Attorneys for the convicted murderer of Sierah Joughin filed a document last week with the Ohio Supreme Court asking that his convictions and death sentence be reversed.
Gary Crim and Andrew Avellano filed a reply brief July 15 on behalf of James D. Worley, 61, stating the evidence presented at his trial was insufficient to lead to his convictions and death sentence. The brief maintains Worley is therefore eligible to receive a new trial.
Worley was indicted by a Fulton County grand jury Aug. 16, 2016, on 19 counts related to Joughin’s abduction and murder that year. The 20-year-old Metamora resident disappeared July 19 while on an evening bicycle ride on County Road 6. Her body was found three days later in a shallow grave in a cornfield not far from the abduction site.
Worley was found guilty on all counts March 27, 2018, and was sentenced to death. His June 3, 2019, execution date was delayed due to a lengthy appeals process. He currently sits on death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
Attorneys Crim and Avellano assert the following points in the brief, among others:
• The government failed to prove that Joughin’s death was purposeful. The brief claims the jury’s verdict “is not supported by sufficient evidence under Ohio law…Indeed, the facts weigh more heavily for Joughin’s death being accidental, and then panic ensuing.”
• The government failed to prove Worley was Joughin’s actual killer. Male DNA found under her fingernail showed she was in contact with an “unknown” male the day of her abduction or afterward who was not Worley.
• None of Worley’s DNA was found on Joughin, and the government was unable to place Worley at the abduction site simultaneiously with Joughin.
• Under the mitigating factor of Worley’s mental health, the trial court failed to consider all of his 12 diagnosed mental illnesses, thereby presenting an unbalanced picture that could have affected the trial’s outcome.
• The trial evidence could not properly establish the exact time Worley’s cell phone arrived at the abduction site.
• Because a different venue for the trial was denied, jurors were exposed to Worley’s history to an extent that they could not fairly judge the evidence, a violation of Worley’s right to a fair trial and due process.
• Including details of Worley’s 1990 conviction into the trial did not add much evidence to the Joughin case and encouraged jurors to believe Worley had committed a similar crime in the past, violating his rights.
• Worley’s counsel was incompetent during closing argument.
Crim and Avellano determined that the cumulative errors deprived Worley of a fair trial, entitles him to a new trial, and renders his death sentence “unreliable and arbitrary.”
Crim said the reply brief was filed in response to a government brief that was a response to a brief the attorneys filed in January. He said the briefs are standard in the appeals process.
“It could easily be a couple of years before the appeal is argued,” he said.
Crim said Worley’s appeal process has been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fulton County Prosecutor Scott Haselman could not be reached for comment.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.