LIMA — While a police detective said Hager Church confessed to beating a woman to death during a robbery last week, the case is far from over as attorneys began the process Wednesday that will determine whether he lives or dies.
Church and his attorneys, Bill Kluge and Steve Chamberlain, appeared at his arraignment in Allen County Common Pleas Court to enter not guilty pleas to aggravated murder and aggravated robbery along with a death penalty specification and repeat violent offender specification.
The first pretrial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday before Judge Richard Warren.
Church, 25, is charged in the Aug. 16 slaying of Debra Henderson inside her home at 619 Woodward Ave. Police officials said Church beat Henderson to death during a robbery. She died of head injuries.
Detective Tim Clark said Church has confessed to the crime.
While the case may sound simple, it likely will be anything but that as it moves through the court system toward trial, likely in six months to a year. Death penalty cases often take on a life of their own with defense attorneys filing numerous motions, including a request to have the trial moved, requests for thousands of dollars to hire experts, and even a request to have the defendant appear in street clothes at the trial.
Kluge is no stranger to death penalty cases having spent nearly a quarter of a century defending people who have committed some of the worst crimes the city has seen. Chamberlain has been an attorney for nearly a quarter of a century but is a relative newcomer to such cases.
In many death penalty cases, the battle is not over guilt or innocence, though a necessary part, the real focus is on the punishment. Prosecutors push for the death penalty arguing the crime is so egregious it deserves the ultimate punishment.
Sometimes deals are cut to avoid a trial, years of appeals and expense, and give families some closure, such as a defendant pleading to charges and agreeing to serve life in prison without parole if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table.
In Allen County, however, under Prosecutor Juergen Waldick, there have been no deals. When Waldick has sought the death penalty he has not used it as a bargaining chip. He leaves it up to the jury on whether to cut a defendant a break.