Still set to die

Hiding her face in her hands and sometimes ducking behind her attorneys to prevent photographers from getting her picture, Donna Roberts was sentenced to death for the third time Wednesday in the same murder case.

The 69-year-old former Howland woman and the only female on Ohio’s death row, Roberts appeared to clap her shackled hands together after Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice completed his 23-page findings of fact and conclusions of law ordering the execution.

Rice inherited the case from former Judge John M. Stuard, who retired in 2012 and died soon after retirement and after sentencing Roberts to death for a second time.

The Ohio Supreme Court sent the case back to Rice with orders that he give specific consideration to Roberts second allocution – Roberts’s speech to the court before sentencing – that included claims that she grew up in a very abusive household, was raped by a cousin, had been injured and hospitalized after three serious car accidents, suffered from depression, attempted suicide and experienced hallucinations.

Stuard failed to state in his written opinion that he considered Roberts’ spoken remarks.

But Rice noted: “With confidence and respect to Judge Stuard, he would not have acknowledged consideration of the oral statements, including the allocution, had he not, in fact, considered the same.”

The murder case arose from the murder of Robert Fingerhut, who operated Greyhound bus terminals in Warren and Youngstown. Roberts lived with Fingerhut, who was her former husband. Fingerhut owned two life insurance policies, with a total benefit of $550,000 and named Roberts as the sole beneficiary.

At some point while living in an Avalon Drive home with Fingerhut, Roberts had an affair with Nathaniel Jackson. In 2001, Jackson was sent to prison. During his imprisonment, Roberts and Jackson talked by phone and exchanged letters.

Those conversations and their correspondence, monitored by prison authorities, revealed that they planned to murder Fingerhut and served as key evidence for the prosecution during trial.

In December 2001, Jackson was released from prison. Roberts picked him up from prison, and spent that night and most of the next few days with him. Two days after Jackson’s release, Fingerhut, 57, was shot to death at home.

Jackson was convicted of murdering Fingerhut and was also sentenced to death.

Wednesday, Rice spent considerable time analyzing the different points Roberts discussed in the allocutions given at the 2003 capital murder trial and then at the second sentencing after the case was sent back when the Supreme Court said Stuard wrongly drafted his sentencing memorandum with a prosecutor’s help.

”Roberts allocution centered on two salient points. First, she pointed out inconsistencies in the evidence and testimony as she perceived them. Second, she drew attention to the differences between her trial and the trial of Nathaniel Jackson, claiming racial inequities,” Rice said.

The judge pointed out how Roberts took issue with her jury, claiming is wasn’t a jury of her peers. She said she worked for a plastic surgeon for 25 years and she lived in Miami for 27 years. She traveled around the world. Roberts was critical of the makeup of the jury, calling them white, too young and lacking life experiences.

She also was critical of portrayals in the newspaper regarding facts in the case.

”Roberts pointed out she was earning $200,000 annually and the insurance policy of $250,000 was not enough to seduce her to murder Mr. Fingerhut,” Rice said.

Insisting on the allocution, rather than mitigating evidence – because she said taking an oath was against her religion – Roberts pledged her love for the victim and ended her allocution with the instruction for the jury to ”do the right thing.”

Rice also went into great detail over Roberts second allocution and in explaining how aggravating circumstances still outweighed whatever mitigating factors could have been gleaned from the allocutions.

Roberts’ attorneys withdrew a last minute motion asking Rice for a continuance in the re-sentencing, arguing that the travel from death row in the women’s prison in Marysville and her time in Trumbull County Jail would prevent her from getting the medical treatment she needs for unspecified ailments.

Assistant county prosecutor Chris Becker, who originally tried the case, told reporters afterward that Rice was very thorough in his review of the case.

”Hopefully this finally brings a quick end to this case and her (Roberts’) life,” Becker said.

cbobby@tribtoday.com