COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Franklin County prosecutors and defense attorneys returned to a Columbus courtroom Tuesday to present – for the second time – a synopsis of their evidence in the murder trial of former Columbus vice officer Andrew Mitchell.
Mitchell, 59, is accused of murder and voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of 23-year-old Donna Castleberry during an undercover prostitution sting on the West Side of Columbus in 2018. After jurors failed to reach a verdict last year on whether or not Mitchell used reasonable force, Judge David Young declared a mistrial, sending prosecutors and defense attorneys alike back to the drawing board.
On Aug. 23, 2018, Mitchell was working undercover for the Columbus Division of Police’s now-defunct VICE unit. His defense attorneys contend that while the plainclothes, badge-less officer tried to arrest Castleberry for solicitation, she slashed him with a knife and choked him during a 47-second confrontation that culminated in Mitchell firing his gun six times.
But Franklin County prosecutor Sheryl Prichard argued that Mitchell – a 30-year veteran of the police force – used excessive and unreasonable force against Castleberry when he shot and killed her in the back seat of his car.
Prichard played an audio recording for the newly-selected jury of the dispute between Mitchell and Castleberry, in which the 23-year-old mother of two is heard crying for help and Mitchell warns about her knife. Castleberry – who could not exit Mitchell’s car given its position and child lock features – did not believe Mitchell was a police officer and used the knife to protect herself, Prichard argued.
“He did sustain a large slice to his hand – we don’t dispute that,” Prichard said. “But Donna was screaming for help, calling for a passerby, ‘Help me, help me.’ She was scared of him; she believed she was being trapped in a car by someone who was trying to rape or harm her.”
Prichard also pointed to Mitchell’s shot cadence, the elapsed time between each shot he fired at Castleberry. The cadence — a series of six shots in 12 seconds — is far slower than the typical four to six shots in one second, she said.
“This wasn’t a shot cadence indicative of an officer firing to save his life and facing an immediate threat,” Prichard said.
After Prichard delivered the state’s opening statement, defense attorney Kaitlyn Stephens approached the podium to tell jurors that Mitchell was acting in self-defense when he pulled the trigger on Aug. 23. Stephens argued that Castleberry, while resisting her lawful arrest, attacked Mitchell with a knife and proceeded to strangle him, leaving Mitchell in imminent fear of harm or death.
“You have to put yourself in Andy Mitchell’s shoes as he was experiencing a deadly attack – from the eyes of a reasonable police officer,” Stephens said.
In March 2019, federal prosecutors accused Mitchell – in a separate criminal case – of forcing sex workers to perform sexual acts in exchange for their freedom. He is also charged with lying to FBI agents and tampering with witnesses.
Mitchell retired from the Columbus Division of Police in 2019 and remains in jail as he awaits the completion of his trial.