Edward L. Esposito

Edward L. Esposito

Edward "Ed" Esposito is vice-president, information media for the Rubber City Radio Group. He oversees news and public affairs programs for www.AkronNewsNow.com, 1590 WAKR, 97.5 WONE and 94.9 WQMX. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Radio Television Digital News Foundation; a former chair of the Radio Television Digital News Association and Foundation and a former president of the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Association. He's also served as a member of the Akron Press Club , Kent State University Student Media Advisory Board, Ohio Open Government Coalition, Northeast Ohio AMBER Task Force. He's lectured on broadcasting and journalism for the University of Missouri in China, as well as across the country for RTDNA and RTDNF. You can reach Ed through the newsroom at 330-864-6397 or by email eesposito@rcrg.net

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 10:01

Wesson Loses Death Row Appeal Bid

An appeal from an Akron man of his death sentence for killing a neighbor falling on deaf ears at the Ohio Supreme Court.

The ruling means Hersie Wesson of Akron remains on Death Row for the 2008 stabbing murder of 81-year old Emil Varhola. Wesson had asked Varhola and his wife if he could wait at their home until a girlfriend arrived; they said yes and Wesson then attacked and stabbed both, stole jewelry and money. 77-year old Mary Varola survived.

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(Ohio Supreme Court) The Ohio Supreme Court today upheld the death sentence imposed on Hersie R. Wesson for stabbing 81-year-old Emil Varhola to death in February 2008 during a course of conduct that involved the attempted murder of Emil’s 77-year-old wife, Mary, and the aggravated robbery of the elderly couple in their home.

Justice Terrence O’Donnell wrote the court’s majority opinion reviewing Wesson’s convictions and sentence in this case.

The decision partially affirms and partially reverses the judgment of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas.

In February 2008, Hersie R. Wesson of Akron asked Emil Varhola, 81, and Mary Varhola, 77, if he could wait at their house until his girlfriend’s bus arrived. The Varholas knew Wesson from the neighborhood, and Mr. Varhola and Wesson sometimes talked. The couple accommodated Wesson’s request. Wesson attacked and stabbed Mr. Varhola, beat and stabbed Mrs. Varhola, then stole jewelry and money before fleeing the house.

Wesson waived his right to a jury trial and elected to be tried by a three-judge panel. The judge presiding over the case appointed the other two members of the panel, and the matter proceeded to trial. The panel found Wesson guilty of two counts of aggravated murder, with each count carrying capital specifications for aggravated murder while under detention, aggravated murder as part of a course of conduct involving the purposeful killing of or attempt to kill two or more persons, and aggravated murder while committing aggravated robbery, in addition to two counts of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and one count each of having a weapon while under a disability and tampering with evidence. The court sentenced Wesson to death for aggravated murder and to 26 years in prison for the other convictions.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Wesson urged that the judge presiding over his trial had lacked authority to appoint the other two members of the three-judge panel. Justice O’Donnell noted that pursuant to R.C. 2945.06, when a person charged with a capital offense waives a jury trial, the panel hearing the case shall be composed of three judges, two of whom shall be designated by the presiding judge or chief justice of the common pleas court, and if no one holds either position, then they shall be designated by the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Justice O’Donnell wrote that the term “presiding judge” refers to the judge who is the presiding judge over a multiple-judge common pleas court, not the judge presiding over a particular trial. “If the General Assembly had intended to allow the judge assigned to preside over a capital murder trial to appoint the other two judges of the three-judge panel, then there would be no need to designate the chief justice of the Supreme Court to appoint the judges when there is neither a presiding judge nor a chief justice of the common pleas court, because there would always be a judge presiding over the capital case,” Justice O’Donnell stated.

“Accordingly, the judge presiding over Wesson’s trial, who was neither the presiding judge nor the chief justice of the Summit County Common Pleas Court, lacked authority to designate the other two members of the panel,” Justice O’Donnell continued. The court, however, rejected Wesson’s argument that his conviction and death sentence should be overturned for this error , noting that he had accepted the trial court’s method of appointing the members of the three-judge panel and forfeited all but plain error. “[H]ere, Wesson makes no argument — and therefore does not demonstrate — that the appointment of different members to the three-judge panel would have changed the outcome of the proceeding.”

Wesson also challenged his conviction for committing aggravated murder while under detention and his convictions for specifications charging that he committed aggravated murder while under detention .

