2 life sentences after guilty plea in Middletown murders

Published: Tuesday, October 03, 2017 @ 3:52 PM

Douglas Best pleads guilty to two Middletown Murders

A Middletown man has admitted guilt to two murders last November in the city.

Douglas Best, 29, of Richmond Street, pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of aggravated murder with gun specifications for the death of Joseph Romano at his Lafayette Avenue and for the shooting death of Tiffany Hoskins, whose body was found inside a Jacoby Avenue house.

Judge Greg Stephens sentenced Best to two life sentences in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 51 years. Several felony counts against Best, including burglary and arson, were dismissed in exchange for the plea.

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MORE: 51 years to life for man convicted in Middletown homicide 

It was the same sentence handed down by the judge to one of three co-defendants who also took a plea deal.

Romano was shot to death on Nov. 4, hit four times by bullets, three of them striking him in the chest, leg and neck. He was killed in his kitchen at 1517 Lafayette Ave., according to Middletown police.

Hoskins was found shot inside a home at 1507 Jacoby Ave. just hours later on Nov. 5. Middletown firefighters were called to the scene and found flames shooting from the second floor and Hoskins’ body at the top of the home’s stairway.

MORE: 3 men charged in 2 Middletown murders part of a gang, police say

Best wiped away tears as he offered an apology in court.

“I know there ain’t nothing I can say to change the way the victims feel, but I am truly remorseful for what I did to two innocent people for no reason,” Best said. “There is nothing I can say to take it back or change it, but if I could I would and it’s not just because I am cold, it messes with me so bad. I can’t even sleep at night.”

Best’s attorney Michelle Temmel told the judge that she believes life took a wrong turn for her client when is was set to the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the age of 12.

“I am not making excuses for Doug, but his is where it went wrong,” Temmel said.

MORE: Middletown woman was dead before house caught fire

The families of Hoskins and Romano sat in the court’s front row and blasted Best with words while standing a few feet away.

Tina Payne said it wasn’t enough for Best to have killed her sister, but he beat and raped her, then poured bleach on her and set her on fire.

“She never met a stranger. If she had five dollars to her name, she would have given it to you,” Payne told Best. “She had the softest voice and the sweetest giggle.”

Payne told Best, “I think you are a monster and a coward. You, Douglas Best, belong in prison for the rest of your life …. you, Douglas Best, not only took my sister, but also my mother because she is slowly dying of a broken heart.”

MORE: State to look at cases of 6 missing women, including 4 from Middletown

Judy Mills, Hoskins’ mother, clutched her daughter and screamed and sobbed as she addressed Best.

“I just want to know why,” Mills screamed. “I just want to know why you killed my daughter.”

Amanda Profitt, Romano’s niece, told Best that her uncle would have given him anything he wanted.

“All you had to do is ask,” she said.

“I cannot forgive you for what you have done … we were all robbed,” Profitt said to Best.

MORE: Las Vegas shooting: Germantown couple on same floor as gunman

Before sentencing Best, the judge called his crimes heinous.

“You are looking at a very bleak future,” Stephens said. “My heart goes out to your family also, Mr. Best, because I know you destroyed them also.”

In April, co-defendant Derrick Brown, 22, of 815 Crawford St., pleaded guilty as charged to attempted burglary, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and aggravated murder for his part in the death of Romano.

A November trial date as been set for the last co-defendant Charles Ray Graham, 27, of 2002 Pearl St. He is charged with attempted burglary and participating in a criminal gang.

Middletown police say the men were members of a gang called the Cincinnati White Boys.

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World War II veteran awarded Prisoner of War medal after 73 years 

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 5:50 PM

Ralph G. Rumsey (middle) was presented with a Prisoner of War Medal by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, on right, as his wife Ruby and other family and friends looked on. (Photo: U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s Office)
Ralph G. Rumsey (middle) was presented with a Prisoner of War Medal by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, on right, as his wife Ruby and other family and friends looked on. (Photo: U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s Office)

During World War II, Ralph G. Rumsey of Woodstock was a prisoner of war in Germany for six months. After struggling with his wartime experiences for 73 years, he’s been awarded a Prisoner of War Medal, gaining the recognition he thought might never come. 

