James D. Worley is guilty on all counts in the abduction and murder case of Metamora resident Sierah Joughin, a Fulton County Common Pleas Court jury decided unanimously on Tuesday.
The jury of eight women and four men raised their hands in agreement after Judge Jeffrey Robinson read the guilty verdict for each count, which included murder, aggravated murder, abduction, kidnapping, felonious assault, possession of criminal tools, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence, and weapons under a disability.
Worley was also found guilty of two specifications under the aggravated murder counts: that the offense was committed to escape detection or punishment; and that it was committed with an attempt to flee afterward and with Worley as the principle offender.
Two counts of aggravated robbery were dismissed prior to the trial.
Sheriff’s deputies stood behind Worley’s defense table as the verdicts were read. He faces a possible sentence of death.
The verdicts took just hours to reach after the jury began deliberating the case Monday afternoon, even after an unexpected interruption. Judge Robinson on Tuesday granted Juror 21 a request to leave her position due to her pregnancy. She was replaced by alternate Juror 170, and the jury was advised to start their deliberations from the beginning, without benefit of notes Juror 21 had taken during the trial.
The courtroom was filled with Joughin family members and supporters wearing purple in support of the victim, many of them hugging and crying after the hearing. Law enforcement officers lined the back and one side of the courtroom in a show of support.
The guilty verdicts end a trial that stretched over two weeks and placed over 40 prosecution witnesses on the stand. They included both local and state law enforcement specialists, FBI officials, and a Lucas County coroner. The defense rested its brief case after a morning that saw two of Worley’s lifelong friends testify.
In closing arguments on Monday, defense attorney Merle Dech insisted there was not enough DNA evidence present at the crimes scenes to convict Worley of abduction and murder in the case. But Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman told the jurors to also consider facts in the case beyond what DNA linked Worley to the charges against him.
Joughin, 20, disappeared July 19, 2016, during an evening bicycle ride after visiting the home of her boyfriend, Joshua Kolasinski. Her bicycle was later found in a cornfield on County Road 6, along with a green sock she wore that day, her sunglasses, and a towel she owned. Signs of a struggle were apparent at the scene.
Her bound body was found buried in a cornfield on County Road 7 three days later. She had been asphyxiated.
Evidence presented during the trial showed that signals from both Joughin’s and Worley’s cell phones were present at the County Road 6 abduction site at 7:43 p.m. the night Joughin disappeared. Cell records also show that Worley’s phone remained at the site until 9:13 p.m.
DNA evidence placed both Worley and Joughin at each of the case’s three crime scenes.
Following the verdict, Joughin’s uncle, Howard Ice, said the past few weeks have been long for the Joughin family, “and what this past violent offender did to our beautiful Sierah was gut-wrenching. He expressed “how pleased we are that justice was served today,” and thanked Haselman and all of the law enforcement agencies involved in Joughin’s search and the ensuing investigation.
Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller declined to comment. Haselman was not available for comment.
The mitigation phase of the case begins April 2.