CINCINNATI - An Ohio death row inmate should get a new trial in the shooting death of a 3-month-old boy, a divided federal appeals court panel ruled Monday.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision found that John Drummond was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial when a judge cleared the courtroom during testimony. Drummond was convicted in 2004 of aggravated murder for the slaying of the baby, Jiyen Dent Jr., in a drive-by shooting in Youngstown. Prosecutors said Drummond, now 36, was a gang member who had meant to kill Jiyen Dent Sr., firing 11 shots with an assault rifle into Dent's home in 2003.
The judge said during the trial that he was closing the courtroom during some testimony because there had been disturbances involving spectators, and that some witnesses felt threatened.
The appeals panel's 2-1 decision, upholding a U.S. District Court judge's ruling, said there hadn't been sufficient reasons shown for the trial judge's action.
"The trial court demonstrated neither an overriding interest nor a substantial reason to close the courtroom," wrote Judge R. Guy Cole Jr., joined by Judge Richard Allen Griffin. The ruling stated there was nothing in the case record to show why any witnesses felt threatened, "or if they had any grounds whatsoever for their ostensible concerns."
The judges said although the courtroom was closed only for some testimony, they had "no means to order that a small portion of Drummond's trial be redone. Thus, the most appropriate remedy is a new trial."
Judge Raymond M. Kethledge disagreed, writing that the trial judge "offered serious reasons for the closure and tailored its scope in rough proportion to them."
The state could appeal to the full appeals court and to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We are reviewing the decision and we should have a determination on how we plan to proceed by the end of the week," said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Contact the reporter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell