The convicted murderer of Metamora resident Sierah Joughin will not face execution in less than 10 months, as ordered by Fulton County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Robinson.
In fact, due to the potentially lengthy appeals process involving death sentences, James Worley may not face lethal injection for at least another 15 years.
As is the practice in death penalty cases, the Ohio Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Worley as he enters the appeals process. His legal counsel, Gary Crim and Andrew Avellano, filed a brief May 31 asking for an appeal of right involving his conviction for aggravated murder with capital specifications and the death penalty Judge Robinson imposed on him.
The judge had set Worley’s execution date for June 3, 2019.
Worley, 59, of rural Delta, was found guilty by a jury March 27 of kidnapping and murdering 20-year-old Joughin while she was on an evening bicycle ride in July of 2016. In addition to the death penalty, he was sentenced April 18 to a total of 23 consecutive years in prison for kidnapping, possession of criminal tools, felonious assault, having weapons under disability, and tampering with evidence.
In early July, the Joughin family was awarded Worley’s three-acre property on County Road 6 in a civil suit settlement.
Mark Berling, the attorney who led Worley’s defense team during his murder trial, said the appeals process for a death penalty sentence can last as long as 15 years. He said the chance exists that, within that process, Worley’s death sentence could be reversed.
“That’s always our hope. I haven’t given it that much thought since the trial,” Berling said. He said he hasn’t followed the progress of Worley’s appeal.
Mark Powers, Worley’s longtime attorney who was also a member of his defense team, said the usual assumption is that an execution will not occur on the date set by the court.
“On these cases it can take years because there are different layers of appeal,” Powers said. The Ohio Supreme Court automatically grants an appeal for anyone on death row, he added.
Worley’s appeal can be heard by the state Supreme Court, the federal district court in Toledo, and the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. If denied by all, its last stop is the U.S. Supreme Court, where Powers said it could linger for a year.
But he added, “I don’t know that this case could be in any of those courts for a length of time. I just don’t know.”
Worley’s current attorneys have also filed an appeal for post conviction relief through the Ohio Public Defenders Office. Operating separately from the initial appeal, it requests that Worley’s sentence be reviewed for injustices and, if possible, reduced.
“In generalities…there may have been some errors in the proceedings,” Powers said. “It’s very difficult to run a whole trial and not have any error. But in this case…my guess is that I would really doubt that (the death sentence) would be reversed. I don’t think there was any error that was really egregious.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.