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Jacob LaRosa asks judge for his release

Filing comes as convicted murderer awaits decision from appellate court

Staff file photo / R. Michael Semple Convicted murderer Jacob LaRosa, right, whispers into the ear of his attorney David Rouzzo while listening to testimony during the second day of his mitigation hearing before Judge W. Wyatt McKay on April 6, 2018.

WARREN — The 20-year-old Niles man who was sent to prison in 2018 for killing his elderly neighbor in 2015 has hired a new lawyer who is asking the Trumbull County judge who sentenced him to release him.

A court filing this week for Jacob LaRosa, 20, shows that a Cincinnati attorney, Stephanie F. Kessler, is asking Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay to vacate the sentencing and conviction. LaRosa’s attorneys also had appealed to the 11th District Court of Appeals to overturn his conviction. Oral arguments took place last fall and the appellate court has not reached a decision yet.

LaRosa was 15 when he killed Marie Belcastro, 94, in her Cherry Street home and McKay sentenced LaRosa to a life-without-parole sentence after the defendant pleaded no contest to aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and attempted rape.

In the appellate hearing, defense attorney Lynn Mauro argued that Juvenile Judge Sandra Stabile Harwood erred in transferring LaRosa’s case to adult court.

“The trial court’s sentence foreclosed the possibility of change and rehabilitation” for LaRosa, Mauro had stated.

In her petition to McKay, Kessler is challenging the validity of LaRosa’s no-contest plea and the sentence that was imposed Oct. 12, 2018. She also is questioning the competency of the public defenders in his case.

“Even during the mitigation (sentencing) phase (of the case), the brutality of the crime took precedent over the lackluster mitigating evidence presented by Jacob’s trial counsel,” Kessler wrote.

In another filing, Kessler wrote the court records related to LaRosa’s case are voluminous — 1,510 pages of transcripts and more than 55 trial court filings spanning almost three years.

“The result of which is a voluminous body of meaningful mitigating evidence, a substantial amount of which was never presented to (McKay),” Kessler wrote.

Kessler charged that LaRosa’s trial counsel was “deficient,” depriving him of his Sixth Amendment right.

In arguments before the 11th District Court, Mauro gave a history of LaRosa’s developmental difficulties as a boy, saying he had an “extremely low” IQ of 64 at age 8 and had started receiving counseling. He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, oppositional-defiant disorder and other disorders by age 9.

During the hearing, Ashleigh Musick, Trumbull County assistant prosecutor, noted that LaRosa was “offered almost every possible opportunity for rehabilitation and failed each and every step of the way.”

McKay, like the appellate court, has not made a decision on the defense appeal.

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