COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The sentencing phase in the trial of Quentin Smith started Monday morning with emotional statements from the widows of two Westerville police officers shot and killed by Smith.
The jury found Smith guilty Friday of the February 2018 aggravated murders of Officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering.
In the sentencing phase, the jury is to determine whether or not to recommend the death penalty.
Linda Morelli fought back tears as she described the impact of her husband’s murder.
“My kids have lost their father, and I have lost my husband because of the events that happened on February 10, 2018,” she said. “Our lives have changed dramatically since then.”
This is believed to be the first time in Ohio that victim impact statements were allowed in the sentencing phase of a death penalty case. Prior to the passage of a victim rights law in 2018 known as Marcy’s Law, only the defense was permitted to present evidence of mitigating factors in death penalty cases.
Jami Joering described how difficult the loss of her husband has been on their three young daughters.
“The girls, to this day, will call his cell phone to hear his voice on the voicemail because that’s the only thing that brings them comfort,” Joering said. “They will text him to wish him happy birthday or simply tell them about their day. They so badly want him back home – to tuck them in at night or to watch movies together as a family. How do you fix that?”
Officers Morelli and Joering had responded to a 911 hangup call from Smith’s wife, Candace. Candace Smith testified during the trial that she dialed 911 after Smith punched and choked her, then confronted her with two handguns.
She said Smith carried the handguns to the couch next to the front door where officers were knocking.
Jami Joering told jurors her husband died a hero that day.
“I’m proud that he walked in with his head held high and saved Candace and her daughter because he took an oath to serve and protect and he died that day doing just that,” she said.
Defense attorneys said they will present witnesses and evidence that Quentin Smith suffers from a variety of mental illnesses and had a difficult childhood.
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.
The sentencing phase is expected to last several days.
The sentencing phase of the trial will continue Tuesday; watch live on NBC4i.com and download the NBC4 app to receive alerts.