Wesson had been convicted of burglary in 2003 , and the trial court had imposed a three-year discretionary term of postrelease control rather than the mandatory term required by his offense. He was placed on postrelease control upon his release from prison in 2007.

Justice O’Donnell noted that “Wesson’s 2003 sentence failed to impose a mandatory three-year term of postrelease control, and so that part of the 2003 sentence is void.” He further explained that pursuant to State v. Billiter (2012), an offender cannot be convicted of escaping from an improperly imposed term of postrelease control. The court therefore reversed Wesson’s conviction for committing aggravated murder while under detention, the related specifications on this count, and a separate specification for committing murder while under detention on the other aggravated murder count.

The Supreme Court also rejected Wesson’s claims that the indictment was invalid, that his statement to police should have been suppressed, that he had been denied the effective assistance of counsel and the right to present a complete defense, that he had been convicted of allied offenses of similar import, that the admission of victim-impact statements amounted to reversible error, and that the death penalty is unconstitutional. The court then independently reviewed the sentence of death imposed and concluded that the evidence supports the finding that Wesson committed aggravated murder as part of a course of conduct and while committing aggravated robbery. Concluding that these aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating factors and that Wesson’s death sentence is proportionate to those upheld in similar cases, the court affirmed the sentence of death.

The court’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Sharon L. Kennedy and by Joseph J. Vukovich of the Seventh District Court of Appeals. Judge Vukovich served as a visiting judge during oral arguments in this case, filling in for Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who recused herself.

Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote a dissent. Justice Judith L. French wrote separately to concur in part and dissent in part. Justice William M. O’Neill dissented without opinion.

In her dissent, Justice Lanzinger wrote: “I would not find void any portion of Wesson’s 2003 sentence. As the mistake was solely in the court’s exercise of jurisdiction in imposing postrelease control (imposing three years of discretionary, rather than three years of mandatory, postrelease control), the sentence was merely voidable. Since the error was not raised on appeal within 30 days, res judicata applies and Wesson remained under the supervision of the Adult Parole Authority. I also dissent from the majority’s judgment affirming the remaining capital convictions. I would vacate the convictions and remand the case to the trial court for the proper selection of a three-judge panel in this case as precedent demands.”

“[T]he majority’s opinion in this case is yet another example of the inconsistent holdings of this court in cases in which the trial court judge acted contrary to a statutory mandate,” she continued. “The majority reverses Wesson’s conviction for aggravated murder while under detention and for the corresponding specification on Count Two due to a postrelease-control error. So on the one hand, the majority collaterally declares a portion of Wesson’s 2003 sentence void because the trial judge imposed three years of discretionary rather than mandatory postrelease control. Then on the other hand, although the trial judge did not have authority to appoint the other two judges of the three-judge panel in this capital case, the majority affirms Wesson’s remaining capital convictions. Apparently, a postrelease-control error is more important than a procedural error in a capital case. I cannot agree with this inconsistency. I would hold that any error in the court’s exercise of jurisdiction is voidable rather than void.”

Justice French concurred with the majority in all aspects except vacating Wesson’s conviction and specifications for aggravated murder while under detention. She wrote that she agrees with Justice Lanzinger that his 2003 sentence was not void.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 11:50

Ohio Court Clears Stormer

Ohio's Supreme Court giving a break to Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer on a campaign contribution issue that earlier landed her on the wrong side of a judicial campaign ethics panel.
The high court noted no sanction was needed citing Stormer's overall record and ruled Stormer didn't "knowingly" violate the regulations.
 
The Court noted Stormer was the only candidate dinged with a violation of the rule. Common Pleas Court Judge Alison McCarty brought the complaint; both have a record of taking on each other politically.
 
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(Ohio Supreme Court) The Supreme Court of Ohio today overturned a judicial campaign conduct violation against an Akron judge.
 
Earlier this year, a five-judge commission upheld a hearing panel’s finding that Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer violated Jud.Cond.R. 4.4(E). At the time of Stormer’s conduct, the rule prohibited a judicial candidate from participating in or receiving campaign contributions from a tiered judicial fundraising event. However, a rule change eliminating the prohibition became effective Jan. 1, 2013.
 
Judge Stormer’s opponent in the probate court race, Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Alison McCarty, brought the complaint based on a 2012 fund-raising event in which contributions were categorized and recognized by amounts.
 
The Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline certified the complaint on Oct. 23, 2012. A three-commissioner hearing panel of the board heard the case on Oct. 29, 2012 and filed its report and recommendation with the Supreme Court to find a violation and sanction Stormer on Nov. 5, 2012. The Supreme Court appointed a five-judge commission on Nov. 9, 2012, which filed its decision on Jan. 10, 2013. Stormer appealed the commission’s decision to the Supreme Court on Jan. 29, 2013.
 
The Supreme Court noted in its per curiam (not authored by one justice) opinion today that “it appears that Stormer is the only judicial candidate to be formally charged with a violation of former Jud.Cond.R. 4.4(E) in the 17 years that it was in effect. The commission’s finding that she violated the rule did not come until January 10, 2013 – ten days after the rule was abrogated.”
 
“In light of these unusual circumstances, the absence of any need to deter future conduct of this nature, whether committed by Stormer or any other judicial candidate, and Stormer’s exemplary record during her more than 30 years of legal practice, more than 20 of which have been spent on the bench, we conclude the no sanction is warranted,” the opinion concludes.
 
The court further concluded that Stormer did not “knowingly” violate the former rule and that not every violation warrants the imposition of discipline given the many factors at play in individual cases. The court also ordered the Office of Attorney Services to remove the violation from Stormer’s record. 
 
Friday, 18 October 2013 14:46

SUPCO Rules Davis Back On Akron Ballot

The decisions by the Summit County Board of Elections regarding independents running for public office are taking a beating from Ohio's Supreme Court.

On top of a decision ordering former Republican State Senator Kevin Coughlin back on the ballot for Stow Muni Clerk of Courts, the county board has also been ordered to return Darrita Davis to the November 5th ballot in her ward council bid.

On a 4-3 decision the state's highest court ruled basing the decision to disqualify Davis because she voted Democrat in the last Presidential Election Primary wasn't enough to overrule her candidacy as an independent.

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(Supreme Court of Ohio) In an expedited election case announced today, the Supreme Court of Ohio ordered the Summit County Board of Elections to include Darrita Davis on the November 5 ballot as an independent candidate for Akron City Council.

The court, in a 4-3 decision, granted Davis’s writ, finding that the board of elections abused its discretion when it disqualified her petition to run as an independent.

The elections board argued that Davis is not an independent because she failed to disaffiliate sufficiently from the Democratic Party. The court today said that the board based its conclusion on only one piece of information – her vote in the Democratic primary for president in March 2012.

“A candidate’s prior voting history, standing alone, cannot be a sufficient basis for disqualifying an independent candidate,” the court wrote. “Disaffiliation by definition presumes a history of support for or membership in a political party. If a candidate’s prior voting record, standing alone, could trump a declaration of disaffiliation, then disaffiliation would never be possible.”

The court also said the board erroneously applied a two-year statutory look-back provision for petition signatures to the separate analysis of disaffiliation under R.C. 3513.257: “The practical effect of the board’s rule is the creation of a de facto ‘sit out’ requirement, whereby candidates who disaffiliate from a political party have to wait at least two years before they may seek office as independents. Nothing in R.C. 3513.257 requires such a result.”

The court found that two donations Davis made to Democratic candidates at different events held little weight, primarily because the donations were made before she declared her candidacy for city council in July 2013. While evidence undermining disaffiliation after a candidate files is not required for a successful challenge to a candidate’s petition, “where the challenge is based solely on prepetition evidence, the evidence needs to be that much more substantial to warrant excluding an otherwise qualified candidate,” the court stated.

“In addition, the board abused its discretion because it fundamentally misconstrued the relevant inquiry,” the court found. “Based on her past voting record, the board informs the court, ‘the Board determined that Relator did not make a good faith attempt to disaffiliate from the Democratic Party.’ But the requirement … is that a candidate must declare her lack of affiliation in good faith, not that she take affirmative action to disaffiliate in order to prove her good faith. In other words, the declaration of disaffiliation can, in some circumstances, be sufficient affirmative action.”

The per curiam (not authored by a specific justice) opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Sharon L. Kennedy, and William M. O’Neill. Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented in a written opinion. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger also dissented, but wrote separately. Justice Judith L. French dissented without opinion.

In his dissent, Justice O’Donnell wrote: “In view of Davis’s voting history and her financial contributions to Democratic candidates in April 2013 and June 2013, the board did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Davis had not in good faith disaffiliated herself from the Democratic Party when she filed her nominating petition to run as an independent candidate.”

In her separate dissent, Justice Lanzinger wrote: “The county boards of elections are given little guidance when asked to determine whether an independent candidate has made a good-faith declaration of disaffiliation. … Because I believe that the Summit County Board of Elections did not act unreasonably under the circumstances, I would deny the writ.”

