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Killer’s lawyer requests judge’s recusal

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ELYRIA — A lawyer for convicted killer Justin Chapman has asked Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski to remove himself from Chapman’s case.

Attorney Kenneth Lieux said he made the request because of a 9th District Court of Appeals decision that threw out the 30 years-to-life prison sentence Betleski imposed on Chapman in 2009.

The appeals court decision said Betleski improperly held Chapman’s decision to reject several plea offers from prosecutors and instead take his case to trial against him.

“The court of appeals has already basically made the finding that he was unfairly punished more severely for going to trial,” Lieux said.

Betleski has twice sentenced Chapman to lengthy prison terms after juries have convicted him of murder and other charges stemming from the April 26, 2005, shooting death of Darren English during a botched robbery.

Chapman was originally convicted and sentenced to 38 years to life in prison, but the appeals court threw out that guilty verdict and sentencing because of concerns over a plea deal reached by prosecutors with Chapman’s cousin, Julian Smith, in the case.

After the second trial, which took place in 2009, Betleski imposed the 30 years-to-life sentence.

Betleski, who declined comment Wednesday on whether he would remove himself from the case, has previously denied that he imposed a harsher sentence because Chapman refused to take a plea offer.

At one point, prosecutors had offered to let Chapman, who was 14 at the time of the killing, plead out to juvenile charges and be sent to an Ohio Department of Youth Services’ facility until he turned 21.

Betleski has said the facts of the case led to his decision to impose the sentence.

Chapman, Smith and English forced their way into the Lorain home of small-time drug dealer William “B.J.” Fiske III to rob him of drugs and cash, but Fiske began to struggle with English, who was the first one in the door.

During the trial, prosecutors contended that Chapman opened fire at Fiske as he fought with English. Smith, who received a 13-year prison sentence in return for his cooperation, testified that he fired his own gun after hearing shots.

Fiske was shot six times, but survived and forced the robbers out of the house. He still was holding onto English, and Smith ran back to help his friend by hitting Fiske in the head with a pistol.

The trio then fled, but English died a short time later from the bullet fired by Chapman that hit his heart and lungs.

Betleski said he will hold a hearing Friday to decide whether to go forward with the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for the same day, or ask another judge to replace him.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.



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