After learning he will face lethal injection for the brutal murders of Heather Jackson and her two young children, Curtis Clinton reacted violently to Ms. Jackson’s brother, who said he would rather have Clinton die in prison at the hands of other inmates.
Deputies and court staff surrounded the handcuffed Clinton and pushed him into a chair while other officers restrained Nick Fee as they shouted profanities at each other in the Erie County courtroom, which was packed with relatives and friends of Ms. Jackson and Misty Keckler, whom Clinton murdered in 1997.
Before the outburst, Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone imposed the death sentence on Clinton for the September, 2012, killings of Ms. Jackson, and her children, Celina Jackson, 3, and 20-month-old Wayne Jackson, Jr.
In accepting the jury’s recommendation two days earlier for the death sentence, Judge Tone said the aggravated circumstances of the crimes outweigh any mitigating factors.
“The aggravated circumstances of brutally killing an entire family, including the mother and her two children by strangulation, the boy by his own blanket while raping the little daughter, grossly outweighs any mitigating factors the court could point to in this case,” Judge Tone said. “In consideration of all that has been articulated today, the court cannot see any reason to set aside the recommendation of the jury for the sentence of death, by mitigating factors or legal authority.”
Mr. Fee was one of four people to give a victim impact statement in court after Judge Tone sentenced Clinton to death. He lashed out at the defendant in an unprepared, profanity-filled statement, in which he said the court-imposed death sentence was too good.
“The only thing you should thank God for is they saved your life by putting your worthless ass on death row,” Mr. Fee said. “I’d love to come over there and stomp your worthless teeth in ... but I ain’t being away from my family and my kids. Be glad you are on death row, where my buddies can’t find you.”
Judge Tone also heard from Jody Lynch, the mother of Ms. Jackson and grandmother of Celina and Wayne. She told the judge she holds on to the memories and photos of her daughter and grandchildren.
“My family is in heaven now. I believe Curtis is walking dead because of his sins. His soul is dead. May God have mercy on his soul,” she said.
When given the opportunity to speak before being sentenced for the capital crimes, Clinton, 42, neither begged for his life nor apologized to the victims’ family, but instead lashed out at Prosecutor Kevin Baxter and vowed he would win on appeal and have his case retried.
“I don’t respect the prosecutor,” he said. “Like I said, I will be back again.”
Mr. Baxter told Judge Tone the crimes committed by Clinton were the “most heinous and the most brutal murder case” he has handled during his 24-year career as the county’s chief prosecutor.
“Like the judge said, he wiped out an entire family. It was a terrible case. If there ever was a case that the death sentence is appropriate, this is the case,” Mr. Baxter said outside the courtroom.
Seven months before the slayings of Ms. Jackson and her children, Clinton was released from prison after serving 13 years for the 1997 murder of 18-year-old Misty Keckler of Fostoria.
Clinton pleaded guilty in 1999 in Wood County Common Pleas Court to involuntary manslaughter for the homicide and two unrelated counts of assault.
Miss Keckler was found naked in a bathtub with her hands tied behind her back and her feet bound.
Sarah Reynolds, the prosecutor’s victims’ assistance director, read a statement that Miss Keckler’s family had prepared.
“He murdered Misty in such a brutal way and he served only 10 years for her death. Where was the justice for Misty? We have had to live our lives without her. She has been missed from everyone,” she said. “Now [Clinton] has hurt another family. Our hearts break for this family going through what we did and still are.”
The jury convicted Clinton on five counts of aggravated murder, with three of the counts carrying death-penalty specifications. He also was found guilty of aggravated burglary for breaking into the Jackson home on John Street and three counts of rape; one for the sexual assault of Celina and two counts in the unrelated case of a 17-year-old girl six days before the homicides.
The victim in the rapes, who is now 18, testified at Clinton’s trial. She also spoke about the effect the crime has had on her life. The Blade does not identify victims of sexual assault.
“One thing I can tell you, and you know who you are, you have made me stronger. I can assure you of that. That night you probably thought you won,” she said. “But you didn’t take my pride or faith. God never left me. He was there when you choked the life out of me.”
Among the spectators sitting in the back row of the courtroom was one of the 12 jurors who found Clinton guilty of all nine counts with which he was charged and joined his fellow jurors in recommending that he be put to death.
The man, who would not give his name, felt obligated to be present to hear Judge Tone’s decision.
He said he and the other jurors carefully weighed all the evidence and testimony and followed the judge’s instructions to the letter of the law.
“We went over each piece of evidence. We looked at every picture. Nothing was left unturned,” he said. “We all spoke our minds. We all took our time. Everyone was in full agreement.”
By Mark Reiter - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)
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