A divided Ohio Supreme Court Thursday dismissed an appeal from an Oregon man who claimed the stress he incurred during the Iraq War was a factor when he engaged in a shootout three years ago with city police.
Jeffery Belew was appealing a 27-year sentence imposed by the Lucas County Common Pleas Court, arguing his post-traumatic stress disorder wasn’t given appropriate consideration as a mitigating factor in his behavior.
According to court records, Belew on April 10, 2011 fired at least four shots at police officers who were responding to a domestic disturbance call. Two shots hit a police car and Belew didn’t respond to commands to stop firing until he was wounded by officers returning fire. He was arrested and received medical care.
Justices Paul Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon Kennedy and Judith French agreed the court shouldn’t have accepted the appeal.
Justice Judith Lanzinger’s dissent said that while the Supreme Court agreed the trial court did properly take Belew’s post—traumatic stress disorder into consideration during his sentencing, an opinion should still be rendered on how PTSD must be considered by a court when it sentences a veteran.
“And just as important, we should clarify the standard that an appellate court must use in reviewing a sentence of this type,” Lanzinger wrote. “It is my position that only a full opinion by this court will clarify both the appellate court’s standard of review and the trial court’s need to support the record for a felony sentence.”
Belew had entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of attempted aggravated murder of a law-enforcement officer and two counts of felonious assault.
He was evaluated by two psychologists who reported to the court he didn’t qualify for an insanity defense. One psychologist diagnosed him with alcohol dependence and persistent major depression and PTSD as a result of his service in Iraq. The psychologist believed Belew was hoping to be killed by police on the day of the shooting.
The other psychologist found evidence of a possible personality disorder.
The Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order.
In his dissent, Justice William O’Neill argued the decision by the appeals court should have been reversed and remanded to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing that “properly” takes into consideration Belew’s service record and PTSD diagnosis.
”We are here today because of the tragic events that led to his conviction,” O’Neill wrote. “It is without question, and well supported in the record, that this troubled throwaway from society wanted to commit suicide by cop. There is no other explanation for why and individual would open fire on two approaching well-trained, well-armed police officers. He failed. Rather than dying, Belew received a non-fatal bullet to the chest – and not one of the officers was struck. He took responsibility for his actions and pled guilty to several offenses but received an aggregate sentence of 27 years in prison that was far harsher than it should have been.”
Belew’s “less-than-honorable discharge deprived him of the medical assistance from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs that he so desperately needed,” O’Neill wrote.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor agreed with Lanzinger’s separate dissent that the Supreme Court should have affirmed the appeals court decision to uphold the conviction.