LOGAN – In another round of rulings on defense motions in the case of a Logan woman charged with murdering a 2-year-old girl, the judge hearing the case has denied nine out of 10 of the motions.
The latest set of rulings in the case of Destani Neel apply to defense motions numbered 31 to 40 – an indication of the scope of the defense team’s effort on Neel’s behalf.
This is largely due to the fact that, based on one of the charges she is facing – aggravated murder with a specification that the victim was under 13 years old – Neel is facing a possible death penalty if she is convicted. This being a capital case, the defense attorneys, Kirk A. McVay and Andrew T. Sanderson, have indicated that they have a duty to pursue every possible line of defense, even if only to preserve legal issues to be raised on appeal.
In addition to the aggravated murder count, Neel is charged with two counts of murder, one count of felonious assault, and two counts of endangering children.
Hocking County Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace has already ruled on a number of defense motions in the case, including his rejection of a motion that would have gotten rid of the death penalty as a possible sentence, based on its purported incompatibility with the U.S. and Ohio constitutions and international laws binding on the United States.
In a set of rulings filed Tuesday, Wallace rejected most of the remaining motions pending on the defense side. He overruled nine motions, including one that would have required the judge, if the jurors deadlocked during the sentencing phase of the trial, to instruct them to give up trying to reach a unanimous verdict on sentencing, and to begin deliberating on three different possible life sentences.
He also rejected a motion that would have allowed the defense to argue last during the sentencing phase of the trial, rather than the normal procedure in which the prosecution has the last word because it bears the burden of proof.
Other motions that Wallace overruled would have:
• excluded any evidence relating to other crimes, wrongs or acts;
• allowed the defense to introduce “all relevant mitigation evidence” while the jury is hearing about mitigating factors affecting sentencing;
• required the judge to determine and limit, outside of the jury’s presence, what evidence the prosecution could present regarding mitigation;
• limited the prosecution, in its arguments about mitigation, to using only evidence of aggravating circumstances that had been proven during the trial phase;
• limited the scope of rebuttal evidence the prosecution could use during the mitigation segment;
• prohibited the prosecution from using “prejudicial arguments and themes” (Wallace found this motion premature and speculative); and
• prohibited the prosecution from making arguments, in connection with mitigation, relating to “mental health” evidence presented in that phase of the trial.
Wallace did grant one defense motion out of the 10, which prohibits the prosecution from commenting on the defense’s witness list (for example, asking why a certain witness or type of witness was not called); asking why defense expert witnesses did not produce written reports; or raising the issue of how much defense expert witnesses were paid.
The court has set aside a month’s worth of dates, from Feb. 10 to March 11, for Neel’s trial.
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