his right to confront Welch because his own misconduct caused Welch's unavailability.”
Justice Stratton noted that, under the facts of this case, hearsay testimony regarding Welch's statements was also admissible against Hand under exceptions in Evid.R. 804(B)(3) [statements against the quoted party's interest], Evid.R. 803(3) [statements of intent to take future action] and Evid.R. 801(D)(2)(e) [statements by a co-conspirator].
Among other defense arguments rejected by the Court, Justice Stratton wrote that portions of the prosecutor's closing statement to the jury citing Hand's illegal and unethical business practices and “other acts” not directly related to the January 2002 murders were permissible because Hand had testified in his own defense and the state was therefore entitled to raise questions about his reputation for truthfulness.
COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 2, 2003
Ohio Horror: 1 Man, 3 Dead Wives
Convicted Killer Of One Wife Is Suspected In Two Other Deaths
By Francie Grace
(AP) On a Sunday morning nearly 24 years ago, Lois Willis drove to her daughter's house to help with a cousin's bridal shower. The door was locked, so she left a note and went for breakfast.
An hour later, she returned to find the door ajar, her note on the ground, a stereo playing and no one in sight.
Willis walked through the house calling for her daughter, Lori. She couldn't bring herself to look in the basement.
"The first wife had been murdered there," she said. It was also where an in-law would later find Lori's body.
Last week, Lori's widower, Gerald "Bobby" Hand, 54, was convicted of murder in the deaths of his fourth wife, Jill, and a friend. Though he was charged only in the two Jan. 15, 2002, slayings, prosecutors suspect Hand of having also been involved in the deaths of Lori and his first wife, Donna.
Prosecutors said he was mired in debt and eager to collect on insurance. Hand's defense attorneys said the state lacks evidence to link him to their killings.
During the trial, Hand testified that he heard Jill cry out, saw a figure in the hall and grabbed two .38-caliber revolvers - firing as he rushed from his bedroom. The "intruder" turned out to be longtime friend Walter "Lonnie" Welch.
Hand acknowledged shooting Welch but denied any involvement in the deaths of his wives.
"I did kill Lonnie Welch after he was shooting my wife," Hand testified. "I can't explain why. I feel like I'd do it again if I could."
Prosecutors contended that Hand, owing more than $200,000 on 33 credit cards, shot Jill to collect about $700,000 in life insurance. They say he lured Welch to the house and shot him to keep him from telling people how the two men had successfully plotted to kill Hand's first two wives.
Hand "could eliminate a man who knew too much about the defendant's murderous past," prosecutor David Gormley told jurors.
Hand's first wife was Donna Anderson, whom he met in the late 1960s.
"He had a Corvette, she was kind of smitten with that," said her brother, Steven Anderson.
The couple married in 1968. But around Thanksgiving 1975, Donna wrote her sister Connie, saying she was concerned for her safety and wanted a divorce.
In March 1976, Hand told police he returned from the YMCA one night to find Donna's body in the basement, a plastic dry cleaner's bag over her head and spark plug wire around her neck.
Detectives said she had hung herself, and insurance companies and the state agreed. Hand received $17,386 in life insurance and $50,000 from the state's Victims of Crime Compensation Fund.
Meanwhile, Lori Willis married Hand in 1977. Welch, an on-and-off employee at Hand's radiator shop, was the best man at their wedding.
"She was unhappy and she wanted out of the marriage," said Terri Sizemore, a friend of Lori's.
When Lois Willis couldn't find Lori that Sunday morning in 1979, Hand's mother came over with another son, Samuel, who made the grisly discovery. Police say Lori had been strangled with a plastic dry cleaner's bag and shot twice in the head.
A police detective recalled Hand didn't show much emotion.
"He wasn't crying," Sam Womeldorf said.
Hand collected $81,598 from insurance but was denied a crime-victim claim. It is unclear why. Ten years later, Hand married wife No. 3, Glenna Castle, who left him.
Right around the time of Lori's death, Jill Randolph moved with her husband, Gary, from Clarksburg, W.Va., and raised three daughters. After Gary Randolph died of cancer in 1989, the widow met Hand at a dance. He courted her lavishly, but friends were worried.
"I said, 'Jill, you can do so much better than this,"' said Sandy Moore, 57. "She said, 'But Sandy, I can't help it, I love him."'
In October 1992, Hand married Jill on her lunch break from the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
She was happy at first but seemed to grow sadder, co-workers said. Hand sold his business and was working as a security guard. By early 2002, Jill wanted a divorce.
"I said, 'I know you're going to leave and divorce him,"' Moore said. "And she said, 'I have to."' Jill was dead within a month.
Welch's relatives say he was haunted by the deaths of Hand's first two wives.
A cousin, Pete Adams, testified that in September 1979, "He started crying, and he said, 'I killed Lori and I killed Donna Hand.' He said he did it for Bob."
Another cousin said Welch told him he had sneaked into the house through a basement window and killed both women.
Hand's attorneys say those relatives are repeating media accounts. Attorney Terry Sherman says evidence shows no signs of entry through a basement window, and describes Welch as a cocaine addict prone to irrational acts.
Hand's family declined to comment. Rob Hand, Gerald and Lori's son, has previously said he believes his father is innocent.
At the arraignment last summer, Jill Hand's friend, Sandy Moore, hugged Hand's only surviving ex-wife, Glenna Castle. Moore says she told Castle: "I'm so glad you're alive" and Castle told her: "I only am, because I got out with the clothes on my back and I hid."
Photo : The murderer Gerald Hand