COLUMBUS — Donovan Nicholas, who claimed alternative personality “Jeff the Killer” was responsible for killing his father’s live-in girlfriend in 2017, is headed back to Champaign County Juvenile Court because the Ohio Supreme Court has reversed his conviction.
According to the supreme court’s split decision Dec. 2, Nicholas was charged with delinquency in the juvenile court for causing the death of Heidi Fay Taylor, 40. He was a 14-year-old middle school student when he stabbed the woman he called his mother 60 times and shot her in the head, claiming “Jeff,” -- who “is inside me” -- committed the crime.
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He told one detective at the scene he had a “multiple personality disorder” and later told another detective a second personality -- “Jeff the Killer” -- had emerged and was in control at the time of the offenses.
The Champaign County Common Pleas Court’s Juvenile Division transferred the case to the court’s adult division, arguing that the former was unable to adequately treat Nicholas’ disorder.
A jury found Nicholas guilty of aggravated murder and murder, both with firearm specifications that enhanced the sentence.
Nicholas argued in his direct appeal to the Second District Court of Appeals for Champaign County that the juvenile court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional right to due process by sending the case to adult court.
The state’s highest court ruled that the decision of the appellate court to uphold the county Common Pleas Court decision to transfer the case to adult court was incorrect and an abuse of that court’s discretion.
Wednesday, Tom Hagel, professor of law emeritus, University of Dayton, put the state supreme court’s ruling in perspective.
“All they’re saying is that a procedure was wrong in terms of convicting him. That it should have been dealt with in juvenile court,” Hagel told News Center 7′s Haley Kosik.
The justices are not saying Nicholas, who is now 20, is innocent, the professor said.
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The juvenile court had to prove it could not deal with someone like Nicholas, who had been diagnosed as having dissociative-identity disorder, under the circumstances of the criminal case.
In the high court’s ruling, the majority opinion was that the appeals court mischaracterized the testimony of Dr. Daniel Hrinko, who conducted a competency evaluation of Nicholas and found him competent for trial, and Sarah Book, at the time the acting chief of Behavioral Health Services at the Department of Youth Services.
The high court’s majority “found no evidence in the [lower court] record that a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist -- such as those on staff or contracted by DYS [Department of Youth Services] -- could not provide psychotherapy aimed at treating dissociative-identity disorder.”
Hagel said, “That’s part of the criteria for transferring it to adult court. The Supreme Court said that wasn’t done correctly, and it should not have gone to the adult court.”
The Champaign County Prosecutor’s Office has not responded to a request for comment from News Center 7′s Kosik.
We will update this report if the prosecutor’s office offers comment on the high court’s decision to send the Nicholas case back to county juvenile court for further proceedings.
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