COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A jury on Friday found Quentin Smith guilty on all charges including two counts of aggravated murder in the February 2018 shooting deaths of Westerville police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering.
The sentencing phase of the trial will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday; watch live on NBC4i.com and download the NBC4 app to receive alerts. Smith is eligible for the death penalty.
Officers Morelli and Joering were shot and killed on Feb. 10, 2018, after responding to a 911 hangup call from an apartment with a known history of domestic violence.
The jury returned its verdicts after just three and a half hours of deliberation. They found Smith guilty of two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder and one count of domestic violence. Smith was also guilty of two specifications that make him eligible for the death penalty: the purposeful killing of a police officer and purposeful killing of two or more people.
Joering died at the scene. Morelli, who was shot in the chest through a gap in the side of his bulletproof vest, died later that day at the hospital.
Smith faces the death penalty. During the sentencing phase, the defense can present evidence of mitigating factors such as mental health and a difficult childhood in an attempt to spare Smith from the death penalty.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien told jurors in opening arguments on Monday that Smith intended to kill the officers and even bragged about his skill with a gun while in jail.
Defense attorney Frederick Benton, however, said the officers were killed in a moment of panic, chaos, and crisis.
During the four-day trial, jurors heard emotional testimony from other Westerville officers who responded to the scene.
They also heard from Smith’s wife, Candace Smith, who testified her husband had punched and choked her that day prompting her 9-1-1 hangup call.
She told the jury her husband carried two handguns to the couch next to the door where the officers were knocking.
She also said she heard the officers say “don’t do it, don’t it” in the moments before gunfire erupted.
During the trial, the jurors heard that Quentin Smith suffered from schizoaffective disorder and PTSD but Judge Richard Frye told them they were not allowed to consider that in determining guilt.
“You must not consider any evidence of Mr. Smiths’s mental illness, mental instability, or medication for any such condition in deciding whether Mr. Smith has been proven guilty of any of the five counts and any specifications,” Frye said.
In closing arguments, O’Brien said Quentin Smith knew what he was doing when he answered the door.
“There’s no question who’s knocking on the door at that point in time,” O’Brien said. “He knows they’re police officers. They’re not detectives. They’re not plain clothes. They’re in marked cruisers, and navy blue uniforms with a patch, badge, tactical gear.”
The defense did not call any witnesses and Smith waived his right to testify in his own defense.
However, Benton told jurors in closing arguments on Thursday to set their emotions aside.
“You have to decide this case based upon the evidence – not based on emotion, not based upon sympathy, not even based upon revenge,” Benton told jurors.
Benton argued Quentin Smith did not intend to kill the officers.
“This is moving fast,” Benton said. “ A small room, shots being fired, totally unexpected, there’s fear, chaos, and confusion.”
Assistant Prosecutor James Lowe told jurors all that matters is that Smith killed the officers.
“What’s the confusion,” Lowe said. “There’s no confusion. You don’t want to be confused – don’t grab for your Glock.”
Keith Ferrell, president of the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said after the verdict, “anyone that was intimately involved in this will never be the same.”
Ferrell said this is exactly the kind of case the death penalty was meant for. “Obviously, that is what we clearly want,” Ferrell said. “We feel that the death penalty is used sparingly in Central Ohio but this is a case clearly what that is written for and we’re confident that the jury will make the decision on that as well.”