Phelps challenges death penalty

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Brandon Michael Phelps, 20, 1281 Birch St., Bellaire, appeared before Judge Jennifer L. Sargus on a status conference where his defense claimed the death penalty should be taken off the table.

Phelps and Devin Wayne Fuller, 19, 3567 Franklin St., Bellaire, are charged with four counts of aggravated murder, committed in the course of rape, of aggravated burglary, of burglary and of trespassing. Each count carries a death penalty specification. Both face two additional counts of trespassing.

Phelps’ defense put forward numerous motions including the appropriation of funds for a defense mitigation expert, requests to clarify the sharing of information between prosecution and defense, forbidding officers to discuss the case with Phelps, and permitting Phelps to appear in civilian clothing in court.

These motions were sustained with some provisions except in cases where it was noted that the procedures were already covered by law. Sargus overruled a motion to close further pre-trials on the grounds that publicity could prejudice a jury. She noted the jury selection process has consistently excluded prejudicial jurors.

Among the motions was a challenge that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

“He recently filed a motion providing the death penalty in the state of Ohio was unconstitutional. Obviously, we do not agree with that,” said Prosecutor Chris Berhalter. His office would issue a full response within 14 days.

Phelps will appear at another conference March 4 at 1:30 p.m.

Fuller is set to appear before Judge John M. Solovan II Friday at 10 a.m.

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