Son Gives Up Father as Murderer: Kareem Gilbert admitted one killing Tuesday but prosecutors dropped a second murder charge against him when he agreed to testify against his father — who was sitting in the court and unaware of what was about to happen — in the second killing.
A weird murder case that started with a teen’s being hit with a meatball sandwich and led to a son’s ratting out his dad has prosecutors and defense attorneys across Ohio arguing anew over an issue that could impact plea bargains.
Prosecutors are concerned the issue could undermine the plea-deal system that resolves 94 percent of criminal cases in Ohio. Their critics counter it wouldn’t be a problem if Hamilton County prosecutors hadn’t screwed up.
The newest fight stems from an appeals court decision Jan. 30 that concluded prosecutors and a judge were wrong to invalidate a plea agreement with Kareem “Little Red” Gilbert, who admitted he reneged on his part of the deal when he told a jury his father killed no one.
“I’ve never seen the state (prosecutors) set aside a plea,” Hamilton County Public Defender Ray Faller said of the case.
“It’s a deal with the devil that they made,” Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said.
Hamilton County prosecutors, who said they will appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, said they followed the law.
The underlying case started in October 2008 when Gilbert, then 16, was horsing around with Brian Austin and Vernon Davis. Tempers flared, and Austin hit Gilbert with a meatball sandwich. Gilbert shot Austin to death as Davis ran off. Davis, aware of the Gilbert family’s neighborhood reputation, was so scared he also would be killed that he told his family what clothes to put on him at his funeral.
Davis was shot and killed Oct. 31, 2008. Police eventually charged Gilbert with both killings.
At a drama-filled May 18, 2010, guilty plea, prosecutors dropped the murder charges against Gilbert. In exchange, he pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and agreed to be imprisoned for 18 years – and to testify that his father, Ruben “Red” Jordan, sitting in the audience, shot and killed Davis.
Gilbert, now 20, gave prosecutors a statement to that effect and agreed that, if he changed his story at his father’s trial, prosecutors could reinstate the original murder charges and he could face a potential life sentence.
That’s exactly what happened. When Jordan, now 40, went to trial for murder, his son testified his father killed no one. The jury apparently didn’t believe him – prosecutors also played Gilbert’s earlier taped statement in which he said he saw his dad shoot Davis to death – and convicted Jordan of murder. Jordan is serving a prison sentence of 30 years to life.
Gilbert, though, was sentenced before his father’s trial. That means, the appeals court ruled, that prosecutors couldn’t change their plea deal with him.
Prosecutors agreed to allow Gilbert to be sentenced before he testified because both father and son were in the Justice Center, posing a security threat, and they wanted to lock in the agreement before Gilbert changed his mind, prosecutor spokeswoman Julie Wilson said. “There could be an intimidation issue,” she said.
Prosecutors asked Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler to reinstate Gilbert’s original charges. Gilbert then pleaded guilty to murder, not the manslaughter plea as in the plea deal, and was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison.
That violated Ohio’s laws, the appeals court found, noting the judge had no authority to reinstate the original charges after Gilbert was sentenced.
The prosecutors were criticized for allowing Gilbert to be sentenced before he testified against his father. If the appeals court decision stands, prosecutors said it could impact plea deals, allowing criminals to make deals and renege on them.
Prosecutors have only themselves to blame, critics countered. “This is a mistake of the Hamilton County prosecutors,” public defender Young said.
“It’s to their advantage to hold the sentence over (Gilbert’s) head,” said Candace Crouse, head of the Greater Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “They might have just messed this one up.”
Wrong, countered Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who also is president of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
He had the same situation in his county, he said, in a case involving Bobby Bethel. After Bethel didn’t complete his part of the plea deal, his plea and sentence were withdrawn, the original charges were reinstated and he was convicted of murder – and sent to death row, where he resides.
“If the (Ohio) Supreme Court upheld a death sentence in those circumstances, certainly trial judges have the authority to vacate pleas and judgments when the defendant breaches a plea agreement to testify for the state,” O’Brien noted.
That’s not what Appeals Court judges Penelope Cunningham and Pat Fischer ruled in their decision, but it was what fellow Appeals Court Judge Pat Dinkelacker wrote in his dissent.
“Kareem Gilbert’s scheme of dishonesty should not be rewarded,” Dinkelacker wrote. “Gilbert did not seek justice, he thwarted it. Left to stand, the decision of this court allows an injustice against the citizens of Ohio.”
Prosecutors have 30 days to appeal.
Meatball murder threatens plea deals