Supreme Court won’t hear Roberts’ appeal

Howland woman is Ohio’s only condemned female killer

Tribune Chronicle file photo / R. Michael Semple Donna Roberts talks about her life in prison during a Sept. 20, 2007, hearing in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Roberts, 73, is the only woman on Ohio’s death row and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear her appeal.

COLUMBUS — The U.S. Supreme Court says it won’t hear an appeal by Ohio’s only condemned female killer, Donna Roberts of Howland.

Roberts was convicted of planning the killing of her ex-husband, Robert Fingerhut, in their Howland home in December 2001 with a boyfriend in hopes of collecting insurance money.

The high court on Feb. 20 rejected Roberts’ request to review the case.

Roberts’ death sentence was struck down in the past after the Ohio Supreme Court said a prosecutor improperly helped prepare a sentencing motion in her case. The court also said a judge hadn’t fully considered factors that could argue against a death sentence.

The court last year once again upheld the death sentence for Roberts, 73, who argued the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits a judge who sentences someone to death to be different from the judge who presided over the case at trial.

In the spring of 2014, Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Ronald J. Rice, who was appointed to the case after the retirement and subsequent death of Common Pleas Court Judge John Stuard in 2013, resentenced Roberts to death.

The state court ruled the substitution did not deny Roberts the ability to present mitigating evidence at sentencing or to have it considered by sentencer.

The case arose from the murder of Fingerhut, who operated Greyhound bus terminals in the Mahoning Valley. Roberts lived with her former husband in an Avalon Drive home in Howland. At some point, Roberts had an affair with Nathaniel Jackson, who was sent to prison in 2001. During incarceration, Jackson and Roberts exchanged letters and phone calls. Prison authorities had monitored this communication, which revealed a murder plot and served as key evidence during their trials.

Jackson was released in December 2001, with Roberts picking him up at the prison. Two days after Jackson’s release, Fingerhut, 57, was shot to death at the home.

Jackson was convicted of murder and also sentenced to death.