AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Prosecutors said they will hear evidence from attorneys of a man charged with aggravated murder for a deadly blaze that killed seven people before deciding whether to pursue the death penalty against him.
Summit County prosecutors are making the criminal case against Stanley Ford, 58, part of a pilot program that allows defense attorneys to present evidence about why a defendant should not be sentenced to death before prosecutors seek death penalty specifications in a grand jury, the Akron Beacon Journal reported (http://bit.ly/2uFznY6 ).
Mitigation in capital murder trials typically occurs after a defendant has been found guilty.
Ford is charged with seven counts of aggravated murder and one count of aggravated arson for the May 15 fire in Akron. The blaze killed a couple and five children who lived down the street from Ford. Firefighters found the two-story home engulfed in flames. Three days later, police executed a search warrant on a house Ford owns and one next door.
"Let's have all those cards on the table from the beginning," said Brad Gessner, chief counsel for the Summit County prosecutor. "This is all about justice — for these individuals, the victims, as much as the people charged, to feel they were fairly treated by the system."
One of Ford's attorneys, Don Malarcik, has been a critic of Summit County's existing policy for pursuing death penalty cases. The county's last 10 capital cases since 2014 have resulted in just one death sentence, the newspaper reported. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, are trying similar approaches to mitigation.
"I give a great deal of credit to the prosecutor's office for spearheading this innovative approach to the capital process," Malarcik said.
Those killed in the fire were 35-year-old Dennis Huggins, his partner, 38-year-old Angela Boggs, and five children: 14-year-old Jered Boggs, 6-year-old Daisia Huggins, 5-year-old Kylle Huggins, 3-year-old Alivia Huggins and 16-month-old Cameron Huggins.
All seven died of smoke inhalation. Their bodies were found on the home's second floor.
Investigators haven't said why Ford might have set the fire. Police have said they weren't aware of any relationship between Ford and the victims other than them being neighbors.
Death penalty specifications would have to be presented to a grand jury by Aug. 20, which is 90 days from Ford's arrest.
Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com