Area lawyers explain Trimble case

Joe Murphy

Mitigating evidence.  Mistrial.  Aggravated murder.  Confused?

Unless you are in the criminal justice field, you may be.

Terms such as these are commonplace in Judge John Enlow’s Portage County Common Pleas Courtroom. But for some average news consumers, the language can be little more than court “jargon.”

The trial of James E. Trimble, 45, of Brimfield, which includes three charges of aggravated murder, began Sept. 30.

On Oct. 11, Public Defender Dennis Lager asked for a mistrial after Special Agent John Saraya mentioned a prior conviction of Trimble’s during his cross-examination on the stand. Enlow overruled the request.

Michael Jalbert, Brimfield attorney and professor at the University of Akron, explained what a mistrial would have done.

“A mistrial is typically a motion that is filed when someone believes the jury has been tainted by information they shouldn’t have heard,” he said. “The rules of evidence need to be adhered to.”

A mistrial would have started the trial over again, Jalbert said. A new jury would have been seated with a clean slate.

Jalbert said a request for a mistrial is not unusual, but getting one granted is.

“It’s part of the dynamics of the defense,” he said. “They want to provide the best defense possible under the presumption of innocence.”

Akron attorney James Burdon said Trimble’s defenders, Lager and John Laczko, entered the trial with a reasonable objective. Burdon said their goal may have been something other than not guilty.

“The objective is to try to save Trimble’s life,” he said. “I don’t think any lawyer began by thinking they would get a not guilty with these facts.”

The trial is currently in the first stage of a two-stage process. The first stage defines innocence or guilt. If Trimble is found not guilty in the first stage or if the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, a lesser included charge is considered. Jurors then decide guilt or innocence on the lesser charge.

But if the jurors find Trimble guilty beyond a reasonable doubt with specifications, then the trial moves to the sentencing phase. Enlow explained this to the more than 100 potential jurors during the almost two-week jury selection.

If the trial enters the sentencing phase, the jury would be asked to consider mitigating factors and aggravating circumstances. The evidence presented in the second phase is separate and can come in a variety of ways.

The job of the prosecution will be to present aggravating circumstances, which must relate to the case. Descriptions of the way the murder was committed, such as “incredibly brutal” or “excessively violent,” are examples of aggravating circumstances, Jalbert said.

Mitigating factors are presented by Trimble’s defense. Jalbert said mitigating factors are more liberal and can be any good qualities about Trimble’s past. Anything that wasn’t relevant in the trial, such as Trimble being a Boy Scout or church leader, would qualify.

If in the sentencing phase the jury finds the aggravating circumstances presented by Portage County Prosecutor Vic Vigluicci do not outweigh the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt, it must choose one of the life sentences.

The jury has three life sentence options: life in prison without parole, life in prison with the chance of parole after 30 years or life in prison with the chance of parole after 25 years.

Trimble originally pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but Lager retracted the plea Sept. 20.

Burdon said the defense probably withdrew the plea after a medical examination on Trimble confirmed that there was not enough evidence to support the plea.

Trimble is charged with killing his live-in girlfriend, Renee Bauer, 42, her son Dakota, 7, and Kent State student Sarah Positano, 22. Trimble faces 17 counts, three of which are aggravated murder.

Aggravated murder is a capital offense, while murder is not. Jalbert defined aggravated murder as “the purposeful killing of another with prior calculation and design.” Murder does not include prior calculation and design.

Trimble’s lawyers hope to prove that the shootings of both Positano and Dakota were accidental, which could reduce the aggravated murder charges.

Contact public affairs reporter Joe Murphy at [email protected].