A man convicted of plotting to kill a judge, a mayor, a prosecutor and a police chief will receive a limited resentencing according to a recent judgment from the 11th District Court of Appeals.
The judgment overruled most of a second appeal from Joseph Sands, who was convicted in November 2006 following a jury trial in the Lake County Court of Common Pleas of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, three counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated arson.
According to the opinion written on behalf of a three-judge appellate panel by Judge Colleen O’Toole, the evidence at trial established that Sands plotted to construct pipe bombs and throw them into his victims’ homes.
Recordings of conversations that Sands held indicated that he planned to kill North Perry Mayor Tom Williams first, followed by North Perry Prosecutor Joseph Gurley.
Sands also expressed a desire to “shoot the head off” of Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael Cocconetti, according to court documents.
North Perry Police Chief Denise Mercsak was also included in Sands’ list of targets during trial but Sands was acquitted of planning to harm him.
Lake County Common Pleas Judge Vincent Culotta sentenced Sands to the maximum term of 20 years in prison for the scheme.
“The evidence gathered included all the equipment necessary to make multiple pipe bombs, loaded with shrapnel and ether, as well as an extremely large quantity of various ammunition, handguns, shotguns and rifles,” O’Toole wrote.
The court’s opinion notes that Sands conducted a “dry run” at the mayor’s home where he planned to run out of a vehicle and throw a pipe bomb through the home’s bay window.
“There was a handwritten note with the intended targets’ names and addresses and numerous recorded conversations in which Mr. Sands detailed the plans,” O’Toole wrote.
The court of appeals used the record to overrule Sands’ argument that the evidence at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
Sands also argued that the time frame alleged in the indictment for his activities — March 1, 2006 to April 9, 2006 — was insufficient to support a conviction for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
But the court of appeals held that the matter was one of interpretation and encouraged to Sands to seek sympathy with a higher court, which has already denied a motion for delayed appeal from the defendant.
“We are aware that Mr. Sands strongly disagrees with our interpretation of the law regarding engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity as applied to his case: It is an issue he has raised in various guises to this court on various occasions,” O’Toole wrote. “At oral argument, his reasoning was detailed and vigorous.
“Nevertheless, we stand with our prior determination that he was both properly indicted, and convicted, of this crime. If he disagrees with our opinion, he can appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio.”
Sands also argued that the state of Ohio did not have jurisdiction in his case because he was transferred to the custody of the federal government to serve a 10-year sentence for his murderous machinations before returning to Ohio to be sentenced on state convictions.
According to him, the exchange of custody was illegal without an extradition warrant.
“This is untrue,” O’Toole wrote before overruling the assignment of error.
The single argument that the appellate panel upheld from Sands’ appeal was one to do with a minor sentencing error.
Although the reviewing court upheld the 20-year sentence imposed by the Lake County court, it found that the lower court improperly imposed postrelease control.
“Mr. Sands is correct that the language used by the trial court voids that portion of his sentence relating to postrelease control,” O’Toole wrote. “However, any error in the imposition of postrelease control may be corrected by the trial court, since Mr. Sands is still in state custody.”
The court of appeals ultimately affirmed the judgment of the Lake County court and vacated only the portion of Sands’ sentence having to do with postrelease control.
The case was remanded for a new sentencing hearing to correct the error.
Judges Diane Grendell and Thomas Wright joined O’Toole to form the majority.
The case is cited State v. Sands, 2016-Ohio-7150.