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Inmate found guilty of murder in Warren County death penalty trial

Posted at 4:59 PM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-06 16:59:08-05

LEBANON, Ohio — A prison inmate accused of strangling his cellmate at Lebanon Correctional Institution in April 2018 is headed for the death-penalty phase of his murder trial, the Journal-News reports.

The jury found Jack Welninski, 34, guilty of aggravated murder while at the prison outside Lebanon after just over an hour of deliberations Friday.

Welninski was found guilty of the aggravated murder of Kevin Nill, 40, of Piqua, an hour after they were put together in a cell in April 2018 and within four weeks of when Nill was to be released from prison.

Welninski used a bandage intended to immobilize his broken arm to strangle to death Nill, who was serving a short prison sentence for attempted domestic violence.

After the verdict was read, Welninski waived his right to a presentence investigation and mental examination.

RELATED: Warren County trial begins, despite death penalty questions in Ohio

During final arguments, Assistant County Prosecutor Carrie Heisele told the jury Welninski requested Nill be his cellmate at the prison.

Once together in the cell, Heisele said Welninski told Nill to look out the window and then strangled him with a bandage used to secure a broken arm.

John Kaspar, Welninski’s lead lawyer, urged the jury to look beyond the facts of the case and also hold the State of Ohio accountable for death.

“This is an institutional failure,” Kaspar said. “If Jack is guilty so too is the State of Ohio, so too is Lebanon Correctional Facility.”

Kaspar also urged the jury to recognize life in prison is different than for them.

Then Assistant County Prosecutor Steven Knippen said Welninski was guilty as charged, even if the scenario described by Welninski’s lawyer was accurate.

RELATED: Warren County moves toward death penalty plea sought by inmate

“The defendant showed absolutely no remorse. This was just one big joke to Jack Welninski,” Knippen said.

Welninski murdered Nill to get transferred to another prison, even threatening to kill again unless he was moved, Knippen added.

“It was just a means to an end,” the prosecutor said.

The verdict sends the case into the second phase, during which prosecutors and Welninski’s lawyers make cases for and against the death penalty.

If convicted on the capital charge, Welninski - already expected to remain in prison until Nov. 22, 2112 - could be sentenced to 20, 25 or 30 to life in prison, as well as life without parole and the death penalty.

Welninski is already scheduled to serve more 92 years in prison for attempted murder of a police officer, felonious assault, carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a firearm in a liquor establishment in Wood County.

Oda told the jury to return Tuesday.

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO 9 News.