Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
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Ohio: 19-year-old sentenced to death in student's murder; 3 co-defendents testified

Damantae Graham
Damantae Graham
An Akron man convicted of shooting and killing a Kent State University student during the robbery of a Kent apartment on Super Bowl Sunday is headed to Ohio's death row.

Citing the "lack of regard for human life this man has," Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman on Nov. 16 sentenced Damantae D. Graham, 19, to death for the Feb. 7 murder of Nicholas W. Massa, 18, of Westlake.

"This was a senseless, senseless act," Pittman told Graham. She said she sought humanity in his eyes during the trial, but found none.

"I have a clear conscience about what I did," Pittman added.

Graham is believed to be the youngest defendant ever to be sentenced to death in Portage County history.

Jurors convicted Graham Nov. 3 on 6 felony charges, including aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and 3 counts of kidnapping. On Nov. 8, they recommended Pittman sentence him to death.

Pittman found that the aggravating factors of the case -- that Graham committed the murder in the process of burglarizing a Ryan Place apartment while armed, and kidnapped and robbed the residents -- outweighed the mitigating factors that could have spared his life.

Those included Graham's youth and early life of poverty under "harsh parenting," a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder and his voluntary abuse of illegal and prescription drugs.

Defense attorney Anthony Koukoutas moved for an acquittal on all charges, which Pittman denied. Barring that, he asked the judge to sentence Graham to life in prison. She also declined that request.

Twice during the hearing, Pittman offered Graham a chance to speak.

"You don't want to talk to me, Damantae?" she asked him at one point.

"No," Graham replied, with the same lack of emotion he showed throughout his week-long trial.

Graham gets an automatic appeal of his death sentence. In the event the death penalty sentence is reversed, Graham still must serve 61 years on the robbery, burglary, kidnapping and firearms charges, Pittman ruled, agreeing to a request by Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci to make sure Graham never leaves prison.

Graham's co-defendants -- 18-year-olds Ty A. Kremling, Marquis C.T. Grier and Anton "AJ" Planicka -- all testified at trial that Graham shot Massa during the robbery, which had targeted small-time marijuana dealer Connor Haithcock, a former classmate of Kremling at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.

The 3 remaining co-defendants face identical charges of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and kidnapping.


A friend and 3 of Massa's family members delivered emotional victim impact statements to the court. They remembered his smile and his laughter, his love of fishing and his wish to one day own his own fishing charter.

Massa's KSU roommate, Alex Mangels, called his lost friend "a beautiful person" of character, compassion and a willingness to help others. He said he is now left to "pick up the pieces of a friendship we will have no more."

Massa's family spoke of their love for their lost brother, son and nephew, calling out Graham for his "callousness" and cowardice.

"Not one time, not even in a half-hearted attempt to save his own life," did Graham show regret or remorse for the "senseless, cowardly act" of murder, Nick Massa's uncle Scott Massa told Pittman. "It was disgusting."

Kelly Massa, Nick's older sister, and his mother, Jackie, both cried as they spoke of never getting to see their brother and son get married and have children of his own.

"Nick embodied everything I aspired to be," Kelly Massa said. "What this man took from us is irreplaceable If I want to hang out with my brother, I have to go to the cemetery. At his wake, I held his hand and I promised justice would be served."

"The outcome of this trial will not bring back my son," Jackie Massa said, "but it will allow my son to finally rest in peace."

Source: Stow Sentry, November 19, 2016

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