Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Death Penalty Upheld for Kentucky Man Who Killed Ex-Girlfriend on Ohio Highway

Image of a prison inmate

Death row inmate Terry Lee Froman

Image of a prison inmate

Death row inmate Terry Lee Froman

The Ohio Supreme Court today affirmed the death penalty for a Kentucky man who kidnapped and killed his ex-girlfriend on Interstate 75 in Ohio after murdering her 17-year-old son in her Mayfield, Kentucky, home.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled the death sentence handed down to Terry Lee Froman by the Warren County Common Pleas Court was appropriate. Froman was convicted for the kidnapping and murder of Kimberly Thomas and her teen son, Michael Eli Mahoney, in 2014. Froman, who was 41 at the time, and Thomas had been in a four-year relationship before Thomas ended the relationship and asked Froman to move out of her home, located about 270 miles west of Cincinnati.

The Court rejected Froman’s objections regarding his conviction and sentence, known as propositions of law. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stated that the Court concluded the death penalty was the appropriate punishment after an independent evaluation of the sentence.

Abduction and Teen’s Murder
The day after Thomas broke up with Froman, he went to the nursing home where Thomas worked   and encountered Thomas in her office. When Thomas’ supervisor knocked on Thomas’ office door and asked her to attend a meeting, Froman told the supervisor, “Kim has made me lose everything, now I will make her lose everything no matter the cost.”

About three weeks later, on Sept. 12, 2014, Thomas’ neighbor was awakened around 5 a.m. to what he believed were gunshots. Around 7 a.m., a 911 caller reported a woman had been abducted at a Paducah, Kentucky, gas station, and surveillance video from the station showed Froman and his vehicle, a white SUV. The video showed that Thomas, naked, exited the vehicle and started to run away before Froman grabbed her by the hair, pushed her back into the SUV, and drove away.

Police began looking for Froman and contacted Thomas’ employer. Three of her coworkers drove to Thomas’ house and discovered Thomas’ son, Eli, dead on the floor. Eli had bullet wounds to the back of his head and other parts of his body. Police obtained Froman’s phone number and his cell-phone provider was able to use “pings” from cell towers from which police determined that Froman was headed toward Ohio.

Friend Phoned During Abduction
Around 4:45 a.m. on Sept. 12, Froman had called his friend David Clark.  Later, on the phone with Clark, Froman admitted killing Eli and told Clark he was a “couple hours away” from Mayfield, but would not disclose his location. Clark then located Froman’s daughter Alexis.  Alexis talked to her father and asked Froman to “let Kim go.”

Clark called a Paducah Police Department officer, and from a police interview room, Clark conducted several recorded phone calls with Froman. During the calls, Froman explained he killed Eli for attempting to stop him from taking Kim and told Clark during a called that “I’m gonna kill her, dude.”

Froman later called back and said, “She’s dead. I shot myself.”

Around 1 p.m. that day, Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers spotted Froman’s vehicle and pulled him over. As the two approached the vehicle, they heard gunshots. Froman was apprehended in the front seat with a gun his hand and a bullet wound to his upper chest. Thomas was found dead in the back seat, having been shot four times.

Shooter Charged with Murder
Froman was charged with two counts of aggravated murder – one for murder with prior calculation and design, and one for murder while committing a kidnapping. He also was charged with kidnapping.  Both murder counts included two death-penalty specifications , including committing an aggravated murder during a course of conduct involving the purposeful killing of two or more persons.

Froman pleaded not guilty to the charges. A jury found him guilty of all charges and specifications.  Prosecutors proceeded to the next phase of the death penalty trial based on the aggravated murder charge that carried the course-of-conduct specification. The jury found the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances and recommended Froman be sentenced to death. The trial court imposed the death sentence along with 17 years in prison for the other offenses.

Froman appealed his sentence to the Supreme Court, which is required to consider cases in which the death penalty is imposed.

Out-of-State Murder Questioned
In his appeal, Froman maintained that the Warren County court lacked jurisdiction to consider the course-of-conduct death penalty specification because Eli was murdered in Kentucky.  Without proving the multiple killings, he could not be sentenced to death, Froman maintained. Because the teen was murdered in Kentucky, the state could not prove a course of conduct in Ohio that allowed an Ohio court to consider the death penalty, he argued.

Froman relied on the Court’s 2004 State v. Yarbroughdecision to support his argument. In Yarbrough, the defendant kidnapped two college students in Ohio and later murdered them in Pennsylvania. The Court held that the Ohio trial court lacked jurisdiction to try the accused for the out-of-state murders.

In today’s ruling, the Court explained that the law giving the court jurisdiction to try homicide cases, R.C. 2901.11(B), was amended after the Yarbrough decision. State lawmakers noted in passage of the legislation that the intent was to overrule the Yarbrough decision for future cases. The revised law added a provision that expanded the rights of Ohio courts to consider multi-state murders. 

The Court said none of the circumstances around Eli’s death needed to be linked to Ohio to give the Ohio court jurisdiction, but only that Froman’s conduct include purposefully killing Eli before he killed Thomas. Because Thomas was killed in Warren County, the trial court had jurisdiction over her murder and the accompanying course-of-conduct specification, the Court concluded.

Court Considered Death Sentence
When making its independent evaluation of Froman’s sentence, the Court stated it gave some mitigating weight to the remorse Froman expressed for the murders and to Froman taking full responsibility for his actions. The Court also acknowledged that a psychologist who examined Froman found his IQ score was in the low-average range and that he suffered from major depression. However, his IQ was not sufficiently low enough to disqualify him from the death penalty, and his depression was not a “severe mental disorder” that would qualify as the type of mental defect that would prevent him from understanding the criminality of his actions, the opinion stated.

The Court concluded the aggravating circumstances of the kidnapping and course-of-conduct specifications “overwhelm” the mitigating factors in the case, and affirmed the death sentence.

2017-0938. State v. Froman, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-4523.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

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.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.