CINCINNATI – An angry Joe Deters is blaming a public defender in Columbus for interfering in the resentencing case of serial killer Anthony Kirkland and forcing two defense attorneys to quit.
Jury selection was supposed to begin Thursday, but instead, attorneys Perry Ancona and Norm Aubin told Judge Patrick Dinkelacker that they had to withdraw. Deters, Hamilton County's prosecutor, was riled because the attorneys revealed that Rachel Troutman from the Ohio Public Defender's Office had advised Kirkland that she was trying to get Aubin taken off the case.
Kirkland was originally sentenced to death for killing 13-year-old Esme Kenney and 14-year-old Casonya Crawford in 2009 and 2006, respectively, and burning their bodies.
According to Ancona, Troutman talked to Kirkland about his attorneys in two phone calls.
"We're placed in the ridiculous situation this morning here," Ancona told the judge. Ancona said prosecutors just this week gave him and Aubin CDs of Kirkland's conversations with Troutman. They were calls Kirkland made from the Justice Center almost a year ago on Dec. 15, 2016 and last month on Oct. 10.
"A person he referred to as Rachel Troutman on Dec. 15, 2016, indicated and said she has been working behind the scenes to get rid of Mr. Aubin -- get him off the case," Ancona said in court.
In the second call last month, Troutman used an expletive to describe the two attorneys.
“This person said that Norm and Perry may not necessarily do a good job explaining how Anthony got where he is. I think that's clearly undermining our efforts to work on his behalf,” Ancona said.
Kirkland told the judge he only called Trautman because he couldn't get hold of Ancona and Aubin.
"Your Honor, I haven't been able to contact these dudes -- my attorneys. Made efforts to contact them," Kirkland said. "I tried to put them on my phone list to get their numbers in so I could talk to them. It was always denied. When I seen them in court, it was only for a couple of seconds or a couple of minutes during the time here and then they're off. Other times when I tried to contact them, I sent them letters. I didn't get a response to my letters.
"The only way that I could make contact through them was going through familiar territory where I was at."
Nevertheless, Deters called Troutman's actions "reprehensible" and said he would take action against her.
“This borders on the most reprehensible conduct I've ever seen an attorney do in all my years of practicing law,” Deters said after the hearing. “This was unconscionable for her to interfere and obstruct in this case and we're going to find out what the remedies are.
"I mean, I'm not going to sit back and just let this go by. She clearly was undermining the defense to the point where they can't even represent him anymore? This is a very serious matter.”
Deters wasn't finished. He went off on the Ohio Public Defender's Office and state officials who oppose the death penalty.
“We're down in Cincinnati. We don't pay attention to what goes on in Columbus, and it's my belief that the Ohio Public Defender's Office creates a culture where these attorneys feel enabled to do whatever the heck they want, any means to an end," Deters said.
“Now, we've got 100 jurors waiting and they're being excused because of her behavior. She slandered two very good defense attorneys with Perry and Norm and she needs to be held accountable.
“But, the problem is we've got judges and bar association people that may have some political bent that they don't believe in the death penalty and they enable people to behave like this.
"So, we again, after bringing the family back in, they have to resume all the pain and agony they went through when their loved one was murdered and we've got to do it again because of the behavior of someone from the state public defender's office.
"If you don't want the death penalty, go to the legislature and end it, but this activity in the courts that they're permitted to get away with so many times over and over again is unconscionable. It makes you lose your faith in the system. It really does."
Deters said $250,000 has already been spent on the case and it could take months for new lawyers to get up to speed.
Dinkelacker said he would appoint new attorneys on Monday.
WCPO has reached out to the Ohio Public Defender's Office for comment.
Kirkland was already serving a 70-year sentence for killing two women when he got the death sentence in 2010 for murdering Kenney and Crawford. But the Ohio Supreme Court decided that Kirkland should be resentenced because of a comment by Deters during Kirkland's sentencing.
“So I guess Casonya and Esme are just freebies for him," Deters said at the time. The court found that Deters' comment insinuated that Kirkland would go unpunished for the teens' murders unless he was put to death.
Four of the seven Ohio Supreme Court Justices voted in favor of a resentencing hearing.
“It is improper for prosecutors to incite the jurors’ emotions through insinuations and assertions that are not supported by the evidence and that are therefore calculated to mislead the jury,” the Ohio Supreme Court decision said. "Although the crimes Kirkland is alleged to have committed are horrific, due process requires that a jury be free from prejudice before recommending the death penalty.”
Kirkland's guilt isn't on trial this time around -- just his sentence.
Retired judge Norbert Nadel said this type of hearing is extremely rare. He also said jury selection may take longer than the resentencing hearing itself.
“The prosecution will put on a synopsis and put on the investigators and all that sort of thing,” Nadel said. “It will be done in a brief fashion. (The defense attorneys) have a great hill to climb because of the facts of that case, the horrible facts of the case. They have a horrible, difficult hill to climb -- as they should have.”