An Ohio prison inmate who has spent nearly four decades on death row in the murder of a convenience store clerk has been resentenced to a term that could allow his release on parole, reported Fox News.
Lucas County Judge Stacy Cook vacated Gregory Esparza's
death sentence and imposed a new term of 30 years to life with credit for time
served, The (Toledo) Blade reported. Two months ago, Cook had declared capital
punishment unconstitutional in the case because prosecutors had failed to
disclose evidence in his original trial.
"God is good for everyone," Esparza said to
relatives Friday as he was escorted from the courtroom back to the county jail.
Esparza, now 60, was convicted in 1984 of aggravated murder
and aggravated robbery with gun specifications in the February 1983 death of
Melanie Gerschutz. The 38-year-old wife and mother was working the cash
register at Island Variety in East Toledo when she was shot during a robbery of
$110 from the register.
Esparza’s initial appeals were denied but a public records
request in 1991 turned up a large number of police reports, interviews, and other
documents never given to his defense attorneys. A federal appeals court in 1995
overturned the death sentence citing a "defective indictment," but
the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. A 2016 appeal was denied on the
grounds that federal courts had assessed the 1991 evidence, but a state
appellate court later said no court had yet addressed the 1991 evidence in the
context of capital punishment.
Cook wrote that although prosecutors may have been unaware
of the 1991 evidence, the defense should have had it. More importantly, she
said, some of the evidence indicated that Esparza didn't act alone and
therefore "may not have been the principal offender," so the death
penalty could not be imposed.
In Friday's hearing, Esparza said he had been just 21 and a
"confused, lost soul" at the time of the crime but the rigors of life
on death row for so long had helped him mature.
"God knows I am not a killer," he said. "Even
when offered life without parole if I gave up my appeals, I chose
Marsha Raymond, Gerschutz's daughter, a teenager at the time
of her mother's slaying, told the court that the defendant "committed
murder in cold blood."
"I am so grateful that I had such an amazing mom, but
unfortunately because of his actions my family fell apart," she said.
"My dad couldn’t speak about my mom, and he (Esparza) talks about a young
child being abused? My younger brother was six years old. He has no memories of
Julia Esparza, Esparza’s sister, said the family was happy
to see this day come.
"It has been very emotional," she told the
newspaper. "We appreciate the justice system."
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