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Divided Ohio Supreme Court upholds death sentence for killing of officer during traffic stop


COLUMBUS, Ohio — The nature of a police officer's killing during a traffic stop — shot four times in the head at close range — outweighed arguments that the killer panicked out of fear he would be attacked, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in upholding the defendant's death sentence by a single vote.

The court's 4-3 ruling kept in place the conviction and sentence of Ashford Thompson, sentenced to die for fatally shooting 33-year-old Twinsburg officer Joshua Miktarian in 2008. Miktarian was shot twice at close range, then twice more with the barrel pressed against the officer's head.

Writing for the majority, Justice Judith French said the intentional way that Thompson shot Miktarian outweighed the offender's arguments for mercy.

"The nature and circumstances of the crime do not support Thompson's claims of panic," French wrote.

The justices voting for a death sentence said they gave some weight to Thompson's history, character, lack of a serious criminal background, good childhood and pride in his profession of licensed practical nurse. Justices Terrence O'Donnell and Sharon Kennedy and Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor also voted in favor of a death sentence.

In a dissent, Justice William O'Neill said evidence showed Thompson was confused and frightened after he was pulled over and mistakenly believed the officer was going to attack him.

Thompson's girlfriend, Danielle Roberson, testified that Miktarian was rude and unprofessional, "kind of slammed" Thompson onto the hood of his police car and threatened to release his police dog on Thompson, according to Wednesday's ruling.

"The only reasonable explanation for this tragic event is that Thompson was confused and frightened and mistakenly concluded that Officer Miktarian planned to attack him — either by releasing the police dog or by shooting him," O'Neill wrote.

The dissenting justices, who also included Paul Pfeifer and Judith Lanzinger, rejected arguments that Thompson shot the officer to avoid detection, a factor under Ohio law that can justify a death sentence.

Thompson was arrested at an apartment a few minutes after the shooting with the officer's handcuffs hanging from his right wrist, according to Wednesday's court ruling.

As in most death penalty cases, further appeals in federal court are likely. Thompson's attorney had no immediate comment.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at .

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