Tue., 10:02am: High court vacates death sentence in Howland murder

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court today vacated the death sentence of a Trumbull County woman for the second time and returned the case to the trial court for a second re-sentencing.

The Supreme Court held that the trial court did not consider potentially mitigating information that death-row inmate Donna Roberts provided at her re-sentencing hearing, which was held by the trial court following the Supreme Court’s first ruling in this case.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote that the trial court must consider the entire record, including Roberts’ allocution made during the re-sentencing hearing in the remanded case, when determining whether the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case arose from the murder of Robert Fingerhut of Howland. Roberts lived with Fingerhut, who was her former husband and who operated local Greyhound Bus stations. Fingerhut owned two life insurance policies, with a total benefit of $550,000 and naming Roberts as the sole beneficiary.

At some point while living 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.

Jackson also was sentenced to death and is appealing his own case.

Roberts’ statements at the second sentencing included information that was relevant to mitigation, O’Connor wrote, including comments 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.