COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Supreme Court has voted to allow a convicted serial killer to challenge his death penalty sentence.
Anthony Kirkland was sentenced to death in 2010 for murdering an SCPA seventh-grader and another Cincinnati teen -- the last of his five victims.
Prosecutors argued that without a death sentence, the killings of 13-year-old Esme Kenney in 2009 and 14-year-old Casonya Crawford in 2006 would go unpunished. However, four of the seven state supreme court justices agreed to send the case back to trial court for a new sentencing hearing.
"What's happened now is a Florida case came along that the U.S. Supreme Court heard and overruled the death penalty case, so the Ohio Supreme Court feels that Florida case applies to the Kirkland case," criminal defense attorney Mark Krumbein said. He is not one of Kirkland's attorneys but offered his opinion as a legal expert.
Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Julie Wilson told WCPO the county prosecutor plans to file a response to the ruling. Prosecutor Joe Deters will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to reconsider or offer some clarification on the decision.
"We think the Supreme Court of Ohio may have misinterpreted current law," Deters said. "We are asking them to reconsider."
Kirkland was found guilty of aggravated murder, attempted rape and other charges in the Kenney and Crawford deaths. Before his trial, Kirkland also pleaded guilty to the slayings of two other Cincinnati women, 45-year-old Mary Jo Newton and 25-year-old Kimya Rolison, and received life sentences. He previously served a 16-year sentence for killing his girlfriend.
Kirkland kidnapped Kenney, a cello player at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, as she jogged alone around the Winton Hills reservoir close to her home on Saturday afternoon, March 7, 2009. Her parents had called police when she didn't come right home, and police were already out looking for her when they came upon Kirkland in the woods. He had Kenney's iPod and her watch. They found her body nearby.
At the sentencing phase, the prosecutor questioned whether the killings of the Kenney and Crawford were "just freebies for him."
Prosecutors argued in a 2011 filing with the court that the prosecutor's comment was appropriate because part of the death penalty case against Kirkland was that the girls' killings was part of a "course of conduct" involving four victims.
"The significance is that one of the reasons death was appropriate was the number of victims," William Breyer, Hamilton County chief assistant prosecuting attorney, said in the filing.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger said Kirkland deserved to be re-sentenced because of the prosecutor's remarks.
"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," she wrote.
Justice Paul Pfeifer agreed that Kirkland should be re-sentenced because of the prosecutor's remarks. He also said Kirkland's conviction of attempted rape in the case of Crawford should be overturned for lack of evidence.