Donna Roberts




If this next case proves nothing it proves that when it comes to the death penalty women are still favored a bit. Just the fact that Donna Roberts is the only woman on Ohio's death row may tell you this, but the fact that her sentence of death has been overturned twice can also lead you to this conclusion. There was always ample evidence that Donna Roberts was in on the planning of the murder of her ex-husband, Robert Fingerhut. It was so compelling that she has been sentenced to death not once, not twice, but three times now. One of the things that I found extremely interesting in this case is that in June of 2017 the judge in this case set an execution date of August 12, 2020. I have never seen an execution date set so far in advance, let alone from a case that has already been in the courts since 2003. At first I thought it may have simply been because Donna Roberts was a woman but then I discovered that her accomplice, Nathaniel Jackson, who was also sentenced to death is scheduled to die in July of 2020. Ohio is one of the few states who has continued for the most part to regularly hold executions so these dates appear even more puzzling.


Donna Roberts (this is her maiden name and the name she goes by) was born in Ohio in 1944. Now you do not often see me tell of someone's birth year but I think it is a bit fitting here. I know they say that age should not make a difference with a couple and love is love and all of that stuff, there are times I have take issue with that. So many other things come into play in a relationship like life experience and maturity. There are of course those who are more mature for their age and those who are less mature. For example it is difficult to make a relationship work when say one partner is particularly older than the other and has never had children while the other still has young children, or particularly say teenagers at home. We all fall into a routine of how our lives are and it is difficult for anyone to change habit they have come accustom to when it is vastly different than what they are used to. This is why I have difficultly with the alleged relationship between Donna Roberts and Nathaniel Jackson. In 2001 when Robert Fingerhut was murdered Donna was fifty-seven years old and Jackson was a mere thirty. Add to this Donna was apparently fairly well respected and a businessman while by all account Jackson's biggest issue seemed to be staying out of jail. Now, I am not going to say that there was not a relationship there because there were hundred of letters found, as well as jailhouse phone recordings that proved that there was, but I am left with the feeling that one was playing the other. I have my opinion on who was the player, but we'll get to that in a bit.


Donna has alleged that she came from what she described as a “very, very abusive” home. She has also claimed that as a child she was sexually abused by a cousin. One of her more interesting claims is that she suffered mental injures from “multiple” car accidents but specifically a brain injury from an accident in 1990. Over the years her attorney's have used these allegations to fight against her death sentence. Donna's first marriage occurred in 1966 when she married William Raymond and later had a son (who I found no other reference to in my research). They divorced in 1971. By then the couple had left Ohio and had resided in Florida for several years. Her next marriage lasted about eight years from 1972 to 1980. Just when she met and married Robert Fingerhut is not completely clear. Some reports say they married in 1981, while others say they did not marry until 1983. The couple moved to Virginia where they lived for a while and then in 1993 they moved back to Ohio where Donna was from. By all accounts while they still lived together it appears that Robert and Donna had divorced. She has claimed that the divorce was purely for financial and business reasons. Few people that knew the couple even knew that they were divorced. They continued to live and project themselves as husband and wife.


When she lived in Florida Donna had been an assistant to a plastic surgeon for over twenty years. When she and Robert Fingerhut moved to Ohio they became business owners. They owned and managed a rental car company at the airport in Youngstown Ohio. Later they owned and managed two Greyhound bus stations in the area. She even owned a restaurant in one of the terminals for a while. According to Donna, and I have not seen it disputed, most, if not all of the businesses were in her name. This seems to be the “financial and business” reasons she gave for their divorce.


At 12:01 am in the morning of December 12, 2001 Donna made a 911 call stating she had found Robert dead in their home on the kitchen floor of their Howland Ohio home. She also reported that Robert's car was missing from the garage. Authorities would discover that Robert had been shot at least three times, in the back, chest and head. All the shots appeared to be at close range. There were few reports as to what investigators may or may not have thought of her demeanor upon their arrival but they allowed her to leave the home with a relative but not before they got permission from her to search the home. In a dresser in her bedroom they found almost 150 letters that Donna had received from a man named Nathaniel Jackson. They were all sent from the either the county jail or the state prison. Upon a further search a bag in the trunk of Donna's car revealed another nearly 150 letters that were letters from Donna to Nathaniel. An examination of these letters revealed not just an affair but a plot to murder Robert Fingerhut. Of course she was not immediately arrested when they were found, they had to be read first.


