LIMA — An Allen County jury deliberated for less than an hour Thursday afternoon before finding Ross McWay guilty of aggravated murder in the Jan. 15 death of Lima resident Wendy Jeffers.
Judge Jeffrey Reed immediately sentenced McWay, 38, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Defense attorney Steven Chamberlain had asked Reed to consider a lesser sentence sentence, but acknowledged that such leniency would be “treating my client better than he deserves.”
The judge’s sentence was handed down after statements were read from two of Ms. Jeffers’ children. Her son, in his statement, said he had forgiven McWay for taking his mother’s life, but nonetheless asked the judge to impose the maximum allowable sentence. A letter from Jeffers’ daughter also asked for the maximum sentence, but said she hoped McWay would find God while in prison.
Allen County Prosecuting Attorney Juergen Waldick urged Reed to hand down the maximum allowable sentence, saying, “This defendant is incapable of being rehabilitated.” He cited McWay’s 2002 conviction on a charge of voluntary manslaughter with a firearm as the basis for his recommendation.
“This defendant should never, ever see the light of day again,” said Waldick.
Alluding to Chamberlain’s request for a lighter sentence, Reed said, “I’ve been asked to show mercy, but it’s hard when the man before me is responsible for two people’s deaths.”
McWay showed no emotion as the verdict or the sentence were announced. Near the end of the proceedings he turned tearfully to Jeffers’ family and mouthed what appeared to be “I’m sorry” in a nearly inaudible voice.
The third day of in the trial wrapped up Thursday morning when Diane Scala-Barnett, a forensic pathologist and chief deputy coroner in Lucas County, took the stand. Barnett walked the jury through some two dozen graphic photos during the autopsy performed on Wendy Jeffers’ body.
Jeffers’ lifeless body was found by police on Jan. 15 at her residence at 1112 N. Main St., Lima.
Barnett brought the jury’s attention to red “splotches” on the victim’s face and said they were consistent with strangulation when force is applied to the neck. The pathologist also said the fracture of a bone in the victim’s throat and bite marks on her tongue were also evidence of strangulation.
She testified there are three types of strangulation: one using an assailant’s hands and fingers; one using a towel or sheet or other item wrapped around a victim’s neck; and one where the victim is strangled in the crook of an elbow. Barnett said the wounds on Jeffers’ body were consistent with the latter type of strangulation.
In closing arguments, prosecutors seized on Barnett’s testimony to remind jurors that three witnesses — all inmates who had shared jail space with McWay in the days prior to Jeffers’ murder — had testified that McWay had threatened to kill Jeffers and had indicated he would strangle her by using his arm.
During his closing arguments, Chamberlain attempted to discount the testimony of the inmates, saying, “They’re not believable; they don’t meet the smell test.” The jurors rejected that argument.
The defense attorney did admit McWay caused Jeffers’ death but insisted her death did not come with “prior calculation or design,” key elements of the aggravated murder charge. He urged the jury to return a verdict of guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
But Waldick, who had the final word before jurors began their deliberations, said, “This case is about Wendy Jeffers and how her life ended. I ask for justice for Wendy Jeffers, and the only right verdict is to find (McWay) guilty of aggravated murder.”