At 96, Rumsey said he’s finally feeling some sense of closure.

He’s not satisfied yet, however; now, he wants to put the focus on other veterans.

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“I always wanted to be able to help veterans,” Rumsey said. He hopes to support other veterans in tackling the issues they face, particularly psychological issues.

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Rumsey himself has struggled for decades with feeling a horrible itching sensation that he believes was caused by his time as a prisoner, when his bed and clothes were filled with bugs.

Despite his vivid memories of the war, his family said he never talks about it. Until two years ago, no one in his family knew that Rumsey had been a prisoner of war, according to his wife Ruby.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson helped Rumsey secure the medal, and Isakson presented it to him at a special ceremony for his friends and family.

One of Rumsey’s friends, Christine Maza, was crucial in helping Rumsey get the medal. She met him when she was a hospice volunteer several years ago, and one day while taking him to the VA, she noticed a poster advertising the medal.

“He was so excited,” she recalled. Maza helped him submit the paperwork, but when it stalled at the VA, she called Isakson’s office, remembering how he had helped her father, also a veteran. Isakson made it happen, she said.

“I’m just happy that Ralph is finally getting what is long overdue,” Maza continued. “He’s just been sinking. This really revived him.”

Rumsey’s stepdaughter, Jean Thomas, also believes that the medal will help Rumsey psychologically. “I’m so happy for him and pleased,” she commented.

At the ceremony, Rumsey was in high spirits, eager to share stories of his experiences in the war, both good and bad. Though he remembers the bug infestation in the prison clearly, he also recalled the way Paris lit up at night in; the days he spent there after he was released.

When Isakson walked into the room, Rumsey joked that Isakson was a “youngster” compared to him. 

With a laugh, Isakson agreed. “I’ve only been here 73 years, you’re 96!”

As Rumsey received the medal, many of his friends and family shed tears.

“Thank you for putting up with the Germans for a couple of months in captivity, but in the end, you won and they lost, and that’s all that matters,” Isakson told Rumsey.

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Georgia inmates in solitary confinement at 'grave risk of harm,' expert says

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 5:47 PM

April 27, 2016 Jackson: The Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson is where the execution chamber is located. (Photo: Ben Gray/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
April 27, 2016 Jackson: The Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson is where the execution chamber is located. (Photo: Ben Gray/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Craig Haney, hired to assess conditions in the solitary confinement unit at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, has visited some of the nation’s most dangerous prisons, but nothing could prepare him for what he witnessed on the E Wing.

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The atmosphere was “as chaotic and out-of-control as any such unit I have seen in decades of conducting such evaluations,” he wrote. “When I entered this housing unit I was met with a cacophony of prisoner screams and cries for help. The noise was deafening and there was the smell of smoke in the air, as if someone had set a fire sometime earlier in the day.”

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Such “draconian”conditions at the Jackson prison’s special management unit, which houses up to 192 prisoners, have created some of the most “psychologically traumatized” inmates he’s ever assessed, Haney wrote in a blistering report, released this week in its entirety.

“They are at grave risk of harm,” he said. “That psychological harm may be irreversible and even fatal.”

A spokeswoman with the Department of Corrections declined comment, citing pending litigation.

Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, specializes in the psychological effects of imprisonment and consequences of solitary confinement. He was hired by the Southern Center for Human Rights, a leading advocate for criminal justice reform, after a prisoner filed a federal lawsuit claiming inhumane treatment within the GDC isolation unit. Similar suits from three other prisoners followed.

At every turn, the solitary unit — created to house the prison’s most dangerous and destructive inmates— exceeds the deprivation seen in similar solitary or “Supermax” facilities, Haney said. They are not only deprived of physical contact, but verbal communication is virtually impossible, the report found. Even visual contact is fleeting, as prisoners are confined by solid metal doors instead of bars. Even the small “windows,” on the cell doors and in the rear of the cell, are covered by thick metal sheets.

