Aliff will appeal conviction

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 1999

Anita Wippel hoped Wednesday that Leon Aliff’s life imprisonment sends one clear message – domestic violence will not be tolerated in today’s society.

Thursday, April 01, 1999

Anita Wippel hoped Wednesday that Leon Aliff’s life imprisonment sends one clear message – domestic violence will not be tolerated in today’s society.

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"I wish more than anything this didn’t happen and we still had mom," said Ms. Wippel, victim Linda Aliff’s daughter and Aliff’s stepdaughter.

"But we do feel vindicated," she said, issuing a statement on behalf of Mrs. Aliff’s family. "And anybody being abused out there they don’t have to put up with it. They can get help."

After six weeks of jury selection, trial, arguments and psychological testimony, 12 jury members recommended Aliff spend life in prison without the possibility of parole, bypassing the prosecution’s request for the death penalty.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Walton issued the official sentence.

The same jury Friday convicted Aliff of aggravated murder, aggravated murder while committing aggravated burglary and aggravated burglary in the Sept. 29 shooting death of his wife at their Big Branch Road home.

County prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. also said the jury’s sentencing decision sent a message.

"Although we didn’t get into it, this case has a history of domestic violence," Collier said. "In the death of Linda Aliff, we see the domestic violence go to its extreme

"I know from our personal standpoint, the staff will look at domestic violence cases with a more keener eye."

Defense attorneys plan appeals this month, citing the verdict itself as evidence of a flawed trial.

"It’s unusual to see a verdict this quickly," said Charles Knight, Pomerory attorney and defense co-counsel with attorney William Eachus.

"They obviously realized there was an issue of rage and some issue of passion in this," Knight said. "I would like to retry this case under the appropriate jury instructions."

During the trial, Knight claimed Aliff reacted out of rage and in self-defense that September night, thinking he had shot at his wife’s boyfriend instead of Mrs. Aliff, who he claims fired the first shots.

Actions linked with rage that cause the death of another can be considered voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, so the judge should have instructed the jury to consider those charges while deliberating trial evidence, he said.

Aliff loved his wife, they had reconciled many times, and he never intended to kill her, Knight said.

Jurors offered no visible reaction when Aliff explained those feelings himself, speaking on his own behalf Wednesday.

Through words broken by tears, the 55-year-old Chesapeake man, who at worst faced death and at best faced life behind bars, told the jury he "would not harm a hair on her head."

That night, thoughts of another man with Mrs. Aliff caused him to force the couple’s front door open, he said.

"I thought I was shooting at him," Aliff said, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. "You all have mercy on me. I’m sorry. There’s never another woman I loved in all my life."

Knight expects the Fourth District Court of Appeals to rule this year.

Appellate judges will decide whether the lower court erred when it allowed into evidence a controversial phone recording of Aliff making death threats to his wife, Knight said. It will also consider the lack of a manslaughter jury instruction, he said.

Collier is confident all decisions will stand and Aliff will remain in prison.

"We feel the jury was extra conscientious and feel justice was done," he said, adding that a manslaughter instruction would not have changed the outcome. "You saw how quickly they decided, based on the evidence."

Evidence during the trial phase included Aliff’s blood at the footboard of Mrs. Aliff’s bed, his two guns found after a brief police chase, photos of a broken front door, the tape recording and testimony from investigators.

Collier reintroduced a restraining order against Aliff, the door photos and an alarm company report during Wednesday’s sentencing phase, but called no witnesses.

"What I think is significant is he did not say because of a medical condition the defendant was unaware of his criminal acts when he murdered his wife," he said during closing arguments. "I submit when he took the stand and gave his unsworn statement, he was not telling the truth."

The evidence shows Aliff broke into the home with the intent to commit a felony crime, murder, and those are the only facts that should be considered, Collier said.

Under Ohio law, the jury must decide if that aggravating circumstance outweighs any mitigating factors, which are facts that cast doubt on death as an appropriate penalty.

Eachus argued for the defense, calling a clinical psychologist and Aliff’s sister for testimony, then accusing Collier of rousing the jury’s emotions against Aliff.

"The criminal trial is over There are no excuses for what he did," Eachus said. "But there are people who believe Leon is not to be discarded as some type of tin can.

"What good would it do to kill Leon Aliff? If it would bring back Linda Aliff, that might be a consideration. For six months, Mr. Knight and I have lived with Leon Aliff and we know he should not be killed."