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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court Upholds Conviction and Death Sentence of Cincinnati Man

Image of death-row inmate Mark Pickens

Death-row inmate Mark Pickens.

Image of death-row inmate Mark Pickens

Death-row inmate Mark Pickens.

The Cincinnati man convicted for the 2009 murders of a girlfriend, her 9-month-old son, and a 3-year-old child will remain on death row, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In an opinion written by Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, the court affirmed the decision made in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas to convict and to impose a sentence of death for Mark Pickens.

Pickens and Noelle Washington started dating in February 2009. Washington visited Pickens at his apartment on the morning of May 31, 2009. About 90 minutes later, she stumbled out of his apartment and yelled for help. After a neighbor called 911 for her, Washington told police that Pickens had raped and beaten her.

The next morning two police detectives went to Pickens’ apartment to talk to him. There was no answer, so the detectives left a business card in the door asking Pickens to call them.

That evening Washington was at home with her son, Anthony Jones III, and a friend’s child, Sha’railyn Wright. Shortly after 11 p.m., Washington texted Sha’railyn’s mom that Pickens had come into her apartment through her kitchen but had left. Concerned, Sha’railyn’s mom said she wanted to pick up her daughter. When she arrived, though, she found Washington and the two children had been shot.

Pickens was arrested and pled not guilty to multiple charges. However, a jury found him guilty of the aggravated murders of Washington and the two children. The murders included specifications allowing the death penalty for committing multiple murders, for murder to escape accountability for another crime (rape), and for the murders of two children under the age of 13. Pickens was also found guilty of rape and weapons charges. The trial court sentenced him to death.

In today’s decision, the Supreme Court rejected Pickens’ claims challenging the questioning of potential jurors, the dismissal of three possible African-American jurors, surveillance video from Pickens’ apartment complex, and the admission of hearsay statements by Washington’s friends and family about the rape, among other arguments.

Justice Pfeifer did note that the prosecutor committed misconduct by mentioning the penalty phase in closing arguments during the guilt phase of the trial. However, the trial court provided clarifying instructions to the jury and explained that statements made during closing arguments are not evidence, Justice Pfeifer wrote. In overruling this claim, he concluded that overwhelming evidence of Pickens’ guilt was presented at trial and that the prosecutor’s comments would not have changed the trial’s outcome.

The court also determined that Pickens’ lawyers were deficient in their representation because they did not ask a potential juror about racially based responses he made in the juror questionnaire. However, Pickens did not show that the juror was actually biased specifically against him, so there was no prejudice, Justice Pfeifer explained.

In the court’s independent sentencing evaluation, Justice Pfeifer reasoned that the evidence supported the jury’s finding of the aggravating circumstances – that the multiple murders were part of a single course of conduct, that Washington was murdered to prevent her from testifying about the rape, and that Pickens murdered two children under the age of 13. Justice Pfeifer described some mitigating factors that carried weight with the court: Pickens was 19 at the time of the crimes, and he earned a GED diploma. However, the court concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating factors in this case and that the death penalty is appropriate and proportionate.

Joining the majority were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Terrence O’Donnell, Judith Ann Lanzinger, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French.

Justice William M. O’Neill concurred in the convictions but dissented on the death sentence for the reasons he stated in State v. Wogenstahl (2013). In his dissent in Wogenstahl, Justice O’Neill concluded that the death penalty violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

2010-1406. State v. Pickens, Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-5445.

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Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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