Because the state attorney general's office was asked to get involved, a man is now behind bars for a crime committed nearly five years ago.
The crime, vehicular homicide, cost a county man his life. The perpetrator has now admitted that he was driving drunk and left the scene of the accident which killed the Lisbon-area man. He later called police and reported his vehicle stolen.
No new evidence surfaced over those five years to make it easier to prove, but nonetheless the case has been resolved because the family of the fatal accident victim didn't give up, even when the Columbiana County Prosecutor's Office was reluctant to prosecute. They took the case to the attorney general's office, and they got results.
One of the deceased man's family members complained that our county prosecutor's office wanted the case "served up on a silver platter" before they would seek an indictment. Chief Assistant County Prosecutor John Gamble said there were evidentiary issues from the beginning with the case. The prosecution only has one chance to get it right at trial, which is why they were reluctant to take it to grand jury until confident they had enough evidence.
But how long does it take to get a case ready? This family waited nearly five years for justice, and many of the families of murder victims have waited even longer.
And do all of our unsolved murder cases have these so-called "evidentiary issues," which the attorney general's office apparently felt were not insurmountable in seeking a conviction in this particular case. Is that why some cases are allowed to languish on the shelf while murderers roam free in our county? If so, how do we get them fixed? Should we begin having the state take a look at these problematic cases in the hope they may benefit from a fresh set of eyes and see the evidence in a different light?
This isn't the first time we've heard complaints that the prosecutor's office is reluctant to pursue an indictment unless they are all but assured of winning.
During last year's election season County Sheriff Ray Stone responded to criticism about the large number of unsolved murders by indicating the blame in some of the cases was with the prosecutor's office. Stone said his department had wrapped up several of the cases only to have the prosecutor's office balk at presenting them to the grand jury. Others have also told us that if the case isn't a "slam-dunk" the prosecutor won't touch it.
We have to wonder how many other cases among the 15 unsolved murders and mysterious deaths could also result in justice finally being served if someone else were to take another look at them.
Efforts have been made to resolve some of those cases. Attorney General Mike DeWine recently expanded his cold case file and allowed law enforcement agencies around the state to submit cases. Several Columbiana County cases have been added to the list.
A Columbiana County Homicide Task Force has also been formed to help investigate shortly after a homicide has occurred and clues are still fresh. Yet, at least one of our recent questionable death cases still has not resulted in an arrest.
Should families have to do an end-run around the county prosecutor's office to obtain justice for their loved ones? Is taking their pleas to the state the only recourse they have?
If so, something is wrong with our local justice system and changes need to be made.