The following day Robert Fingerhut's vehicle was found. Inside the car would be a vast amount of blood. Now my research indicates that Nathaniel was arrested on this day when it was discovered that his DNA was in the car as well as the fact that his blood seemed to be mixed in with Robert Fingerhut's blood in the car. It seems to me to be highly unlikely that any sort of DNA test results were returned so quickly, despite the fact that Nathaniel's DNA and prints were probably in a system some where due to his criminal record. In fact, Nathaniel had just been released from jail on December 9th. It was said that Donna was the one who had picked him up. Once arrested Nathaniel admitted to shooting Robert Fingerhut, but of course as we often hear, he claimed it was self defense as Robert Fingerhut had pulled a gun on him. He would (and apparently he continues) to say that Donna had nothing to do with the “shooting.” Authorities did not buy it. Two days after the murder Donna too would be arrested.


Nathaniel Jackson would go on trial first. He would be convicted and sentenced to death. Throughout the years the courts have upheld his conviction and sentence. The last thing I have seen about his case, aside from his execution date scheduled in 2020, is an article stating that in February of 2017 he had asked for his case to be re-opened. The main rason for this is the stand by defense tactic of arguing he had ineffective counsel at trial. I suspect many of his previous appeals claimed the same and they are grasping at straws, as is often the case. I also suspect after all the back and forth in Donna's case they were hoping to catch a break since she too had filings with the court at that time.


The prosecution was able to successfully show the jury in Donna's trial that she and Nathaniel Jackson had conspired together to murder Robert Fingerhut. The motive according to the prosecution was a $50,000 life insurance policy. Witnesses came forward to testify about a multitude of things such as seeing Donna be openly affectionate with Jackson out in public immediately after his release and seeing what appeared to be her car going very slow late on the night of December 10th as if she was killing time out on an almost deserted road. One witness testified that within days, if not hours, of the murder they had witnessed Donna ask Robert Fingerhut for $3,000 which he denied. The witnesses stated that Donna was visibly very angry at this. Personally however, I think this had little impact on her decision to conspire with Nathaniel to murder Robert Fingerhut because from my understanding this conversation had taken place so close to the murder and there was plenty of evidence to show that the plan had been in place for quite some time. Donna did not testify on her own behalf but she did apparently give a speech more than an hour long. It is irritating to me when this happens, although thankfully it rarely does. She had chosen not to testify likely because she knew the prosecutor would have handed her her butt, but then she stood up to say what she wanted to say, even attacking witnesses who had testified against her. She was ultimately convicted on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. On June 21, 2003 she was sentenced to death, for the first time. At her sentencing the judge commented on the speech that she had made to the jury, pointing out that she often referred to her own wealth and that she seemed more disturbed by supposed slights to her character than from the guilty verdict.


Initially both her conviction and sentence were upheld by the courts. Then in 2012 the courts determined that there had been some inappropriate going ons in her original sentencing. It was said that he prosecutor had been allowed to help the judge write his sentencing decision. I have to agree that this is highly unusual, nor do I condone, but in the same respect there was nothing that stated the prosecutor had helped the judge come to the decision he had made. Either way the courts sent it back to the lower courts for re-sentencing. Once again the judge sentenced her to death. Then in 2013 the appeal court once again sent it back to the lower court for re-sentencing saying that the judge did not appear to have amply weighed any mitigating circumstances and information.


I have two issues with the second appeals court decision to have a re-sentencing hearing. First, it was said that Donna had waived all rights to have any mitigating circumstances considered in her trial and they had only been mentioned apparently in her re-sentencing. There are two jobs when it comes to appeals court. First they determine if the trial that was presented was fair. This includes making sure that all parties have all the information they are entitled to as well as that decisions made by the judge to allow or disallow information is correct and things of the sort. Secondly, appeals courts are allowed to look at any new evidence that may have come out since the trial had been conducted. Of course there is always the standby argument of ineffective counsel, but that goes back to the fairness of the trial. The issues that I have with the second decision to send her case back to the lower court is that no mitigating circumstance were given in the original sentencing hearing as well as it seems that the courts could have little way of knowing just how much those things were considered by the judge, especially when they ruled on this in 2013 because the original trial judge had died. But, regardless, they did send it back to the lower courts. This time a new judge looked at the case and made his ruling and once again Donna Roberts was sentenced to death. This was now her third time.


