Attorneys for convicted murderer Shawn Eric Ford Jr. have asked a judge to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty based on laws that prevent the execution of the mentally disabled.
The defense motion came at the end of testimony Wednesday in Ford’s sentencing hearing in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Tom Parker initially denied the oral motion, but then invited defense attorneys as well as prosecutors to file written motions focusing on Ford’s mental abilities and whether his low IQ scores would prevent a death sentence.
Jurors were out of the courtroom when the arguments were made. The jury will return Thursday and may begin by the afternoon to decide whether to recommend death or life in prison for Ford, who they convicted last week in the 2013 sledgehammer slayings of Jeffrey and Margaret Schobert in their New Franklin home.
A forensic psychiatrist who interviewed Ford in preparation for his trial testified Wednesday that records from 2003 indicate that Ford scored 62 on an IQ test taken when he was 9. Other subsequent tests taken by Ford show IQ scores of 64, 71 and 80.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2002 barred the execution of the mentally disabled. In some states, an IQ below 70, a score generally viewed as the level of mental retardation, was considered the threshold for execution.
In a separate Supreme Court ruling this year, however, the court expanded the IQ threshold while blocking the execution of a Florida man whose IQ scores ranged from 60 to 80.
In arguing against dismissing the death penalty against Ford, Assistant Prosecutor Brian LoPrinzi told the judge that more recent tests put Ford’s IQ at 80, and he suggested an examiner recently found Ford’s low score in 2003 may have been because of a lack of effort and not mental retardation.
However, Dr. Joy Stankowski, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that children at age 9, as Ford was when he scored a 62 on the IQ test, “usually try” to do well on such tests. She said school records show Ford was given an individualized education program throughout school and was diagnosed at an early age with a learning disability.
Defense attorneys Donald Hicks and Jon Sinn declined to comment after the hearing.
Stankowski also drew several conclusions from four interviews with Ford that defense attorneys will use in an effort to convince jurors not to recommend a death sentence. Among her findings were: anti-social personality disorder, mental illness, low IQ, alcohol abuse, a history of neglect, abuse and separation issues and his young age, 18, at the time of the slayings.
She said Ford, now 20, suffered from separation issues after his mother sent him to live with his paternal grandparents for two to three years when he was a toddler. Throughout his childhood, Stankowski said, Ford felt overshadowed by his well-behaved sister and his stepfather’s children.
“Shawn told me he never felt loved by his mother, that he never felt loved by his family,” Stankowski told jurors.
In grade school, Ford was bullied and teased because of his “high-pitched, girly voice,” she said. It was there, she said, that he began to fight back.
“He learned over time that if he fought, kids wouldn’t tease him,” she said.
Tracy Wooden, Ford’s stepfather, testified that as a young child returning to his mother, Ford rarely spoke and never cried when he was disciplined with a belt for misbehaving. As a teenager, he said, Ford resented the absence and indifference of his birth father and became more unruly, eventually landing in juvenile detention for theft and assaults.
“Shawn felt left out,” Wooden said. “He wanted a father.”
During talks with Stankowski, Ford also confided his love for the Schoberts’ daughter, Chelsea. It was 10 days after Ford assaulted Chelsea Schobert inside an Akron home that he attacked the Schoberts in their New Franklin home.
Chelsea Schobert, then 17, was badly beaten and hospitalized. The Schoberts barred Ford from visiting the hospital and prosecutors theorize he retaliated, beating them with a sledgehammer in separate attacks inside their home on April 2, 2013.
Ford’s friend, Jamall Vaughn, 15, is accused of helping in the attack on the Schoberts. He is awaiting trial as an adult.
Stankowski said Ford expressed his love for Chelsea Schobert during their sessions.
“It sounded to me that this was the most important relationship in his life in terms of somebody caring for him and loving him,” she 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.