As Joann Saxton stood before a Summit County judge Wednesday morning, she held up a photo of her son who was killed last October.

“Please, we are asking for the maximum sentence,” Saxton said during the sentencing of Robert Hanford, who had just been found guilty of her son’s murder. “What was done to my son was horrific, terrible. He was taken from all of us.”

Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tammy O’Brien sentenced Hanford to life in prison, the required penalty. He will be eligible for parole after 15 years.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” O’Brien told Saxton.

Hanford, 29, showed no reaction as he heard the verdicts and was sentenced. He plans to appeal.

The jury deliberated for only an hour Wednesday morning before returning verdicts of guilty on two counts of murder, one for purposely causing a death and another for causing a death as the result of felonious assault, and one count of felonious assault.

Prosecutors say Hanford stabbed and killed his longtime friend Mark Bates Jr., 27, on Oct. 1 at the Darrow Road home they shared.

Hanford, who testified during his trial, claimed he stabbed Bates after Bates attacked him. Prosecutors, however, argued his explanation didn’t match the physical evidence, including how Bates was stabbed five times with one being a fatal blow to the heart.

Saxton and several other family members of Bates attended the trial and sentencing.

Courtney Bates, Mark’s sister, said she and her brother, Jeffrey, have been destroyed by Mark’s death. She said Mark was like a dad to her after her father was killed in a car crash and was supposed to walk her down the aisle when she got married.

“Rob, I hope you realize what you’ve done to our family,” she told Hanford.

Alyssa James, 12, Mark’s cousin, said she doesn’t hate Hanford, but is disappointed in him.

“I don’t understand why he did it,” she said, fighting tears. “He took my favorite cousin from me.”

Hanford apologized to Bates’ family in a brief statement before he was sentenced.

“I wish this would have never have happened,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

O’Brien merged the charges Hanford was convicted of and sentenced him on the first count of murder.

Wesley Buchanan and Rebecca Grabski, Hanford’s attorneys, said they were disappointed in the jury’s verdicts, but respect their decisions.

Larry Pantages, one of the jurors, said after the trial that the deciding factor was how Hanford’s explanation didn’t match the physical evidence, including the victim’s wounds and the layout of the room. He said Assistant Prosecutor Jennie Shuki advised jurors to weigh Hanford’s credibility.

“It came down to that,” said Pantages, a retired Beacon Journal editor.

Saxton said she was grateful for the help the family received from Twinsburg police and the prosecutor’s office.

“They are my son’s voice,” she said.

Saxton clutched a smiling photo of Bates throughout the trial.

“I wanted him to be present in the courtroom,” she said. “It was like my security.”


Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.