Trimble trial lawyers wrap up unanswered questions

As the triple-murder trial of James E. Trimble came to an end, several questions were left unanswered – partially because of the gag order issued during the trial, and partially because of the accusations Trimble made on Nov. 16.

Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci and Defender Dennis Lager clarify some of these questions about the longest trial in Portage County’s history.

What aspects of the case were executed well?

Despite losing, Lager said the defense presented the case so the jury could see a complete view of the facts and circumstances – not just the picture the prosecution and news media illustrated.

“What we did well was to demonstrate that Mr. Trimble is a drug-dependent person,” Lager said. “And that he was significantly intoxicated on the night in question, which contributed to his behavior and conduct.”

He also said the defense clearly established that a sniper was present at Sarah Positano’s house on Jan. 21.

“I think that was demonstrated by indisputable evidence that there was a bullet fired inside the house,” Lager said. “Not a bullet attributed to any weapon that was owned by Mr. Trimble.”

The defense had a difficult task, Vigluicci said.

“In all my years, if I ever saw a case that deserved the death penalty, it was this one,” he said.

Vigluicci said he thinks the prosecution successfully assembled a narrow scope of the voluminous evidence. They narrowed this information down to a point where a jury would not become disinterested and lose focus.

“I think that each witness that we put on, we did for a specific reason. Those who had the greatest impact, certainly the defendant’s brother who had to make some difficult admissions.”

He said the testimonies of George Stervenz, a Summit County medical examiner, and Sheriff Duane Kaley, who took Trimble’s statement two days after his arrest, were also influential in the trial.

What effect did the gag order have on the trial?

Vigluicci asked for the gag order to ensure the trial’s venue remained in Portage County.

“It would help us in that respect,” he said. “The pre-trial publicity in a case like this is certainly going to be brought up in a trial to try to move venue.”

Lager said the gag order had no influence on the outcome of the trial.

Did Trimble offer to plea guilty to the death penalty?

On Nov. 16, during Trimble’s statement to the courtroom he said, “I wanted to plead guilty and get the death sentence to begin with.”

Vigluicci said a prosecutor can not stop a defendant from pleading guilty to the charges as they are charged.

“The defendant had never offered to plea guilty to the death penalty, and his statement was inaccurate,” Vigluicci said. “Obviously if he had done that, no trial would be necessary.”

Vigluicci said Trimble’s initial plea was not guilty, which changed to insanity and then back to not guilty.

Lager said Trimble did want to take a guilty plea. The defense had a meeting with the prosecution in August, where they discussed a plea offer.

“We offered to plea to the three counts of aggravated murder, the capital specifications, in return for the possibility of life without the possibility of parole,” Lager said.

Vigluicci said the prosecution met with the families of the victims while considering this offer.

“We decided that a jury needed to hear this case,” he said. “We felt that the jury should have all the options available to them.

And the rest of Trimble’s Nov. 16 statements?

Trimble accused Vigluicci of using the trial as a political arena, he responded by saying he was doing his job.

“We did our job, and how that relates to any political aspirations of mine, I fail to see,” Vigluicci said.

He is an elected official, and has three years left in his term. Vigluicci said he plans on running for the same office again.

Trimble also said in the courtroom before his sentencing that he was beaten previous to being taken into custody on Jan. 22.

“I believe Mr. Trimble was physically assaulted,” Lager said. “The evidence clearly established that he had been assaulted.”

The assistant commander of the SWAT team, Sgt. Kenneth Ciesla, testified that he saw Trimble crawl out of a bedroom, and that he physically was fine at that point, he said.

“By the time that he is taken downstairs, he has all sorts of injury and damage to his face and buttock area,” Lager said. “But no one was willing to testify to how those injuries magically occurred.”

Ciesla recently entered a plea of guilty in Summit County for felonious assault on a Wellington man at a June James Taylor concert at Blossom Music Center.

Trimble also accused Vigluicci of being involved with the police at Positano’s Ranfield Road apartment.

Vigluicci was not involved with the police action on Jan 21., but he was present, he said.

“At some point in the evening, I was called. I am the county’s chief law enforcement officer. My presence there is only as an observer and to render any legal advice they needed,” Vigluicci said.

He said his only participation that evening was state assistance and working on a search warrant for Trimble’s mother’s home.

This was not made public during the trial, but Vigluicci said his presence that night had no effect on the outcome.

“It is not unusual that I would be present at serious crime scene,” he said. “My office generally responds to any crime scene with death or serious physical harm.”

And what about the jurors?

Pre-trial publicity significantly impacted the result of the trial, Lager said.

“I think as a result of that, the jurors were probably pre-disposed, whether consciously or unconsciously,” Lager said.

Vigluicci praised the jurors for their attention to detail. During a meeting with some of the jurors, after sentencing, he said he was shocked by some of the conclusions they drew from some of the evidence.

So, what’s next for Trimble?

The Portage County Prosecutor’s Office will follow the case through the appeals process.

“There is a lot more years of work for us,” Vigluicci said.

This is not true of the defense. The public defender is now out of the picture, and the court appoints a new set of lawyers.

Trimble is guaranteed an automatic direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio. It will be handled by two Akron attorneys who are specialized in appeals.

“His claims to want to accept the death penalty are false; if he did, he wouldn’t take any appeals,” Vigluicci said.

Contact public affairs reporter Kimberly Dick at [email protected] and Bethany Jones at [email protected].