December 13, 2017
The former Perry Township man who was sentenced to death row for a Mentor woman’s rape and murder will get a new trial.
The Ohio Supreme Court has refused to reconsider its previous decision that reversed Joseph Thomas’ convictions.
Thomas was found guilty in 2012 for the death of Annie McSween.
The 49-year-old victim’s body was found on Nov. 26, 2010, in a wooded area outside of Mario’s Lakeway Lounge in Mentor-on- the-Lake, where she worked as a bartender.
Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulson said he is disappointed the high court did not grant his request to reconsider the case.
“In my opinion, the court’s reasoning for reversal was both factually and legally flawed as pointed out in our motion for reconsideration,” Coulson said. “Now we will have to retry the case.”
A new trial date before Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard L. Collins Jr. had not yet been scheduled.
Thomas will remain in prison until trial, the prosecutor said.
After Thomas was convicted, Collins chose to adopt the jury’s recommendation of death rather than downgrade the sentence to life in prison. In a 4-3 vote in October, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence and ordered a new trial be scheduled for Thomas.
The Lake County Prosecutor’s Office then filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the high court’s majority neglected to fully analyze the issues, confused legal standards and failed to use its own law, instead “cherry-picking cases from outside Ohio” to make its decision.
McSween was strangled and stabbed multiple times in the neck and back on Black Friday. The power lines to the bar had been cut, and McSween and two other women had their tires slashed.
Thomas has maintained his innocence and claimed he had no motivation to commit the crime.
Although Thomas had frequently been seen carrying a blue pocketknife before that night, it was not recovered during the criminal investigation. At trial, prosecutors introduced five other knives Thomas owned, describing them as “full Rambo combat knives.”
Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote the court’s lead opinion, which determined the trial court committed plain error by admitting those five knives that prosecutors knew were not used in the crime into evidence. The majority found a reasonable probability that the error affected the outcome of the trial, and that reversal was necessary to prevent a manifest miscarriage of justice.
“The state claims that the Court has ignored Ohio cases on this evidentiary issue, in favor of cases from other jurisdictions. That is a false and unfair accusation,” Thomas’ appellate lawyer Timothy F. Sweeney argued.
The three dissenting justices found the prosecution presented substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict independent of the admitted knife evidence.