Who’s Really Cycling In and Out of Cleveland's Courts? "Career Criminals" Who Aren't What You Think

Often miscast as violent criminals, most repeat defendants commit nonviolent crimes borne out of untreated addiction and mental illness, a Marshall Project analysis shows

click to enlarge Who’s Really Cycling In and Out of Cleveland's Courts? "Career Criminals" Who Aren't What You Think
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This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletters, and follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


Deshawn Maines stood in a courtroom inside the Cuyahoga County Justice Center on Nov. 7, 2018, awaiting his sentence.

Six months earlier, he had Ubered to a home on Lakeview Road around midday, kicked in the door, and stolen two televisions and a laptop. One of the homeowners, away at work, got an alert from their home security system and called 9-1-1 while Maines was still inside. When police arrived they found the looted goods stashed in a nearby vacant house and Maines, who was then 49, hiding across the street behind a parked SUV, one of the TV remotes still in his pocket.

A court-ordered sanity assessment concluded Maines “was suffering from a severe mental disease” at the time of the crime — his attorney would say later that Maines has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The crime, however, was far from his first. At the sentencing hearing, an assistant county prosecutor detailed Maines’ “lengthy, lengthy, lengthy” criminal record dating back more than three decades.

“Two thefts from ‘93, two (receiving stolen property) ‘93,” prosecutor Andrea Isabella rattled off to the court. “I’m sorry. Three thefts in ‘93, another theft in ‘95, another theft in ‘96, burglary in 2000…”

Like Maines, the vast majority of defendants who appear in Cuyahoga County courtrooms are not there for the first time. A new analysis by The Marshall Project found that almost 70% of the county’s nearly 70,000 criminal court cases from 2016 through the end of 2021 featured a defendant with at least one prior charge on their record. Nearly a third of the county’s court cases involve defendants with at least five prior criminal cases — and Maines has had more than 30 cases since the early 1990s.

The analysis shows that many of these defendants are not hardened, violent criminals. Police and prosecutors warn that judging defendants just on the crimes they’ve been convicted of can understate their dangerousness, given how many people take plea deals for lesser crimes than the ones they were originally charged with. Still, in either case, most of these defendants are not being accused of committing serious violent crimes that would result in lengthy sentences. Instead, they cycle through the courts every year or two to face the types of charges that earn them probation or brief stints in prison. They serve their time and are released, then wind up back in court again on similar criminal charges.

Derisively referred to by police and in the press as “career criminals,” these defendants represent the collision of two societal forces: the desire of many to reduce the nearly unmatched levels of incarceration in the U.S., and a fresh wave of concern among many Americans about public safety. While there is broad support for efforts to free those wrongfully convicted and to find alternatives to incarcerating people for “nonviolent drug” and “first-time” offenses, there remains less sympathy both inside and outside the system for those who’ve amassed records of multiple criminal offenses.

Yet prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and legal experts agree that addressing either concern — mass incarceration or rising crime — will require grappling with this universe of people who cycle repeatedly through the courts. That is no easy task, requiring a remedy to the decades-long failures to combat the addiction, mental illness and poverty driving crime in Cleveland and across the country.

This examination of repeat defendants is part of “Testify,” an ongoing project in which The Marshall Project has scraped public court dockets to illuminate what happens inside Cuyahoga County courtrooms. The analysis shows that these defendants first encounter the court system as teenagers or young adults — the vast majority of them first faced criminal charges before the age of 25 — typically for crimes such as drug possession, petty theft, burglary, breaking and entering, or receiving stolen property. In many cases, their entire criminal records contain only these types of infractions, committed repeatedly between stints of incarceration.

Less than a third of these cases involved a guilty verdict for an “offense of violence,” defined by Ohio as crimes such as domestic violence, escape, improper discharging of a firearm, murder, or arson. The Cleveland Division of Police and County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley declined to comment on the findings.


“A vast number of people who we sweep into the criminal system are not actually ‘criminal’ in any meaningful sense,” said Alexandra Natapoff, a Harvard law professor and former federal public defender who has extensively studied low-level criminal offenses. “They are not scary, they are not dangerous. They do things we don’t want them to do, but the American habit of labeling people criminals and then throwing them under the societal bus is very particular and very American.”