Prisoners can’t see out; natural air and sunlight can’t seep in.

“The prisoners are in essence hermetically sealed inside their cells for the extended periods in which they are confined there,” Haney reported.

Conditions throughout the unit were “unusually severe,” said Haney. Prisoners are locked in their 7 x 13.5-feet cells for all but five hours a week, when they are allowed outside exercise time.

Those five hours are divided into two sessions and spent within a caged outdoor cell, paved with concrete and surrounded by institutional facilities — more industrial than natural, Haney notes.

“Dangerously” high level of mentally ill prisoners in isolation

Housing just one mentally ill prisoner within the solitary unit would be problematic, Haney said.

At GDC, 70 of the 180 prisoners currently in isolation qualify as mentally ill.

“I do not believe there is any possible justification for housing such a high number of mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement, especially not in a unit as harsh and severe as the Georgia SMU.”

And that’s not including prisoners in the unit who Haney, after reviewing the medical records of all 180 inmates, said exhibited serious mental problems. Two such prisoners committed suicide in 2017, he concludes. (Specific information about the prisoners is redacted.)

One, incarcerated since 2002, had an unstable childhood and was in need of mental help, his father wrote on a social history questionnaire. A mental health referral form from 2009 stated the prisoner had reported hearing voices for more than a year and had a history of treatment for anxiety, depression and multiple personalities. In 2015, he was moved to the special management unit.

He eventually hung himself with a sheet tied to a lighting fixture. His body was “stiff and cold … suggesting that officers had not checked on him in some time,” Haney wrote.

Prisoners with such pre-existing conditions “are likely to suffer greatly and deteriorate badly in solitary confinement,” the report states. “When their suffering and deterioration is ignored and they are retained in these dangerously harsh and deprived conditions, the consequences can be fatal.”

The solitary trap

The isolation unit is supposed to operate within an incentive system; getting out is dependent on the prisoners’ behavior.

But Haney’s report found that malfunctions in the Tier III program used at GDC are often just as responsible for keeping prisoners in solitary for exceedingly long periods. The requirements for advancement out of the unit are often unrealistic and dispensed arbitrarily, Haney said.

A lack of bed space is another persistent problem, according to the report. The unit’s chief of security, Dwain Williams, corroborated this in a deposition, testifying that prisoners are often held in more restrictive quarters because the facility can’t find room elsewhere.

“Thus, prisoners often languish at the lowest and most deprived level in the system (and the levels at which they are at most risk of harm) not because of their behavior but because the prison cannot house them where they are supposed to be,” Haney wrote.

Prisoners told Haney they often did not know what they needed to do to advance out of solitary confinement.

“I’ve been here almost two years,” said one prisoner, whose name was redacted. “I don’t know how to get out. It’s supposed to be a six-month program but nobody has a release date. You only have a start date.”

Typically prisoners spend a staggering three to four years in isolation at GDC; nearly 20 percent of the inmates had been retained for six years or more.

Haney said since 2010 it’s become increasingly difficult to win transfer out of solitary.

“Instead, once there, it looks as if prisoners are hard-pressed to secure their release,” he said.

Nowhere is it worse than the E Wing, the most restrictive portion of the special management unit. Most suffer from poor mental health.

Prisoners told Haney they are kept in their cells virtually around the clock, for weeks or months on end.

“We never get out of our cells,” one prisoner said. “We are caged in. They don’t even want to take us to shower.”

Haney described a palpable sense of hopelessness pervading through the E wing.

“We are just desperate, so we yell and scream for help,” another prisoner told him. “They ignore us or they beat us up.”

The report detailed four cases in which prisoners were battling serious mental health issues.

