LISBON - Columbiana County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike ruled Wednesday a copy of an affidavit, which the defense for rape suspect Anthony Mehno claims recants the story of his teenage accuser, will not be allowed to be used during the ongoing jury trial.
The affidavit allegedly signed in July 2012 by the teen came into question outside the jury's ears on Tuesday with conflicting testimony about the contents and how it was created.
The teenager, Mehno's wife Ashley and an investigator of the Columbiana County prosecutor's office all provided different stories on Tuesday, with the investigator relaying information she had learned by talking to a man named John Woody Horvath, who had been asked to witness the signature of the affidavit.
Assistant County Prosecutor Timothy McNicol claimed there is no original copy of the affidavit, only a poor quality copy so it should not be allowed. Defense attorney Kenneth Lewis was not representing Mehno at the time and had noted the copy should be allowed because the original is lost and it was not in his client's best interest to destroy it. Therefore, he believed the affidavit should be allowed.
Without the jury in the courtroom Wednesday morning, additional testimony was heard about the affidavit, including from Youngstown attorney Rhys Cartwright Jones, who reportedly took the statement in his office.
Cartwright Jones, who appeared with an attorney of his own, said he met that day with Ashley Mehno, the alleged victim and the teenager's cousin, although he did not know the woman's name. He said he created a header and footer with signature lines for the document, then the teen sat down and typed a statement saying she could not identify the face of her attacker. He then asked her some additional questions, he typed the questions and she typed the responses. The entire affidavit, he said, was created on his Macintosh laptop.
Cartwright Jones denied there was a handwritten document, which the teen had testified to a day earlier. He also denied the document was signed with an electronic stylus, as Ashley Mehno had said on Tuesday. He claimed the content of the document has not been altered. The teen had testified that what she signed was about her concerns about whether Anthony Mehno would sexually assault Ashley Mehno's child from another relationship, not about the rape case.
Cartwright Jones said he turned over the entire file on the day he stepped down from the case this February. He believed the original, as well as a copy of the teenager's school identification card, should have been in the file. He acknowledged the affidavit was not notarized until after he received a fax of the identification card. Both the original and the identification card fax are no longer in the file.
With such an important piece of evidence as the affidavit, McNicol questioned why Cartwright Jones allowed his client to plead guilty to sexual battery on Jan. 25 when McNicol was recommending the maximum sentence and a 25-year sexual offender registration requirement. That plea was later withdrawn by Mehno, who obtained new counsel in February.
Cartwright Jones claimed he "did not make much of the statement" and that it was consistent with what he already had heard. Additionally, he claimed he was holding it to use in the event there was a jury trial. McNicol said he believed Cartwright Jones is required to turn over any witness statements he obtains to the prosecutor's office.
Cartwright Jones also noted on the day of the plea he had approached McNicol offering an Alford plea, one in which they would acknowledge the extensive evidence, but not admit guilt. McNicol had declined the offer.
"Did you have any questions about the voracity of the statement or the circumstances about how it was obtained?" questioned McNicol. The question was met with more than a minute of silence by Cartwright Jones, who appeared to be thinking carefully how to answer.
Eventually he responded he has always had questions about several statements in the case, including that the rape allegedly occurred in her sleep and that she never saw who it was.
McNicol asked Cartwright Jones if he knew the teen was only 17 years old when she came to his office without her mother. Cartwright Jones said he "was or should have been" aware. He then said when Ashley Mehno contacted him to set up the appointment, he had asked them to bring one of the teen's relatives with them and that is why the cousin was there.
However, when Ashley Mehno retook the stand later on Wednesday, she claimed the girl with them was the teen's stepsister and only 14 years old, leading McNicol to ask if the girl's parents knew she was in Youngstown.
At one point during questioning by McNicol, Ashley Mehno broke down claiming the teen has come to her, assaulted her and the police refuse to do anything about it. Additionally, Ashley Mehno accused Cartwright Jones of drinking alcohol when they were at his office and offering some to both her and the teenage girls, although she said they did not accept it.
When asked if she thought the attorney was drunk, Ashley Mehno responded she did not.
"I think he was trying to cover his own behind," she said. "He was not a good attorney from the get-go."