These cases also reveal the current limitations of the county’s “specialty dockets” — side courts that take up some mental health and drug addiction cases. While most repeat defendant cases reviewed by The Marshall Project included someone who cited drug addiction, mental illness, or both as a factor in their crimes, almost none of them meet the strict eligibility requirements that have been in place for a case to be handled by Cuyahoga County’s specialty courts.

“We understand that prison has not proven to be the solution for stopping repeat offenders,’’ said Brendan J. Sheehan, Cuyahoga County’s administrative judge, in response to the findings. “At the same time, we have to find more innovative solutions to better protect our communities.”

He cited the specialty courts as among “the more proactive steps we have taken, engaging the communities we work in, learning by listening to people in those communities and the defendants we see in court.”

The coming months will see the county’s most direct effort to work with many of these defendants when the court launches a “high-risk” drug court that will provide services to addicted defendants with lengthy criminal records, even those accused of violent crimes. Court officials say the high-risk docket, in the works for several years, is slated to launch in November.

“Where we can really see some change is if we focus on those repeat offenders, those people who have mental health issues, substance abuse issues, that lack of opportunity, that lack of job training,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, a candidate for the Court of Common Pleas who, if elected in November, would become the only former Cuyahoga County public defender among the county’s 34 judges.

But too often, rather than be rehabilitated, these defendants cycle in and out of prison, often committing crimes of escalating severity. That escalation, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree, comes in part because even a single conviction or stint behind bars — much less a series of them — makes it that much harder to secure housing, income and consistent healthcare and much more likely someone will recidivate.

One former prosecutor compared the result to the lesson of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”: once you’re in the system, it’s impossible to escape. “Once you have one felony conviction on your record,” said Cullen Sweeney, the county’s chief public defender, “everything is harder for you.”

By and large, these repeat defendants come from Cuyahoga County’s poorest ZIP codes. They are almost exclusively male, even more likely to be Black than defendants facing their first charge, and more likely to hail from the city than the suburbs.

In many cases, the most serious criminal charge faced by these repeat defendants is the most recent one on their rap sheet. In other words, the average repeat defendant is someone like Deshawn Maines.

“The system is not built to help,” Maines said during a recent phone call from the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield. “It hinders.”

***

It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the court system in Greater Cleveland took its first, begrudging, step toward reducing the number of people with mental illness and drug addiction cycling in and out of county courtrooms and Ohio prisons each year.

At the time, then-county prosecutor Stephanie Tubbs-Jones had secured federal grant money for a specialty drug court, but the county judges voted against taking the cash — arguing that such a program was just a means of coddling dangerous criminals. So Tubbs-Jones took the proposal to the city's municipal court, which in 1998 set up the Greater Cleveland Drug Court.

For its first decade, the court was run by Judge Larry Jones, a Black former prosecutor (no relation to Tubbs-Jones), who was known to cite a quote from Thurgood Marshall as his judicial philosophy: “You do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” Jones’ leadership of the drug court fit that ideology — at the time, he faced ongoing opposition from prosecutors, lawmakers and even other judges themselves, according to those involved in the court’s creation. As a result, the drug court was structured specifically to serve the small sliver of defendants who carried almost no risk of future violence, even as the daily court docket made clear much of the county’s crime was being driven by unaddressed social ills.

Cuyahoga County voters have routinely approved tax levies increasing health and human services funding. Yet practitioners within the public health system point out the yawning gulf between the scope of the problem they are tasked with addressing and the resources available to them. As is the case across the country, Greater Cleveland’s single largest mental health facility is the county jail.

“The criminal justice system is the only place, quite frankly, where we pay attention to this population,” said Robert Triozzi, a former judge, prosecutor and city law director who was involved in the efforts to set up the drug court and mental health dockets. “It was never built to be a component of the behavioral health system, yet that is what the folks who are in the system are being called upon to do.”

In Cuyahoga County, someone charged with a crime can petition through their attorney to have their case considered for drug court, mental health court, or one of the county’s other specialty dockets. If they qualify for drug court, the defendant is offered a structured recovery program, often instead of jail time. If completed, their guilty plea can be wiped from the record.

In total, putting a defendant through the program costs taxpayers about $3,000, compared to the $14,000 average cost of incarcerating someone for six months. Citing the success of the city program, it was expanded at the county level as well in 2008.

Despite their success, city and county drug courts have not been available until now to most of those cycling through the system. The drug court program is voluntary, meaning that some who would be otherwise eligible opt out. But the structure of the court itself also excludes many cases in which drug addiction is likely a factor.