So, in 2017 defense attorney's were back in court appealing the death sentence once again. Their argument this time was that the last judge could not have been fair in his sentencing because he was not the trial judge and he had not witnessed things first hand. In June of 2017 the appeals court finally agreed with the prosecution and completely upheld her conviction and sentence. The decision was said to be 6-1 with the only judge dissenting did so almost entirely based on this opposition to the death penalty in general. This is when they set her execution date for the year 2020. The defense did not sit idle for very long. In December of 2017 a filing was made to ask the United States Supreme Court to look at the case. Of course that case is pending.


Throughout all of this one of the children of Robert Fingerhut has spoken at least to the media, if not the courts. Prior to the murder of his father, Michael Fingerhut had known Donna Roberts for over twenty years. He has claimed that not once had he ever heard the abuse allegations. He also claimed that he had never heard about any brain injury that she suffered in a 1990 car accident. One would think seeing as he was family he would have heard or at least known about if nothing else the car accident if it had in deed happened. I will say though that I find it extremely curious that it was not until after her trial and only in one of her first of many appeals that these allegations were made. Michael would say that the family had not even been contacted of his death until over a week later, after his father was buried and only then by an investigator in the case.


I said in the beginning I believe that either Donna or Nathaniel was playing the other when it came to portraying a legitimate relationship. I believe Nathaniel may have in some way believed this was a real relationship and that Donna truly cared for him as he did her. Whether Nathaniel is still sticking to his story is unknown but in his interviews with investigators and in his own trial he would claim that Donna was innocent. The evidence completely refuted this and this appears to just be an effort by Nathaniel to protect Donna. I would gander to guess that in some way Donna convinced him to murder Robert Fingerhut to obtain the life insurance, as well as the estate that would have included all the businesses that were in her name but essentially ran by Robert Fingerhut. It is completely plausible that in some kind of diluted way Nathaniel thought Donna truly cared about him and they not only would get away with murder but live happily ever after. There is little way of knowing if Donna would have continued to lead Nathaniel on since both were arrested so soon


Donna it seems wants to now at least claim that she not only was abusive apparently physically and sexually as a child but also suffers from mental issues brought on my car accidents. I find these efforts nothing more than a ploy to get out of the death sentence she received. The only reason I believe that they have worked somewhat with the courts is the fact that she is a woman and she is the only woman on death row in Ohio. This tells me that juries, as well as judges, in that state are reluctant to hand down a death sentence to a woman. This give defense attorney's a bit of a lead way in defending women in my opinion. First, I have never been fond of in essence using a bad childhood as an excuse of bad adult behavior. Few of us could claim to have a “good” childhood but we do not go out and murder people or plan them. In the same respect you can often find someone who cannot prove any claims of abuse or a bad upbringing to claim they were naive and influence by others easily because of that. It always seem that people who are clearly guilty, like Donna, attempt these types of defenses and there is always a lawyer in the background with their hand out to help them.





Comments

  1. Although there might be exceptions, or even ample examples to disprove my assumption, I nevertheless at this time highly doubt most men who are accused of terrible crimes such as murder, child abuse and molestation, etc., and who are, in fact, guilty have any illusion that they can cite some claim of having been abused by their fathers, neglected by their mothers, molested by their uncles, and of having been a drug addict since they were teenagers as things which have a realistic chance of mitigating their sentences, let alone preventing their convictions or of having them convicted on lesser charges where available. And, like you, I don't necessarily think those issues should make any difference as to their convictions and sentences. But, however, women in the same or similar situation to the men above seem to have been conditioned by society to believe they can cite a bad past and use it as a strong defense, etc.

    Indeed, even in the case of the generally non-criminal (I think it might be illegal in some places still, even if not generally enforced, please correct me if you know better) though, as most would agree, immoral act of cheating on a significant other, I don't believe most men really expect their girlfriends or wives, society also, to accept any excuse they might give for their behavior. But, again going back to how it seems society has conditioned women, excuses and blame-shifting seem to be tactics which many of the women who cheat appear more than comfortable with using. And if there was a recent pregnancy and death, especially if the death is that of the child or fetus with whom a woman was pregnant, it's all the more likely a woman could have it in her mind that she can use this tragedy to explain sleeping with other men or of committing a murder, etc., and have many people feel sorry for her and feel her actions were understandable. After all, her reasoning and the moral centers of her brain were diminished, or whatever the specific claims would be, as a result of the tragedy she suffered; allegedly. But the fact that a father also lost his son or daughter means little to nothing. He can't claim he was vulnerable and some woman he knew took advantage of him as his significant other was dealing with the loss and expect anyone to care. Few will think, let alone say, that this makes his cheating or commission of murder understandable.

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