A veteran Summit County trial prosecutor told a judge Friday that he’ll probably never see another case like it.
Defense attorney Paul Adamson, with 31 years of courtroom experience in criminal trials, stood before the bench and said: “I’ve never represented a finer man.”
Sitting in front of Adamson in a wheelchair, clutching a brown, wooden cane in his right hand, John Edward Wise of Massillon wept as he apologized to his family and the court for his actions.
In the end, Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands followed an extraordinary offer from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office and sentenced Wise, 68, to six years in prison on one of his convictions, felonious assault, in the 2012 shooting death of his wife, Barbara, at Akron General Medical Center.
The jury’s verdict early last month to convict Wise on all charges — aggravated murder, murder and felonious assault — still stands. Both sides, however, have agreed since then that leniency was in order because Wise acted not out of malice, but as an act of love to end his wife’s suffering from a series of cerebral aneurisms. The couple met at a Massillon hamburger joint when they were in their 20s. They were married 45 years.
Even one of the jurors, Liz Flaker of Akron, said she felt compelled to attend Friday’s sentencing hearing.
Surrounded by Cleveland television and radio crews following Rowlands’ decision, Flaker fought back tears as she explained her feelings about the case. Wise’s trial, she said, was her first real look at how the American justice system works.
“I think I would have loved for something different, but I think six years was the most mercy that they could show within the letter of the law,” Flaker said.
Wise, who testified in his own defense — telling the jury he “snapped” as he sat at his wife’s bedside and saw a tear running down her cheek — had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
No split among jurors
“There was really no split, per se,” Flaker said about the deliberations, “but there were a couple people who kind of wavered, thinking: ‘Well, is he really insane, or was he insane?’
“I think the way the letter of the law was written in the state of Ohio, it’s a little bit vague. So I think that’s something that maybe our system needs to look into — what exactly does it mean in Ohio to have that plea entered?” she said.
Flaker said that when the panel took its first vote, the result was 9-3 for guilty on all charges.
“Then eventually, after much discussion, the second vote was unanimous,” she said.
Summit Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi, the lead government attorney at Wise’s trial, initially told Rowlands at a Nov. 26 hearing that sentencing Wise for aggravated murder would have been “unduly harsh based upon the unique circumstances of the case.”
Under Ohio case law, however, LoPrinzi said the prosecutor’s office felt it was permissible to choose a sentencing option on a lesser offense. In Wise’s case, manslaughter.
Rowlands said she was not fully convinced she had the authority to do that. She did tell LoPrinzi there was solid case law for a sentence of two to eight years under Wise’s felonious assault conviction.
In comments Friday afternoon to the court, LoPrinzi said his office had looked further into the matter and still felt a sentence under manslaughter was permissible, but had “elected” to recommend a sentence under felonious assault.
“It is believed by our office, that this is not normal,” LoPrinzi said. “It’s extremely unusual, and probably most likely will never happen again in my career.”
He said the prosecutor’s office strongly would oppose any subsequent decision by the defense to ask the governor for clemency for Wise.
Rowlands then handed down her sentence, giving Wise three years on the felonious assault charge and three additional years, a mandatory sentence, for a gun specification under the third count.
Defense to address Kasich
Adamson said he definitely would begin proceedings to ask Gov. John Kasich to commute Wise’s sentence.
He said Wise probably will serve at least six to eight months, because the Ohio Parole Board first must conduct its own review of the case, then make a recommendation to the governor.
LoPrinzi told the court that under terms of Wise’s six-year sentence, the prosecutor’s office also will oppose any defense request for judicial release.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org.