Has the defendant ever committed a violent crime? Then they are ineligible. Previously pleaded guilty to a drug trafficking charge? Ineligible. Been cycling through the system for decades, amassing tons of drug convictions? Ineligible for drug court.

With restrictive criteria, the city and county drug courts can only intervene in a small number of cases.

Administrative Judge Sheehan noted that drug rehabilitation services are available to criminal defendants even if they are not eligible for drug court, and that cases in which those services have been offered may not show up in court docket entries.

“People who are not eligible for one of our specialty dockets or who do not want to participate still may receive needed treatment or help,” he said. “Defendants ineligible for our drug court, for example, often receive treatment based on substance use disorder assessments. Because these individuals are not referred into the drug courts by a journal entry, they are not captured in our court docket data — their referral to treatment comes as part of their probation experience.”

Still, at a time when fatal overdoses are surging across Cuyahoga County — 2022 is on pace to have close to 800, the most of any year in recent history — the vast majority of criminal defendants with drug addictions have been excluded from the court program established to rehabilitate drug-addicted criminal defendants.


These are people like Eugene Groce, who has spent decades in Ohio prisons and Cuyahoga County courtrooms.

Groce, a 57-year-old Black man, was first arrested in 1980 as a 17-year-old after a friend of his, he said, snatched a woman’s purse while the two of them were waiting at a Cleveland bus stop. Raised by a single mother at East 93rd and Aetna Road, Groce said that by the time of his first arrest he was addicted to drugs and alcohol, having begun drinking heavily at 12. After being released from the juvenile facility, he began using and selling both powder and crack cocaine.

For the next 30 years, he cycled in and out of Ohio prisons on charges of theft, burglary and receiving stolen property. His most recent conviction came in 2018, when he pleaded guilty to burglary and criminal damaging. All of his offenses, Groce said, were committed in pursuit of his addiction.

“I’m not a violent person. I just have a drug problem,” Groce said in a phone interview.

Groce said that over the years he has checked himself into at least half a dozen treatment and detox programs, but at no point has he been to drug treatment as part of his various criminal convictions. In recent years, he said he has sought out treatment for both schizophrenia and PTSD.

During his current stint in prison, Groce said he enrolled in and completed the prison’s eight-month drug treatment program, as well as getting his certificate from barber school. He’s hopeful that he’ll be able to stay sober, and out of prison, after he is released next year.

“I’ve never gotten treatment through the courts. I always go to jail, jail, jail. I never get treatment,” he said. “The system is not designed to help you. You’ve got to help yourself.”

Jim Joyner, who has spent 50 years as a drug counselor in Northeastern Ohio, said those responsible for expanding access to specialized drug courts — elected prosecutors and judges — are often “well-intentioned people who don’t know their hind end from a hole in the ground” when it comes to understanding how addiction intersects with crime. Even those who do get it, he said, are beholden to voters who largely view addiction as a personal failing and not a chronic health condition to which someone can be biologically predisposed. The Marshall Project’s data analysis earlier showed that Cuyahoga County’s voting patterns have resulted in mostly White judges deciding the fate of the county’s mostly Black criminal defendants.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and medical advocates praised the individual judges currently working the specialty court dockets, but noted that the reason these services have remained so narrow is a decision made by the county’s slate of judges as a whole. “It’s self-protection,” said Timothy J. McGinty, a former county prosecutor and himself a longtime judge. The judges, he said, are “politically vulnerable, and they know it.”

Still, McGinty and others said, attempts to provide more expansive rehabilitation options have to balance the rights and considerations of victims — especially when considering defendants accused of committing acts of violence.

“Chronic violent repeat offenders cause a disproportionate amount of harm … they are the ones who the criminal justice system should focus on,” said McGinty. He noted that the public has little patience following high-profile cases of violence committed by someone with a lengthy criminal record, especially if it includes violent offenses.

That was the case earlier this year, after the shooting death of Cleveland police Officer Shane Bartek.

Bartek, 25, who is White, was ambushed on New Year’s Eve as he walked to his car to drive to a Cavaliers game, in an attempted carjacking by 18-year-old Tamara McLoyd, a Black woman from Garfield Heights. According to police and prosecutors, McLoyd demanded Bartek's keys. A struggle ensued when the off-duty officer attempted to take McLoyd's gun from her. Ultimately, she shot Bartek twice and drove off in his car. McLoyd later admitted to the shooting, but claimed it was an accident and pleaded not guilty in court. In August, a jury found her guilty of aggravated murder. The shooting horrified the city.

