A Franklin County jury has put a period on the murder of two Westerville Police officers who were killed while responding to a domestic violence incident. Jurors recommended two life sentences without the possibility of parole for Quentin Smith.
On a snowy day in February last year, a 911 dispatcher in Westerville got a call, but the caller hung up. It was a domestic disturbance: Quentin Smith had flown into a rage, and started beating and strangling his wife Candace.
Shortly after the call, police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering came knocking.
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien described to the jury how the events unfolded when Smith went to the door.
“He knew they were officers,” O’Brien said. “They were in uniform, and he expressed that to his wife as they were knocking at the door: 'What, you called the police on me?'”
The double murder shocked Westerville residents. A double funeral and a parade shut down large portions of the city. Once the trial began, the case moved quickly. The defense declined to put any witnesses on the stand during the trial, and Smith declined to testify in his defense, in effect conceding he shot the officers.
During sentencing, though, attorney Diane Menashe painted a picture of Smith’s difficult upbringing.
“I submit that what the YWCA can give to a person—food, clothing, shelter—is not enough. It’s not enough for a child,” Menashe argued. “And that damaged and deficient relationship, this is why it’s important, is because that formed the basis of how his relationships later in his life would be.”
Prosecutor James Lowe pushed back, arguing the murders Smith committed were the result of choices he made.
“His choice to shoot at officers with his 15 month old daughter 10 feet away. His choice,” Lowe said. “His mental health may have placed him at risk, but it didn’t force him to commit these aggravated circumstances. Those were his choices.”
Prosecutors also put the officers’ widows and one of their daughters on the stand. In an emotional victim impact statement, Jami Joering told the jury about the last time she spoke to her husband.
“I spoke to Eric on the phone briefly around 11:55. We hung up, and I texted him to say something felt off, and I wanted to vomit,” she said. “I attempted to contact him again at 12:21, except this time no response, I later found out it was because he’d been murdered.”
In the end, jurors determined the mitigating factors laid out by the defense outweighed the fact Smith shot and killed two law enforcement officers. Instead of the death penalty, they recommended life sentences with the possibility of parole for Smith’s murder of Morelli and Joering.
Speaking after the decision, Menashe said the system worked. She noted she didn’t want to jump on the case right after defending Brian Golsby, the man convicted of murdering Reagan Tokes. But she was swayed because she hoped it might send a broader message.
“If those two cases got life, then maybe the death penalty and seeking the death penalty in Franklin County, maybe the jurors would speak that this isn’t where we should be spending our resources,” Menashe said. “And I think the community has spoken to that, and I think one of the reasons they speak to that so consistently with respect to cases is mental health.”
But Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien contends the decision has to do with this case and this jury. He pushed for the death penalty, and admitted not getting it was somewhat disappointing. Still, OBrien says he’s satisfied with the sentence and so are the victims’ families.
“They are pleased with the verdict, pleased with the sentence, and they feel that, as the judge expressed, that the judicial system worked, because this man is going to die in prison,” O’Brien said
O’Brien notes that may offer a silver lining. Death sentences come with a number of appeals that can stretch beyond a decade. With the way the winds are blowing, O’Brien says he’s not sure the state will be carrying out those sentences by then.
He says in addition to the two sentences of life without the possibility of parole, he expects the judge to add another 35 years to Smith’s punishment.
Judge Richard Frye has slated November 21 to reconvene and hand down his sentence.