Jury convicts Sudderth of murder

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Lawrence County Common Pleas Court jury Wednesday handed down a guilty verdict in the trial of Isaiah Sudderth, accused of shooting to death Damon Pringle earlier this year.

The three-woman, nine- man panel deliberated less than three hours before reaching a decision that will send the 25-year-old Sudderth to jail for at least 18 years.

The sentence for the murder conviction is life with the possibility of parole after 15 years. The jury found him guilty of a firearm specification, which automatically adds three years to that sentence.

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Sudderth will be sentenced in two weeks, Judge Charles Cooper said.

The jury was asked to decide if the shooting was self-defense or an act of intentional murder.

Taking the witness stand in his own defense Wednesday morning, Sudderth told the jury he believed his life was in danger June 18 when Pringle and some friends came uninvited into his girlfriend’s house and Pringle began assaulting him.

Sudderth said he had grown up in Ironton and in Columbus and had recently came back to area. He said he had been staying with Kimberly Sammons, with whom he had begun a romance. He said he considered the apartment his residence.

Sudderth said the night of June 17 and in the early hours of June 18 before the shooting, he had gotten several telephone calls from Kristen Schneider who was helping a friend retrieve a house key from an ex-boyfriend, Gordon King, who was a friend of Sudderth’s.

“The last one Kristen and Kimberly spoke and I heard Kim say, ‘He (Sudderth) doesn’t have anything to do with this,’” Sudderth said.

And Sammons ended the phone call by hanging up.

Shortly thereafter, Schneider, Pringle, and others friends came to the Sammons residence, he said, let themselves in the front door. Once in the kitchen, Sammons and Schneider began an argument. Sudderth said Pringle grabbed him and began to assault him.

“He dragged me over toward the wall and starts wailing on me,” Sudderth said. “I was dizzy, couldn’t think and he was boom-boom-boom beating on me.”

Sudderth said Pringle at one point threw him into a chair and began to threaten him. Knowing Pringle had a history of violence and had once been to prison on a weapons charge, Sudderth said he believed he was in danger.

That is when he asked permission to go to the bathroom, went upstairs, got a gun and came back downstairs with it. He said he fired off four shots in rapid succession before he even knew what was happening.

When his defense attorney, Roger Smith, asked why he didn’t just run out the front door instead of getting the gun, Sudderth said he really thought Pringle would beat him again.

“I was terrified. I thought he would do everything he said he would do,” Sudderth said.

Sudderth also said he thought Sammons and her two children might be in danger as well and did not want to leave them in the house with people who had come inside uninvited and were arguing. He said one of Pringle’s friends, Jamar Boykin, was at the front door.

But during cross examination, Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Jeff Smith took issue with the idea Sudderth was afraid of Pringle.

“You had seen Damon Pringle earlier in the evening and there were no problems then, were there?” Jeff Smith asked. “There was no friction. You testified you shook hands with him and he bought you and Kim drinks, didn’t he?”

Jeff Smith also took issue with the idea that Sudderth considered the Sammons residence his home, having been with Sammons only a month or so.

“It’s your house and you don’t even have a key,” Jeff Smith pointed out. Under Ohio law, a person claiming self defense must prove, among other things, they didn’t violate a duty to retreat unless they are in their own home.

“You told Detective (Chris) Bowman you lived in Columbus,” Jeff Smith reminded Sudderth.

Jeff Smith also pointed out that Sudderth did not see any weapon on anyone else that night, including Pringle.

Jeff Smith also pointed out that Sudderth once served time in prison for armed robbery. Sudderth responded that he was turning his life around.

But during further examination, defense attorney Roger Smith pointed out that Sudderth would not have known at the time that neither Pringle nor any of the other intruders had a gun.

During his closing argument, Roger Smith said what happened was a tragedy but he asked the jury to put themselves in Sudderth’s place.

“He is in what he considers his residence,” Roger Smith said. “… In our own home we do not have a duty to retreat. In his mind my client was in his residence.”

He argued that some of those who testified against Sudderth had told conflicting stories and did not agree on key details. He also argued that Pringle, if he had survived, could have been charged with felony crimes since he entered someone else’s house without permission and assaulted someone.

“This was a beating,” Roger Smith said.

But Jeff Smith argued thatSudderth not only got a gun and shot Pringle, he chased him out the back door into the yard and stood over the bleeding man with his gun and then ran from the scene to avoid the consequences of his actions.

He also argued that Sudderth had no right to claim self-defense, since Pringle had stopped assaulting him, he could have run out the front door to avoid further conflict and he was the only person with a gun.

“Three shots in the back is self defense? Two were at close range. That’s not self-defense,” Jeff Smith said.

Sudderth remains in the Lawrence County Jail.