At the time of the shooting, McLoyd was on probation stemming from a robbery conviction in Lorain County Juvenile Court. She was accused of setting up the armed robbery of a 37-year-old man she met on a dating website, and there were at least two active warrants out for her arrest. Records released later would show that McLoyd had at least 12 juvenile court cases and several pending adult cases at the time of Bartek's killing. In court, her attorneys and family noted that unresolved mental health issues contributed to her crimes. Neither McLoyd nor her attorneys could be reached for comment.

Cases like Bartek’s murder — featuring a defendant accused of multiple violent offenses — often dominate public discourse, prompting calls for more “tough-on-crime” policies and backlash to bail reform and other attempts at making the criminal legal system less punitive. Such fights have played out across the country in cities like New York and San Francisco in recent years.

Law enforcement officials note that most violence stems from people who commit more than one violent crime. Yet The Marshall Project’s analysis shows that, in greater Cleveland, such people make up a small portion of the overall universe of repeat criminal defendants. Of the roughly 17,000 criminal cases involving defendants with five or more cases, about 30% included a defendant with a conviction for a violent offense. (Because most of her prior offenses occurred in juvenile court, McLoyd was not one of the defendants whose cases were included in the analysis).

Former county and federal prosecutor Duane Deskins compared violence to a raging fire engulfing Cleveland and creating a two-fold challenge: extinguishing the flames and rebuilding the city.

“Putting the fire out is the first step. Governments and societies are set up to protect people, that's why the criminal justice system exists,” said Deskins. He said law enforcement and court efforts should focus most heavily on the small handful of people committing the most violence, while community groups focus on educational, employment and post-incarceration opportunities so that people do not cycle in and out of the system. He credited such a strategy, buoyed by federal funding, with helping the city reduce homicides for a stretch of years during the early 2000s.

“If you want fewer victims, then you have to have fewer perpetrators,” said Deskins, who led the city’s youth violence prevention efforts from 2016 to 2018. “Get the bad people off of the streets so there are fewer victims, and then do the work that you need to so that there are fewer people being funneled into criminal conduct.”

***

Before the end of the year, the Cuyahoga County court system will launch the new, more expansive drug court without strict eligibility requirements. It’s the county’s most aggressive effort to address the repeat defendants whose crimes are driven by addiction and whose stints of incarceration failed to rehabilitate them.

Officials had hoped to get the new court operational sooner, but the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a years-long delay. Preparations are now in place, and criminal defendants long excluded from the county drug court can choose to have their case heard by a specialty judge as soon as this November.

“What we're trying to do is open up our drug court to people who may have otherwise been ineligible and give them a little bit more hands-on attention,” said Judge William T. McGinty, who will run the new drug court. “If we could get 25% of our indictments every year sober, just think about what our community would look like in five to six years.”

The new court will accept people who commit violent crimes, including felonious assault, aggravated assault, and domestic violence, the judge said. The only defendants not eligible for the new drug court will be those with prior convictions for sexual assault and arson. According to McGinty, the drug treatment and mental health facilities the court partners with often cannot serve such people due to their insurance policies.

The high-risk drug court comes as welcome news to Christopher Harvath, who has spent 30 years oscillating in and out of Ohio prisons — even if the court is being established too late to apply to his most recent case, which landed him a lengthy prison sentence.

“People don’t realize how much addiction plays a part in people’s actions,” Harvath, 44, said in a phone interview from Ohio State Penitentiary, the Youngstown supermax prison where he has been since 2019. Prosecutors and judges “think that when a person tells them that, it’s just them trying to get out of jail time. A lot of times it is. But a lot of times it ain’t.”

Harvath, who is White, grew up at East 61st and St. Clair. His parents, he said, struggled with addiction and his mother was largely out of the picture. So he and his siblings were raised by an aging grandmother who he said did her best, but wasn’t equipped for the challenge. Most days he went to school with holes in his shoes. At 12, Harvath had his first encounter with police; at 16, he was sent to a juvenile facility after being caught stealing a car with a group of friends. He’s cycled in and out of courtrooms and prison cells in the three decades since.

