YOUNGSTOWN, OH (AP) — A man charged with setting a fire that killed a girl he was accused of raping and her grandparents jumped to his death from a fourth-floor courthouse balcony on Monday, the day before jury selection in his death penalty trial.
Robert Seman Jr., 48, was being led by deputies from a courtroom after a status conference to a holding cell at the Mahoning County Courthouse in Youngstown when he killed himself, Sheriff Jerry Greene told the Youngstown Vindicator.
“According to a couple of the attorneys and basically everybody there, it seemed like he was in pretty good spirits,” Greene said. “He was talking about the future of his trial, and he just decided to jump.”
FILE – This undated photo file provided by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office in Youngstown, Ohio, shows Robert Seman Jr., charged with setting a fire that killed a 10-year-old girl he was accused of raping and her grandparents. (Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office via AP)
Seman could have faced the death penalty if convicted in the deaths of 10-year-old Corrine Gump, 63-year-old William Schmidt and 61-year-old Judith Schmidt. The March 2015 fire at the family’s home occurred the day Seman’s trial in Corrine’s rape was scheduled to begin in Youngstown. Investigators concluded that the fire was fueled by gasoline. Burns were found on Seman’s body after his arrest, prosecutors said.
Seman’s aggravated murder trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday 35 miles away from Youngstown in Portage County. Seman’s attorneys successfully argued that he could not get a fair trial in Youngstown because of pretrial publicity. A Mahoning County judge declared a mistrial last September because a potential juror had prematurely concluded that Seman was guilty and discussed details about the case with fellow jurors.
Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa told news outlets Monday that Seman “knew” the evidence was against him.
“Every witness we talked to in preparation for the case, they didn’t know why he wasn’t pleading guilty or asking for some sort of plea,” Cantalamessa said.
Seman’s attorneys didn’t return telephone messages seeking comment Monday.
Sheriff: No change in procedures planned
The sheriff says his office isn’t changing its prisoner transport procedures after Seman jumped to his death from a fourth-floor courthouse balcony.
Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene tells Cleveland.com that the defendant was handled differently and not shackled at the time because of a court order that deviated from what deputies usually do with prisoners headed to and from courtrooms.
A defense attorney had argued that seeing Seman Jr. in jail clothes or handcuffs could improperly influence jurors.