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Jury selection slated in inmate's trial in death of cellmate

Posted at 5:06 PM, Feb 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-29 21:51:54-05

LEBANON, Ohio — Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday for the death penalty trial of an Ohio prison inmate accused of having strangled his cellmate almost two years ago.

The Dayton Daily News reports that the trial comes amid discussion among Ohio lawmakers on capital punishment and an offer from the defendant to accept a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.

Prosecutors rejected the offer from 34-year-old Jack Welninski, who is charged with capital murder in the April 2018 death of 40-year-old Kevin Nill less than an hour after the two were put in a cell together at Lebanon Correctional Institution.

Welninski currently is in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown serving a 69-year sentence for the 2015 attempted murder of a police officer. Nill was serving 18 months for attempted domestic violence. Investigators said at the time that they believe the defendant committed the murder to get transferred to another prison.

A prison official testified Feb. 12 that Welninski used a sharpened toothbrush to stab another inmate and assaulted guards. Jay DeBold, regional special operations commander for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction, also said that despite being in the state’s supermax prison, the defendant had obtained and used razor blades.

Lt. Sean Embleton, who oversees courthouse security in Warren County, has expressed concerns about violence or an escape attempt. “I worry about the length of the trial,” Embleton said during the Feb. 12 hearing. Welninski is to be guarded by four special corrections officers and up to three sheriff’s deputies.

Defense attorneys have called for efforts to avoid prejudicing the jury. Judge Donald Oda II has ordered the prison transport team to dress in “concealed carry uniform” and remove their hats. Welninski's restraints are to be kept from jurors and he will be dressed in street clothes rather than those worn by high-security prison inmates.

Republican House Speaker Larry Householder has questioned whether Ohio should reconsider capital punishment because of the cost and the state's inability to find lethal drugs. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has acknowledged executions are at a standstill due to the drug issue. Ohio's last execution was carried out in July 2018.