“It might sound stupid, but I wish that when I first got locked up I would have gotten beaten up real bad so that I would have thought twice about ever going back to jail,” Harvath said, adding that his early brushes with the system normalized incarceration. “It doesn’t prepare you to go home. It doesn’t prepare you for the streets. It prepares you to come back.”

Harvath now attributes much of his early misbehavior to mental illness — he has since been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder, which can result in outbursts of impulsive behavior and violence. He describes himself as an adrenaline junkie. And his fix of choice, dating back to his teen years, has been stealing cars.

It wasn’t until he was 27 that Harvath ever tried hard drugs. He was serving a four-year bid at the maximum security prison in Lucasville — locked up on a burglary conviction after he was caught stealing cars from a parking garage — when he first tried ecstasy after seeing fellow inmates getting high as a means of escape. Harvath recalled thinking that getting high was, in a sense, “a way to get out of prison.”

By the time he was released, Harvath had developed a full-blown drug dependency that would soon expand to include cocaine, heroin, crack and OxyContin. He’d been sent to Lucasville, ostensibly, to be rehabilitated. Instead, he emerged in 2004 hooked on drugs.

Drugs had not been a factor in any of his convictions to that point, Harvath said, but were a driving component in the ones that followed. “My whole life after that has been the addiction,” he said. The city and county drug courts weren’t established until a decade later. Even if they existed, Harvath’s prior convictions and the types of charges he routinely faced, like burglary and grand theft auto, would have made him ineligible before the creation of the high risk drug court.

In the years since, the longest he’s been out of prison is 11 months. And that was atypical. Usually he has only been home for a few weeks at a time — 32 days, 27 days, 52 days — before getting arrested and sent back to prison. He pleaded guilty to charges including breaking and entering, attempted grand theft, grand theft and grand theft auto, possession of criminal tools, vandalism, receiving stolen property, burglary, and aggravated theft. He said that at no point during his more than 10 stints in Ohio prisons has he ever been provided with drug treatment or mental health services. His most recent arrest and conviction, his most serious yet, came in late 2018, just 78 days after he’d been released from prison.

According to prosecutors, in late 2018, Harvath, his brother Joseph, and a third man named Carl Deditch began burglarizing apartment complexes across the county. Among the items they stole were cars, TVs, power tools, license plates and Christmas trees.

Harvarth was caught after the workers at a software company in Westlake confronted him and his brother as they tried to steal the plates off of an employee’s car and put them on another car, which the brothers had stolen. Harvarth sped off in the stolen car and led police on a chase that ended in a five-car crash. He and two other people were seriously injured.

In November 2019, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, the longest sentence he’s ever received. “I wouldn’t have caught this much time,” Harvath said. “Except … I put other lives in danger.” In a press release at the time, county prosecutor O’Malley celebrated that “career criminals” like Harvath and his brother would “no longer be able to wreak havoc in our communities.”

“I’m not receiving drug or mental health treatment,” Harvath wrote in an email from prison. Still, Harvath said he is determined to stay sober and out of trouble upon his next release, slated for 2032, even if he is frustrated by how little support he’s received while incarcerated by the state’s “rehabilitation” department.

“I’m definitely not coming back,” Harvath wrote. “I will be 53 years-old, and I am so so so so sick and tired of being sick and tired. I am ready to live my life and enjoy my freedom while I have the chance!”

***

After Deshawn Maines was arrested, his case was moved to the mental health docket and landed in the courtroom of Judge Hollie Gallagher. A court-ordered review concluded that while Maines was severely mentally ill, he understood that his actions were wrong at the time of his crime and thus could be held criminally culpable.

Over two days of hearings, Gallagher spoke with Maines to make sure that he understood the legal proceedings, and that she understood this case and his history. From 1991 to 2017, court records show, Maines had been suspected of more than 55 theft-related offenses.

“I didn’t come from a bad life. My mother is a doctor. I just ended up on the wrong track,” Maines said during a brief phone interview, in which he declined to discuss the details of his case. Details of his most recent criminal case were acquired via public records and an interview with his attorney. Maines said he’d long had trouble receiving the correct mental health and drug treatment. “Of course the outcome would have changed for me…if someone would have came and aided me or listened to my family.”

Maines told the judge that for most of his life, he’d been getting in trouble for crimes that he had committed to support a drug habit. But this time, the 2018 burglary, wasn’t about addiction — he said that had been clean. Instead, there had been an issue with his insurance and so, on the day of the burglary, Maines had been off his medication for two weeks.

