They’re 12 people with at least two things in common: they’re all registered voters and they have all said they’re capable of giving Shawn Eric Ford Jr. a death sentence.
Whether the jurors will recommend that Ford be executed or if he should get life in prison is now the focus of the panel’s deliberations, which began late Thursday afternoon and ended around 9 p.m.
The same jurors have already convicted Ford in the April 2013 slaying of his girlfriend’s parents, Jeffrey and Margaret Schobert.
This week, the jury returned for a sentencing hearing to determine Ford’s fate.
While defense attorneys have tried to inject race into the trial — Ford is black, the Schoberts were white — and appeal to the Summit County jury, prosecutors say their case is about justice for what Ford did to the Schoberts with a sledgehammer inside their New Franklin home.
“This has never been a case about race. This has always been a case about Shawn Ford’s violence,” Assistant Prosecutor Brad Gessner told jurors in closing arguments.
Jurors were sequestered overnight and were to resume talks Friday morning.
In closing remarks, defense attorney Jon Sinn implored the panel to consider Ford’s age — he was barely 18 when the killings took place — and his low-level intelligence, as signaled by IQ tests that place him in the range of mental retardation.
“He’s a few months too old to be too young to kill, and a few IQ points too high to be too dumb to kill,” Sinn told jurors.
He urged jurors to give Ford some sort of life sentence, either with or without parole eligibility.
IQ focus of debate
The jury — composed of 10 women and two men — must be unanimous in voting for death. The panel includes four blacks. Any sentence must be affirmed by Judge Tom Parker, who is hearing the case.
Gessner urged jurors to look closely at Ford’s IQ scores and not be fooled into believing he is intellectually impaired. He said those who tested Ford’s IQ when he was 9 years old and scored a 62 — a score considered in the range of mental retardation — determined the low number was likely due to Ford’s lack of effort.
He said similar low scores were also likely due to no motivation.
Instead, Gessner relied on a recent IQ test given by the county that showed Ford’s IQ at 80, which is on the low end of average.
Defense attorneys had already asked Parker to dismiss the death specifications before the case went to the jury. Attorneys Donald Hicks and Sinn cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ban the execution of those with severe mental impairments.
Prosecutors countered that IQ alone is not sufficient evidence of a mental impairment.
A person’s ability at life and communication skills are among other factors to be considered before a person is found mentally impaired and thus not eligible for a death sentence.
Parker denied the defense request, but left open the possibility of a hearing later to further explore Ford’s mental capacity. The hearing would be moot, if jurors don’t recommend a death sentence.
Judge blocks letter
To bolster their argument that Ford is not impaired, prosecutors tried to show jurors a letter Ford wrote to his sister, Patricia Roberts, in which he threatens to kill the Schoberts’ daughter, Chelsea, if she testified against him.
Ford, 20, was convicted of seriously injuring Chelsea Schobert, then 17, during a party and then killing her parents when, prosecutors believe, they blocked his efforts to visit her in the hospital.
Parker would not allow the contents of the letter revealed to jurors.
But Gessner told jurors that Ford’s plan to kill the Schoberts, including wearing five layers of gloves while wielding the sledgehammer more than a dozen times on both victims, showed his mental fitness.
“He’s clearly able to perform adult tasks,” Gessner told jurors.
Jamall Vaughn, 15, is accused of aiding Ford in the slaying of Jeff Schobert, 56, and Margaret Schobert, 59.
His trial is set for next month.
During testimony Thursday morning, Ford’s mother, Kelly Ford, 38, begged jurors for mercy for her son.
Ford’s sister, Patricia Roberts, 22, became too choked up to speak when asked if she wanted jurors to show mercy.
“I don’t want you guys to kill my baby,” Kelly Ford said from the witness box. “We can’t change it, but I don’t think killing him is the answer.”
Defendant stays silent
Ford never testified nor did he give a statement to jurors, as allowed by law.
Aside from Ford’s age and intelligence, defense attorneys tried to appeal to juror’s emotions.
They brought up the racial disparity of U.S. incarceration rates and the words of forgiveness once offered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
They told jurors to move past a death sentence, telling the panel they are “better than this.”
They then pointed to a difference between what the defense is asking and what the two assistant prosecutors are asking.
“There can be no ‘us’ when two of us are asking 12 of us to kill one of us. Shawn Ford is one of us,” Sinn told jurors.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PhilTrexler.