“Each man reported suffering greatly in this environment and manifested symptoms associated with psychological trauma and stress and the psychopathological effects of isolation,” Haney wrote. “None appear to have received the kind of in-depth mental health treatment that their serious psychiatric histories and conditions appeared to require.”

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Statewide amber alert cancelled, four children found safely

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 4:47 PM
Updated: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 5:55 PM

2003 blue Toyota Corolla (not actual suspect car)
2003 blue Toyota Corolla (not actual suspect car)

UPDATE @ 5:55 p.m.:

According to the Cleveland Police Department, the four children have been located safely and are in the process of being evaluated.

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UPDATE @ 5:45 p.m.:

According to Fox 8 News Ed Gallek, the vehicle connected to the amber alert has been found, but the mother and children were not found with the vehicle.

FIRST REPORT:

A statewide Ohio amber alert has been issued as of 4:30 p.m. for one suspect and four children in a blue 2003 Toyota Corolla, dealer place 0157330.

Four children were taken by their non-custodial mother in the city of Euclid in Cuyahoga County on E. 193 Street.

The suspect, Brianna A. Harris, is age 23, 5 feet 7, 195 pounds, brown eyes and brown hair. She is bi-polar and schizophrenic, and currently off her medication.

Brianna A. Harris, 23, suspect

The children missing are:

  • Savannah Harris, female, age 2, brown hair and brown eyes, 2 feet, and 50 pounds. She had a tracheotomy in the last 24 hours and needs oxygen;
  • Zayanna Harris, female, age 2, brown hair and brown eyes, 2 feet, and 50 pounds;
  • Kylee Harris, female, age 4, black hair and brown eyes, 3 feet, and 75 pounds; and
  • Tayveon Harris, male, age 7, brown hair and brown eyes, 4 feet, and 74 pounds.
Savannah Harris, 2 - top left; Tayveon Harris, 7, top right; Zayanna Harris, 2, botton left; Kylee Harris, 4, bottom right

The clothing for all children is unknown. 

Call or dial 9-1-1 if you see the children, the suspect, or the vehicle.

You can also call 1-877-AMBER-OH (1-877-262-3764) or 911 to be transferred directly to the investigating law enforcement agency or the hear the alert information. 

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Captain said not to worry about life jackets before deadly duck boat crash, survivor says

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 11:04 AM

9 Members of Same Family Among 17 Killed in Duck Boat Accident

A woman who lost nine family members when a duck boat capsized in Missouri’s Table Rock Lake on Thursday said the captain of the boat told passengers not to worry about life jackets before the accident.

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Tia Coleman was one of the 11 members of the Coleman family to board the duck boat Thursday, according to WXIN-TV. She told the TV station that she and her nephew were the only survivors of their group.

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“My heart is very heavy,” Coleman told WXIN-TV. “I lost all my children, my brother-in-law.”

>> 9 members of one family among 17 killed in duck boat accident on lake in Branson, Missouri

She said that her family members didn’t bother to grab life jackets because they were told by the boat’s captain that they wouldn’t need them.

“When it was time to grab them, it was too late,” she told WXIN-TV. “I believe that a lot of people could have been spared.”

Authorities said 17 people were killed and 14 others injured in the incident, including Coleman’s family members. The family had traveled to Branson for their annual road trip, according to The New York Times. Carolyn Coleman told the newspaper that the victims came from three generations of the Coleman family and included four young children.

>> Deadly duck tour boat crashes date back nearly two decades

The president of the company that owns Ride The Ducks Branson, Ripley Entertainment, told “CBS This Morning” that the boats have life jackets onboard but he added that passengers aren’t required by law to wear them. Jim Pattison said that, given the weather conditions, the boat “shouldn’t have been in the water.”

"Usually the lake is very placid and it's not a long tour, they go in and kind of around an island and back,” Pattison told “CBS This Morning” on Friday. “To the best of our knowledge – and we don't have a lot of information now – but it was a fast-moving storm that came out of basically nowhere.”

Authorities continue to investigate the circumstances leading to Thursday’s deadly incident.

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