COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the death sentence for a man who fatally shot a Kent State University student during a robbery, citing the killer’s youth at the time and his history of substance abuse and mental health issues.
Death row inmate Damantae Graham was sentenced to die for killing 18-year-old Nick Massa in February 2016 at an off-campus apartment. Graham, then 19, and two 17-year-old codefendants went to the apartment to steal drugs and money from the apartment’s residents, according to court records. A fourth codefendant stayed outside in a vehicle.
The state Supreme Court has not always given weight to an offender’s youth but has changed that position in other recent rulings, Justice Patrick Fischer said in the court’s opinion. “We consider Graham’s youth—he turned 19 the month before he committed the offenses with three teenagers—to be a factor that carries significant weight,” Fischer said.
The court also said Graham’s troubled home life, his mental health issues and his substance abuse—including an addiction to tranquilizers—all outweighed factors calling for a death sentence. The court returned Graham’s case to Portage County court for resentencing on the aggravated murder conviction.
Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci called the ruling disappointing but noted Graham was also sentenced to decades in prison on burglary, robbery and kidnapping charges and is unlikely ever to get out.