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COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Supreme Court heard an appeal Tuesday from convicted murderer Ashford Lamar Thompson in the July 13, 2008, murder of Twinsburg Police Officer Joshua Miktarian, and much of the hour-long deliberations focused on whether Thompson acted under duress that night.
Thompson, 28, remains on death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, more than five-and-a-half years after shooting and killing Miktarian, 33, following a late-night traffic stop at Thompson's Glenwood Drive home. An execution date has not yet been set.
The capital case was stayed by the state trial court Aug. 23, 2013, to await a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, which heard Thompson appeal of his death sentence at the Moyer Justice Center Columbus. Thompson filed the appeal July 26, 2011.
Defense attorney Rachel Troutman argued that Thompson had no other convictions for violent crimes -- rather, he was a home health-care nurse and religious man who did not set out to murder anyone.
Thompson was afraid that the officer and a dog in the police car were going to harm him and panicked, Troutman said.
"Ashford Thompson made a very bad judgment call on July 13, 2008," she said. "This was not a man who had been convicted of anything violent. He was deeply religious and he was young... He did not set out to kill someone that night."
She added later, "Who he was, the good person inside him, and everything he did before that horrible decision, makes him worthy of a life sentence."
Troutman also questioned the role of Thompson's race in the incident.
"Ashford Thompson was a 23-year-old black male, and he killed a white police officer," she said. "The thoughts that he had in his mind were because of the experiences that he has had. He was pulled over for a noise ordinance violation and ended up on the hood of a car with a handcuff on his wrist."
But Summit County assistant prosecutor Richard Kasay, representing the state, said justices must also weigh threatening statements Thompson allegedly made at a bar earlier the night of the crime.
"There was testimony ... at 11:30 [p.m.] he's sitting at a bar drunk and makes a statement, I will kill if some m-f'er threatens me," Kasay said. "So this is his state of mind going into the ensuing hours."
He added later, "The argument is that this is a law-abiding, religious, mild-mannered nurse. And maybe before this night he was, but... there's evidence that what was going on in Mr. Thompson's psyche was not what others perceived."
Justices questioned both attorneys about the duress issue.
"There's no question there was a struggle," said Justice William O'Neill. "There's no question that the police officer was threatening him with both weapons and a dog. And I'm just wondering how do we get past the subjective statement by the defendant that he thought the cop was taking him and he was in fear for his life?"
Kasay offered, "This court has defined duress in the context of the mitigating circumstance as something that a defendant is compelled or forced to do. So let's ask ourselves: What forced Ashford Thompson to shoot Officer Miktarian four times in the head?"
A ruling on the appeal could take weeks, according to the Ohio Supreme Court Clerk of Courts office.
Public defenders Kimberly Rigby and Robert Barnhart, also representing Thompson during the capital appeals process, cite 18 errors at the common pleas level in their appeal.
Errors cited include violations of Thompson's due process by improperly excluding an African-American jurist during voir dire; a tainted jury pool due to outside-the-courtroom discussions of Thompson's initial guilty plea; various other violations of Thompson's due process, including excessive pre-trial publicity; and violations of his freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
The state filed a response brief Dec. 12, 2011, summarily rejecting each of the 18 counts and concluding that the death penalty, among others, must be affirmed by the high court.
Thompson was found guilty by a Summit County jury June 11, 2010, of two counts of aggravated murder, one count of escape, two counts of resisting arrest, three counts of tampering with evidence and one count of carrying a concealed weapon in the murder of the 11-year Twinsburg officer.
The death sentence was handed down by Summit Count Court of Common Pleas Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer June 23, 2010, and Thompson has been incarcerated in Chillicothe since June 25, 2010.
Miktarian, a 1993 graduate of Tallmadge High School, was shot four times in the head at close range in the driveway of Thompson's former Glenwood Drive home after stopping Thompson for loud music and suspicion of drunken driving just before 2 a.m. July 13, 2008.
Thompson, an LPN who possessed a concealed carry permit at the time, was arrested less than an hour later at a Bedford Heights residence (following a struggle with police) with a set of Miktarian's handcuffs still attached to one of his wrists.
Miktarian was the first Twinsburg Police Department officer to be killed in the line of duty.