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Court Upholds Hughbanks Convictions, Death Sentence

2000-0057. State v. Hughbanks, 2003-Ohio-4121.
Hamilton App. No. C-980595. Judgment affirmed.
Moyer, C.J., Resnick, F.E. Sweeney, Pfeifer, Petree, Lundberg Stratton and O'Connor, JJ., concur.
Charles R. Petree, J., of the Tenth Appellate District, sitting for Cook, J.
Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/newpdf/0/2003/2003-Ohio-4121.pdf

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(Aug. 20, 2003) The Supreme Court today affirmed the convictions and death sentence of Gary Hughbanks Jr. for the 1987 aggravated murders of William and Juanita Leeman of Springfield Township in rural Hamilton County.

The court voted 7-0 to reject all 15 allegations of error by the trial and appellate courts raised by attorneys for Hughbanks, who was convicted of the double homicide in 1998 after it had remained unsolved for more than 10 years. Hughbanks, who was arrested and questioned by police in Arizona in 1997 based on evidence brought to police by family members, ultimately confessed that he had cut the throats of both Mr. and Mrs. Leeman when they surprised him in the act of burglarizing their home.

Among propositions of legal error overruled by the justices were claims that, even though he waived his rights to remain silent and have the advice of a lawyer, Hughbanks's confession should have been suppressed by the trial court because his past history of psychiatric illness and recent use of psychotropic drugs required that police have him examined by a mental health professional before concluding that he was competent to knowingly and voluntarily give up his rights.

In a decision written by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, the court rejected that argument, noting that Hughbanks had been in jail for seven days prior to his confession and had not taken any mind-altering drugs during that time. It also said tape recordings of Hughbanks's lie detector test and later statement to police indicate that he was alert and responsive to police questioning and was not suffering from any apparent mental problems.

" (T)he police officers had no obligation…to supply Hughbanks with a lawyer or consult a psychiatrist prior to questioning him," wrote Justice Pfeifer, "nor did their failure to do so impact the voluntariness of his confession or the waiver of his Miranda rights."

Hughbanks's lawyers also argued that the trial judge allowed the prosecutor to prejudice the jury during the sentencing phase by improperly cross-examining a defense psychiatrist, Dr. DeSilva, about Hughbanks's past incarcerations, acts of domestic violence and failure to support his children.

The court held that defense attorneys had opened the door to cross examination on past incarcerations by asking the witness's opinion about whether Hughbanks's mental disorder was "inherent," or could be explained by drug and alcohol use alone.

"(T)he state could properly cross-examine Dr. DeSilva about Hughbanks's behavior in the controlled setting of a prison environment, after the effects of drugs or alcohol had worn off," wrote Justice Pfeifer. Similarly, Pfeifer said the defense's direct questioning of De Silva about an occasion when Hughbanks struck his mother "opened the door to cross-examining (him) about domestic violence."

While ruling that the prosecutor's questioning of Dr. DeSilva about Hughbanks's lack of financial support for his children was "irrelevant and tended to portray Hughbanks in a negative light," Justice Pfeifer held that such testimony "was isolated and of minor significance given the gravity of the offenses charged against Hughbanks…(and) did not result in outcome-determinative plain error."

Judge Charles R. Petree of the 10th District Court of Appeals sat in the case in place of former Justice Deborah Cook.

Michael K. Allen and William E. Breyer, 513.946.3006, for the state of Ohio.

A. Norman Aubin, 513.421.7500, and Herbert E. Freeman, 513.381.8115, for Gary Hughbanks