The wheels of justice may have ground to a halt

A Lisbon man was killed and another Columbiana County man was wounded Feb. 1 in a Youngstown shooting. Within five days, a 32-year-old Youngstown man had been arrested and charged with aggravated murder and felonious assault in connection with this crime.

On Jan. 31, two young men were shot to death in Steubenville. By Feb. 4, a 16-year-old suspect had been apprehended and charged with two counts of murder in that case.

In the much-publicized August rape case in Steubenville that has brought protests and allegations of police corruption and incompetence, two juveniles were taken into custody and charged within 11 days of the alleged incident.

So what does all of this have to do with us in Columbiana County? We wanted to point out how swiftly several serious crimes have been handled in our neighboring counties of Mahoning and Jefferson.

In Columbiana County, the wheels of justice turn much slower and many cases, the wheels seemed to have stopped.

The Columbiana County Families of Homicide Victims lists on its website 23 unsolved murders/suspicious deaths in our county, but their list includes many cases which are up to 40 years old or occurred outside the county. The CCFHV list also includes missing persons. By our calculations the list is not quite as long, but there have still been at least 15 unsolved murders/questionable deaths over the last 20 years.

The CCFHV was formed in 2007 in response to the growing number of unsolved questionable deaths here. Their purpose for organizing was to help law enforcement obtain leads to help solve these crimes and to keep pressure on officials so that their loved ones’ cases would not be forgotten.

Despite CCFHV’s efforts, the list continues to grow. At least one unsolved murder has been committed in each of the last three years. Our last homicide occurred Dec. 3, 2012. We’ve been told that local law enforcement officials have a “person of interest” in this case. But now, more than two months later, no one has been charged. This case is a particularly disturbing because a woman was bludgeoned to death in her own home, and her 5 year-old grandson barely survived a savage beating, presumably at the hands of the same culprit.

We’ve been told by Sheriff Ray Stone that his detectives have concluded their investigations into some of these “unsolved” murders and the information passed along to the prosecutor’s office for action. But still no charges. Why? What’s the holdup? Is something or someone hindering the prosecution?

It’s frightening to think that the animal who so viciously attacked the Perry Township woman and her grandson may still be walking among us.

We realize there must be sufficient evidence to arrest and successfully prosecute someone on murder charges, but isn’t this growing number of unsolved cases inordinately large considering the small population of this county?

The Columbiana County Homicide Task Force was organized last year to allow participating police departments to provide investigatory assistance if requested by another department when a suspected murder occurs in their community. Two of our older unsolved murder cases were also recently listed on the Ohio attorney general’s cold case website, so it’s not as if officials are just sweeping these crimes under the carpet and forgetting about them.

We’re grateful these actions have been taken, but Columbiana County residents are becoming frustrated with the large number of murders on the “unsolved” list and the length of time some of the cases have been there.

It’s time county officials either take action or publicly explain why they have failed to act.