Convictions and Death Sentence in 2009 Triple Murder in Canton Upheld
Death-row inmate James Mammone III.
Death-row inmate James Mammone III.
The convictions and death sentence of a Canton man for stabbing and killing his two young children and murdering his ex-mother-in-law were affirmed today by the Supreme Court of Ohio.
In a 6-1 ruling, the court rejected nine arguments from James Mammone III, including that harmful publicity before trial made an impartial jury impossible and gruesome crime-scene photographs were wrongly allowed as evidence at trial.
The decision, written by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, upholds the judgment of the Stark County Court of Common Pleas.
Mammone and Marcia Eakin married in 1998 and had two children, Macy and James IV. In 2008, Mammone discovered that his wife had contacted a lawyer about divorcing him. He threatened her. Charged with verbal domestic violence, he was jailed for a brief time.
Eakin obtained a protection order and moved out. Their divorce was finalized in April 2009, and Mammone was given periodic evening and overnight visitations with the children.
On June 7, 2009, Mammone picked up his 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son at the home of Eakin’s parents. In the late afternoon, he began texting his ex-wife. They exchanged dozens of messages over the next 15 hours. He blamed her for breaking up the family and ruining their lives, among other accusations. She offered to take Macy and James back that night. As the texts became increasingly threatening, she called 911 and drove around looking for Mammone and the children.
In the early morning of June 8, Mammone stabbed his children while they were seated in their car seats in the backseat of his car. He then drove to the home of his ex-mother-in-law. He shot her, beat her, and shot her again. Police arrested him when he returned to his residence.
During the guilt phase of his trial, Mammone’s lawyers did not present a defense. But they did offer evidence and testimony in the sentencing phase. In January 2010, the jury found Mammone guilty on all counts, and the trial court imposed three death sentences on the jury’s recommendation and sentenced him to 27 years for his other offenses.
Mammone appealed his convictions and death sentence directly to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Mammone’s attorneys contended that his trial should have been moved because the jury pool in Stark County was tainted by publicity about the case before his trial. One exhibit presented was a letter, published in the Canton Repository, which Mammone wrote and sent to the newspaper.
“We decline to allow Mammone to benefit from the publicity he created by submitting his own confession to the Repository,” Justice Lanzinger wrote in today’s opinion. “We conclude that the trial court’s denial of Mammone’s motion for a change of venue did not violate his rights to due process and to a fair trial by an impartial jury.”
She also pointed out that potential jurors completed an extensive questionnaire about publicity related to the case, that the court allowed thorough questioning, and that “dozens of potential jurors stated they knew nothing about the case.” Prejudice stemming from the pretrial publicity cannot be presumed in this case, and the outcome of the trial would not otherwise have been different, Justice Lanzinger concluded.
During the trial, crime-scene photos of the dead children in their car seats and their autopsy photos were admitted as evidence. The defense attorneys argued that the photos were unnecessary because Mammone did not deny killing the children, and the state could have proven their injuries and deaths in less graphic ways.
Justice Lanzinger rejected these assertions, explaining that the state had to prove that Mammone purposely killed Macy and James, and the photos were necessary to do that. The value of the photos to the state in proving its case outweighed the possible unfair prejudice to Mammone, Justice Lanzinger wrote.
The court also overruled several other arguments from Mammone, including claims of prosecutorial misconduct, juror bias in favor of the death penalty, and ineffective assistance of counsel.
The court independently reviewed Mammone’s sentence and determined that the evidence supported the jury’s finding of the aggravating circumstances – including the murder of children under 13 years old. Justice Lanzinger concluded that those circumstances “strongly outweigh[ed]” and, in the case of the children, “overwhelm[ed]” factors that might have lessened Mammone’s sentence, such as his childhood abuse, severe personality disorder, strong work history, and other background.
Joining the court’s majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French.
Justice O’Neill agreed with the majority “that Mammone’s convictions must stand.” But he dissented on affirming the death sentence, citing his dissent in State v. Wogenstahl (2013) in which he concluded that the death penalty violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Once again, a case has come before us that challenges my resolve to stay the course regarding the unconstitutionality of the death penalty in Ohio,” Justice O’Neill wrote. “It is incomprehensible how someone could murder his own children while they are helplessly strapped into their car seats.”
“However, as evil as Mammone is, I still must conclude that life in prison without the possibility of ever being released is the appropriate sentence …. The death penalty is both cruel and unusual and I refuse to ratify the taking of any human life in the name of retribution, deterrence, or punishment.”
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