Friday, 18 October 2013 06:00

Dixon Guilty Of Fronsman Murder

A case that horrified the state has only a penalty phase left, as jurors in Muskingum County will decide if LaFonse Dixon, 34, of Canton will die for beating a woman he suspected of snitching on a drug deal and then setting her on fire.
 
Celeste Fronsman, 29, also of Canton was found on fire August 26, 2012 on a rural road on Route 208 outside of Zanesville. She was still alive but died two days later, burned over 70 percent of her body.
 
Monica Washington, 25 and Katrina Culberson, 22, have already pleaded guilty to murder, arson and other charges in the case and will avoid the death penalty. Both testified against Dixon. His defense lawyers argued there was no hard evidence against him and that Culberson was actually the driving force to kill Fronsman, who was beaten, dragged and choked with a tow strap and then doused with gasoline before Dixon set her on fire.
Friday, 18 October 2013 06:13

Panel: Oldfield Reprimand Recommended

A state discipline board says Akron Municipal Court Judge Joy Malek Oldfield should be publicly reprimanded for not taking herself off cases involving a public defender she was found in a parked car with in Copley last year.

But the board found inconclusive evidence as to whether Oldfield was engaging in sexual activity with Catherine Loya. It also ruled Oldfield didn't use her title to try to stop police from arresting Loya after they smelled alcohol on her breath.

Loya was eventually moved out of Oldfield's courtroom, but not before Oldfield handled 53 pleas involving Loya's clients.

The Ohio Supreme Court will make a final decision. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013 20:34

Help Needed To Find Missing Man

UPDATE 9:11 p.m. Police cancelled the Missing Adult Alert for Emmett Hilton, 87, last seen in Olmsted Township. No other details are available.

Earlier coverage:  A Missing Adult Alert has been issued by the Olmsted Township Police Department for the following regions: North Central Ohio, Central & East Lakeshore, Northwest Ohio, which includes the following counties: Ashland, Ashtabula, Crawford, Cuyahoga, Defiance, Erie, Fulton, Geauga, Henry, Huron, Knox, Lake, Lorain, Lucas, Marion, Medina, Morrow, Ottawa, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Williams, Wood, and Wyandot.

Information as of: October 17, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Be on the lookout for a missing adult. On October 16, 2013 at 5:00 AM, Mr. Hilton was last seen at his residence.

The incident took place in Cuyahoga County, OH on Lewis Road in the city of Olmsted Township 44138.

The adult's name is Emmett Hilton and the individual is missing. The adult is a White male, age 87, is 5' 9" tall, weighs 143 lbs., has brown hair, and has brown eyes. Mr. Hilton suffers from confusion and early stages of Dementia. He was last seen headed westbound on Route 20 after he stopped at some one's residence in Huron County on October 17, 2013 at 3:00 PM inquiring to see his wife, who resides at a nursing home. Mr. Hilton was confused and left before local law enforcement arrived.

The vehicle involved is a silver 2002 Toyota Rav4 with OH plate number LTH3. 

Call or dial 911 if you see the adult or the vehicle. You can also call 1-866-693-9171 to be transferred directly to the investigating law enforcement agency or to hear the alert information.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013 07:41

Barnes Tapped For CSB Gig

Summit County Children's Services have a final pick to serve as their new Executive Director when John Saros steps down at the end of the year.

Julie Barnes runs Stark County's Jobs and Family Services department, a job she's held since June 2008. Barnes is a veteran of Summit County's CSB, working here as director of foster care and adoption programs from 2002 to 2007.

Talks are continuing on a contract and start date.

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(Summit County CSB) After a search which lasted several months, the search committee of the Board of Trustees of Summit County Children Services (SCCS) announced today its recommendation of the top finalist to succeed John Saros who is retiring as SCCS Executive Director at the end of 2013. The top finalist is Julie Barnes, M.Ed., LSW, who is presently Executive Director of Stark County Job and Family Services (SCJFS), a triple-combined agency including Human Services, Child Support and Children Services with approximately 475 staff and an annual budget of approximately $50 million.

Ms. Barnes has held her current position since June 2008 after serving as Deputy Director of Children Services from May, 2007-May 2008. Prior to joining SCJFS, Ms. Barnes served as Director of Foster Care and Adoption at Summit County Children Services from February 2002-May 2007. Ms. Barnes has also gained experience in the child welfare field through earlier positions at the Ohio Department of Job And Family Services and Geauga County Department of Job and Family Services. Ms. Barnes has a B.A. Degree in Psychology from Hiram College and a M.Ed. Degree in Higher Education from Kent State University.

