Since April, former Marion Common Pleas Judge Jason Warner and his wife Julia have been out on bond appealing their two felony convictions.
However, on Monday, that all came to a screeching halt. And now, Marion Sheriff Matt Bayles confirmed the Warners have until Friday at 8 a.m. to report to the Marion County Sheriff's Office to return to prison after the Ohio Third District Court of Appeals upheld both of their convictions.
According to reports, Jason will be sent to the Lorain Correctional Facility while Julia will return to the Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville where she was prior to being released on bail. They will serve a two-year, concurrently-served prison sentence.
As the dust begins to settle on this saga that has been more than two years in the making, the Third District Court of Appeals rejected the Warner's appeal attempts. The ruling on Monday put to rest many of the arguments made by defense attorneys that called into question if prosecutors presented enough evidence to warrant the felony convictions.
Per the Third District Court of Appeals, enough evidence was presented to convict both Jason and Julia, and further, the court found that no prejudice was at play and thus a mistrial did not happen during the original court trial in March.
After the Third District Court of Appeals released its decision, the court also uploaded a 36-page document where it details all the events, arguments and decisions that led to the conviction being upheld.
Jason's convictions upheld
In their findings, the three judges--judges William Zimmerman, Brownyn Miller and Stephen Shaw--wrote that it was important to note the accident was caused by Julia, that they both exited the vehicle to see the damages and they both drove off despite what they'd seen at the scene.
Because this was deemed "essentially undisputed," the judges stated the primary issue to solve here was whether or not sufficient evidence was presented to find Jason guilty of aiding and abetting. Per the court's findings: "...we find that a rational trier of fact could determine as much beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus Jason's arguments related to Complicity to Failure to Stop After an Accident are not well-taken."
"...Jason was not merely in the Jeep as a passenger while this event occurred. He got out of the Jeep, viewed the wreckage, then decided to get back into the vehicle," the three judges determined.
The court goes further on this topic and cites how it's related to his other charge, complicity to tampering with evidence: "Again, based on Jason's own statements and actions, and his decision to get back into the vehicle after viewing the scene, we cannot find that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of Complicity to Tampering with Evidence."
The court said it's nearly undisputed that the Warners left the scene and added it's a permissible inference that they knew an investigation would occur given the magnitude of the crash. And since the Warners fled the scene, law enforcement testified in the trial that this hindered their ability to investigate as they couldn't conduct field sobriety tests or examine how the crash occurred since only one vehicle was present at the scene.
It also seems the unclarity of who actually drove the Jeep home after the crash isn't relevant when proving aiding and abetting, according to the court.
"Thus Jason’s references in his brief to isolated statements such as the one that it was 'more likely' that Jason was driving ignore the fact that the trial court stated it was ultimately irrelevant who was driving based on the finding the trial court made," the three judges wrote.
Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove, who presided over the trial, stated it's more likely Jason drove the Jeep home after the crash during the trial and cited the damaged Jeep as being too difficult for a woman to operate. Jason has challenged this sentiment and said its not supported by evidence and was sexist.
However, the Appeals Court focused on the entire quote from Cosgrove, not just the snippet. In Cosgrove's ruling, she also said it doesn't matter who drove the car home after the crash for aiding and abetting. Cosgrove found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they aided and abetted each other when they both left the scene after the crash and the Appeals Court agreed with her.
The night of the crash and days after
Per the Appeals Court document, it begins with detailing the events that led to the crash in June 2020.
On June 4, 2020, Julia was reportedly driving the Warner's Jeep Wrangler southbound on S.R. 203 with Jason in the passenger seat when she attempted to make a left turn onto Somerlot Hoffman Road. At this time, then-19-year-old Colton Gray was also traveling northbound on S.R. 203 and was crossing through the Somerlot Hoffman Road intersection when he was struck by Julia operating the Jeep.
According to the court records, Julia incorrectly believed Gray had a stop sign to stop that led to her turning in front of him, Gray being struck and sent into a pole and eventually he had to be mechanically removed from his vehicle. Additionally, Julia told authorities she "misjudged the turn in the dark and the rain."
Following this event, the court noted the Warners got out of their vehicle and then quickly returned. The Warners then made a five mile drive to return home in Marion despite their Jeep being severely damaged; including the driver side tire being almost completely ripped off the rim.
According to a written statement Julia wrote to Post Commander Troy Sexton of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, she also admitted to panicking and driving away from the crash.
While the Warners did file a police report, it didn't happen until nine hours after the crash. As a result, law enforcement on the scene was unable to conduct any field sobriety tests to see if alcohol was at play. Throughout the trial, it was noted through testimonies the Warners were at separate get-togethers on the night of the crash where both consumed an unspecified amount of alcohol before meeting back up and driving home.
And just five days after the crash, the Warners reportedly went on an eight day vacation with friends who hosted one of the get-togethers the night of the crash. According to court records, it was a pre-scheduled vacation and "the accident was never discussed."
Meanwhile during this time, Gray was at the beginning of months of physical and mental therapy to recover from the accident. This included battling back from a kidney tear to dealing with issues with memory loss due to the severe concussion he received. Additionally, Gray said he struggled with walking and running, being a passenger in a vehicle and even developed Bell's Palsy for brief stint.
Story by Mitch Hooper | (740)-244-9935 | firstname.lastname@example.org | @_MH16 on Twitter
This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Appeals court: Warners chose to leave scene of crash