A Summit County jury found John Wise, 68, of Massillon, guilty of all charges in the shooting death of his 65-year-old wife, Barbara, last year at Akron General Medical Center.
The verdicts came at 5:15 p.m. Friday after more than three hours of deliberations, when jurors gave the double-beep signal to the judge’s bailiff in her courtroom office.
Moments before Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands announced the decision in open court, Wise stood up from his wheelchair, reached across the defense table and shook the hand of lead prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi, saying in a soft, hoarse voice: “I don’t know how this is going to turn out, sir, but I’m telling you the truth. I’m not lying.”
Wise had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to all charges in the indictment — one count of aggravated murder, a separate count of murder during the commission of felonious assault, and one count of felonious assault for causing serious harm.
He will be sentenced at 11 a.m. Nov. 18. Under Ohio law, Rowlands has no choice. She must impose a mandatory sentence of life in prison on the most serious charge.
Wise stared straight ahead at the defense table, saying nothing, when the judge read the three verdict forms.
His best friend, Terry Lee Henderson, with whom he worked for many years before retiring from Republic Steel with 35 years of service, sat in the front row of the public gallery, lowering his head and weeping into a white handkerchief clutched in his right hand.
Wise’s son, Mark, stood beside Henderson.
“In all honesty,” Mark Wise said, “you expect the worst and hope for the best.”
Both sides left the jury with powerful impressions during closing arguments.
Prosecutors said Monday morning in the first hour of the jury-selection process that sentiments were not to be considered in deciding the case, and they said it again Friday afternoon in the final hour of closing arguments.
Motto of prosecution
Summit Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Howell stood only feet away from Wise, motioned toward the defendant and said in a firm voice: “Poor judgment based upon emotion does not equal insanity.”
Then Howell stepped toward the courtroom monitor and pointed to the big screen. The same words — “Poor judgment based upon emotion does NOT equal insanity” — were posted for the jury to see in color.
Wise was 21 and Barbara Wise was 20 when they first met in the 1960s at a Massillon hamburger joint.
Both sides never disputed what happened in the case.
One week after Barbara Wise suffered a series of cerebral aneurysms at the couple’s home in Massillon, her husband shot her in the left temple at her bedside in the Akron hospital’s third-floor intensive care unit.
Wise testified in his own defense Thursday, telling the jury that he saw a tear run down his wife’s cheek following surgery, and snapped.
A forensic psychologist, with 37 years of experience in the field, also testified for the defense. He told the jury that Wise’s extensive medical problems made him unstable and confused under the extreme stress and bereavement over his wife’s condition — and he “lost it.”
In order to prove insanity, the defense had to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Wise had a severe mental disease or defect at the time of the shooting and did not know the wrongfulness of his actions.
LoPrinzi, who had the last word before deliberations began, said that the defense failed.
Wise and his attorney, LoPrinzi said, consistently tried to show “how sad and pitiful the situation is.”
But that strategy “has nothing to do with the law,” LoPrinzi said. “This is not a pity case.”
What it really was, he said, was clear evidence that Wise acted with prior calculation and design and purposely killed his wife — the standards that must be met for a conviction on aggravated murder.
Wise’s actions after seeing his wife’s tear on the night of Aug. 4, LoPrinzi said, were proof of guilt.
“The case comes down to one thing. It’s uncontested,” he told the jury.
LoPrinzi said Wise “went home, got his gun, knew what he was going to do, got in the cab, hid the gun in his bag, came back, went into the hospital, pulled out the gun and shot his wife — uncontroverted. We met every single element of aggravated murder,” he said again.
Defense attorney Paul Adamson stood by Wise’s side during his closing argument and said, over LoPrinzi’s objection: “I am very proud to be standing next to John Wise.”
In an eloquent summation near the end of his remarks, Adamson called Wise “an honorable man, a good and decent person — 35 years in the shop [at Republic Steel], 45 years married, raised a family, supported them. He’s a good and honorable man, and I think that’s where this all starts.”
He urged the jury to use common sense in deciding the case.
Wise went back to the hospital for his last visit with his wife, “out of love,” Adamson said. “He was not there out of hate. He fully believed that he was doing the right thing, not the wrong thing.”
Moments later, Adamson took the four verdict forms and held the papers up in front of the jury box.
“One of the choices in each one of these forms,” he said, “is not guilty by reason of insanity. You write that on each one of these four verdict forms, you’ll sleep well tonight. And it’s the right verdict.”
After the verdicts were in, Howell explained the prosecution’s position. He said the jury took sufficient time on the verdicts and the prosecution respected that.
“It was an emotional case,” Howell said, ”but the bottom line was that the act that he committed was illegal and the jury found him responsible.
“The facts underlying the offenses were uncontested. The main issue for the jury was whether or not the not guilty by reason of insanity defense should be applied to this,” Howell said, “and [the defense] did not meet their burden on that.”
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.