A start date and an employment agreement have yet to be finalized.

Ms. Barnes will be introduced to the community at a reception at Summit County Children Services scheduled for Wednesday, October 30 from 4-6 p.m.

Monday, 14 October 2013 08:25

Food Truck Friday, Part Deux

It's a repeat of the Radio Roundup for some of the Akron-area's best food trucks! Food Truck Friday happens this Friday, October 18 from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. or the food runs out.

Participating food trucks making a return to the Akron Radio Center include Stone Pelican Rolling Cafe; Wholly Frijoles Mexican Street Food; Mobile Sushi Bar and Get Stuffed! New to the mix are the Swenson's mobile truck; Vaccaro's mobile wood-fired pizza oven and Pig Lickin' Good BBQ. The food truck operators come from the greater Akron area with locations including Summit and Medina Counties.

The first Food Truck Friday in August drew hundreds of hungry people to the Akron Radio Center, 1795 West Market Street, to sample some of the offerings from the food trucks which aren't allowed to do business on Akron city streets due to restrictions banning street sales.

Akron City Council set up a special committee to review the issue and the debate has often been framed in terms of protecting brick-and-mortar businesses such as established restaurants versus the restraint of commerce from the entrepreneurial food truck operators.  While the committee hasn't met many times over the summer since the issue first arose, chair Jeff Fusco, Akron City Council at-large, told WAKR's Ray Horner they were still reviewing information from other cities where food trucks are already operating.

 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013 11:56

Suarez, Giorgio Indicted For Political Cash

Criminal indictments handed down today by a Federal grand jury over campaign donations collected by Canton's Benjamin Suarez and his company's chief financial officer, Michael Giorgio.

In addition to charges relating to illegal use of corporate money in support of political campaigns, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for political cash worth at least $100,000 dollars in 2012.

The indictment charges the men used their position to get company workers to write campaign donations which would be repaid by the company.

Suarez is a major contributor to mostly Republican candidates; while neither candidate is specifically named in the indictments he supported both Wadsworth Congressman Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who sought to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.

A copy of the indictment is listed in the attachment section at the bottom of this story.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013 07:12

COMMENTARY Akron's Factory Of Political Sadness

On this election day, you should exercise your rights and duty as a citizen and vote for the men and women who put their reputations on the line to represent all of us.

Even when they make it tough.

Akron in particular seems to bring out the absolute worst in the political personality. Mayor Plusquellic waltzed in to radio stations (including WAKR and WONE, owned by the same company that owns AkronNewsNow.com) just before the weekend with check in hand. He bought what can easily be termed hard-hitting commercials where he targets at-large candidate Bruce Kilby, repeating charges that have been around for decades and unearthing a clip from a City Council verbal scuffle where Kilby accused Council of being for sale.

To say the charges -- including breaking a teen's wrist and hitting a woman -- are old chestnuts would be repeating old news. The Mayor's been launching those points against Kilby for at least the last 15 years. As to the "Council for sale" audio clips, those come from the late 1990's when then-councilman Ernie Tarle was popped for passing cash underneath a restroom stall in City Hall. Same old same old, including Kilby's vehement denials and counter-charges the Mayor is lying.

Akron voters can be excused for thinking they've heard all this before.They have. Again. And again. And again. It's the drum that keeps on banging. Both sides must figure if they say it enough times then everyone will just assume it's a fact.

The problem with that strategy -- and the critics of the Mayor are just as bad, with often-repeated rumors of bad behavior that turn out to be false -- is that voters these days don't spend the time to figure out if it's true or not. The media won't spend the time on these cry-wolf stories when they come up again and again for the same reason. It just becomes noise. It's just the loud background sound from the demolition of the capacity to take politicians seriously.

It's not just Akron city politics; it's typical of the occasional feuds between regional politicians. It's a hallmark of the discourse that surrounds presidents and presidential candidates to the point where the White House looks like a mud hut by the time they're done. It'll be what we see when the statewide races get underway in 2014 with both candidates running for governor likely to call each other crooks, scoundrels and liars -- all while voters go about their everyday lives and slowly but surely turn the noise down until it's time to vote.

Or when it's time to ignore the process altogether and let the drama queens have at it in a room with nobody watching.