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New sentencing hearing set in murder case

Judge determined 14th Amendment rights violated in 2002 trial

WARREN — A Trumbull County Common Pleas judge will have to resentence a man convicted of murdering a Howland man in 2001 because a federal judge has agreed that state courts violated Nathaniel Jackson’s constitutional rights.

U.S. Judge James S. Gwin of Northern Ohio District has ruled that Jackson was denied the opportunity to present updated mitigation evidence during his 2012 resentencing.

Jackson, 48, was convicted in 2002 of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary in the Dec. 11, 2001, shooting death of Robert Fingerhut at his Howland home. Fingerhut was married to Donna Roberts, who was charged with complicity to Jackson’s crimes. Both Jackson and Roberts received the death penalty.

All executions in Ohio are currently on hold after Gov. Mike DeWine declared a moratorium for 2021 due to the controversy over lethal injections and the lack of the state finding an appropriate, lethal drug.

Jackson is in Chillocothe Correctional Institution, while Roberts is incarcerated in the Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville.

Common Pleas Judge Ronald J. Rice said he will hold off scheduling resentencing for Jackson for at least 30 days in case the prosecution appeals Gwin’s ruling. The Trumbull County Prosecutor’s office did not return a call seeking comment.

Gwin’s action is the latest bid for Jackson to be resentenced, which began back in 2006 when Jackson sought disqualification against the trial judge — the late Judge John Stuard.

After a series of motions and decisions, Jackson won a resentencing hearing on Aug. 14, 2012, before Stuard. During this hearing, Stuard denied Jackson’s motion to introduce additional mitigating evidence but allowed him to make a statement. After the hearing, Stuard resentenced Jackson to death.

Upon Stuard’s retirement in January 2013, Judge Rice inherited the Jackson case.

After further appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld Stuard’s resentencing of Jackson.

In 2018, Jackson moved to the federal court for relief after he exhausted all his state-court remedies.

In his petition for relief at the federal level, Jackson raised 37 claims, only one of which Gwin agreed with — that the state courts denied Jackson’s eight and 14th Amendment rights.

“At Petitioner’s 2012 resentencing, the trial court constitutionally erred by not considering ‘any new evidence that Jackson had proffered in favor of a sentence of less than death,”’ Gwin wrote.

Trial evidence revealed Jackson shot Fingerhut just two days after being released from prison. On Dec. 11, 2001, Fingerhut was found dead on the kitchen floor of his home, shot several times.

Roberts had lived with Fingerhut, who operated the Greyhound bus terminals in Warren and Youngstown, at the Howland Township home. The evidence also disclosed Fingerhut owned two life insurance policies totaling $550,000, both of which named Roberts as sole beneficiary.

At some point, Jackson began an affair with Roberts. While Jackson was in Lorain Correctional Institution, he and Roberts exchanged numerous letters and telephone conversations, many of which were recorded by prison authorities. Passages from the letters and calls indicated the two plotted to murder Fingerhut.

In one letter, Jackson wrote: “Donna, I don’t care what you say, but Robert has to go! And I’m not gonna let you stop me this time.”

In December 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court announced it has declined to review the decision by Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals that upheld Robert’s conviction and death sentence.

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