“Every time I come to this court or jail it's for trying to support drugs and stealing out of stores, I've been stealing out of stores to support a habit forever,” Maines told the judge, growing so upset that she had him pause to take a few deep breaths, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

“I have been messing up for so many years,” Maines continued. “My mother died and I was in prison. I was so disappointed, I was so hurt because I let my mother leave here seeing me be a failure. And when I came home I tried, and I was succeeding. And I was … (then) the incident happened, and I didn't make the right choice.”

Maines agreed to plead guilty to one count of burglary and one count of receiving stolen property. Prosecutors agreed to drop an additional theft charge, reducing the amount of prison time he was facing from nine years to eight. Still, Maines assumed he’d end up getting probation or, at most, a year or two in prison — the types of sentences he’d received many times in the past.

At a sentencing hearing two months later, prosecutors put on a full presentation. After running through Maines’ criminal history, assistant county prosecutor Andrea Isabella told the court, “It's clearly gotten out of control, and it's harming people.”

Isabella played the home surveillance footage, which showed Maines first attempting to break into the victim’s car and pausing to make sure he was not seen by the neighbors before entering the house. She next had the two homeowners testify, as well as the detective who had investigated the case. Each of them urged the judge to give Maines as much prison time as possible.

“I don’t know if you have ever had your house or anything broken into or stolen from you, but I feel like he basically violated my space,” one of the victims told the judge. “I want him to go to jail. I want him to stay in jail, I want him to get the maximum time possible … He took away my peace of mind, and I don't think that's fair.”

Maines’ attorney, Michael Marein, begged the judge for leniency, saying that his client had been physically and sexually abused as a child and been addicted to drugs. He noted that frequent prison sentences had not made a difference. Even now, Marein said he remains deeply upset by prosecutors’ dismissiveness toward his client’s clear mental illness. (Isabella, now a federal prosecutor, did not respond to requests for comment).

Marein said that he believes his client was hallucinating when he committed the crime. “There is no doubt in my mind that he thought these people stole from him,” Marein said. “His reality is distorted.”

Maines was facing a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. Prosecutors asked that he be given at least five. Judge Hollie Gallagher decided to sentence him to six. “Your mental illness is not an excuse. It’s not. And your record is so unbelievably long with similar types of incidents. Unbelievably long. I can’t put you on probation. You are going to serve a prison sentence,” Gallagher, who did not respond to requests for comment, declared from the bench.

“The doctors say the biggest predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So if I was going to predict what you would do on probation, my prediction would be that you would victimize another person...” she continued. “Sometimes mental illness is a mitigating factor, and sometimes it’s a dangerous factor. So with your record I have to say if you’re blaming this on your mental illness then your mental illness makes you more dangerous.”

Maines appealed his sentence, noting that during the plea deal negotiations he had been told that the judge was “still considering” probation, and that had influenced his decision to admit to the charges. The panel of three appeals court judges upheld his sentence — noting that Gallagher’s decision had fallen within her judicial discretion and complied with her legal obligations — but one of them issued a separate opinion.

Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon, a former prosecutor for the city of Cleveland, concurred that there were no legal grounds to overturn Maines’ conviction, but said she was concerned about the state of the “mental health prison complex.” Blackmon became the first Black woman elected as an appeals court judge in Ohio when she first ascended to the bench in 1991.

The deinstitutionalization of those with mental health problems, she wrote, had funneled scores of people into a criminal legal system unequipped and unwilling to navigate their illness. And while the police, prosecutors, jurors and judges often believe defendants like Maines know right from wrong, Blackmon wrote, too often that conclusion ignores advances in brain science that show how mental illness and drug use damage executive function.

“The court system has known for decades that Maines is in need of mental health treatment. However, the system has opted to continue jailing him with hopes that society will be safe from him for at least six years,” Blackmon wrote. “The police detective and many others believe very strongly that he knows the difference between right and wrong. Maybe he does, but that is not the issue. Putting him in jail without properly addressing his mental health care is unbelievable.”

Edited by Susan Chira and David Eads. Additional data analysis by Anna Flagg. Design by Elan Kiderman Ullendorff. Illustrations commissioned and edited by Celina Fang, Elan Kiderman Ullendorff and Raghuram Vadarevu.

An earlier version of this article omitted a description of Jennifer O'Donnell: if elected, she would be the first Cuyahoga County public defender to serve as a judge, not the first judge who had been a public defender.
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