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Ohio bill would increase penalty for serial domestic abusers after 2011 reforms softened them

Husband accused of killing estranged wife Jovon Lynch had long history of illegal drugs, weapons and violence, and was previously accused of threatening to kill her
DV homicide .jpg
Posted at 5:05 PM, Nov 20, 2023

CLEVELAND — She thought he was untrustworthy, but Marsita Ferguson still welcomed Joshua Lynch, 35, into her home. After all, he was married to her little sister, Jovon.

"There are people that can be rehabilitated," Ferguson said. "But when you are habitually, constantly terrorizing the community and others and constantly beating up women... when does that stop?"

Joshua Lynch faced charges in 13 different felony cases in Cuyahoga County since 2006.

Between 2006 and 2021, a dozen felony cases were filed against Lynch in Cuyahoga County. They all involved weapons or drugs.

One involved Jovon.

In 2017, Lynch was charged with domestic violence, burglary, and several other charges for breaking into her home and threatening her with a gun.

A court document says Lynch threatened, "B#$%&, I'm about to kill you" while waving a gun at her.

When Jovon was found dead on Feb. 8, Ferguson suspected her brother-in-law.

"If you asked me if I thought J.R. could kill my sister? Yeah," she said.

Lynch turned himself in to the police five days later. Cuyahoga County prosecutors have charged him with an 11-count indictment, including one count of aggravated murder and two counts of murder.

"What do you expect somebody to do when you keep letting them out of jail?" Ferguson asked.

To answer that you have to go back to June 2011.

Former Ohio governor John Kasich signed HB 86,a bill aimed at reducing overcrowding in Ohio prisons.

During the bill signing, Kasich said, "This bill begins to distinguish between those violent offenders and those few individuals who are, maybe, not redeemable."

Former Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections director Gary Mohr recommended and supported the reforms.

The bill put more drug offenders on probation instead of sending them to prison.

It also bifurcated the severity of punishment for F-3 felonies, including domestic violence.

During the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee, Mohr opposed keeping harsher sentences, which would cost more money.

Below is part of Mohr's testimony:

"Our concern is that this language was broadened to include all offenses of violence and sexually oriented offenses that would become eligible for sentences of 1,2,3,4 or 5 years instead of the recommended sentencing ranges of 1,2 or 3 years by the Council of State Governments. This change will result in a loss of 1,200 beds and a reduction of $25 million in marginal cost savings within eight years."

News 5 Investigators reached out to Mohr.

He declined our request for an on-camera interview.

In an e-mail, Mohr wrote the following:

"Language was proposed following guidance from the Council of State Governments 2-3 years in advance of its passage in June 2011. After having not been a part of ODRC from 2002-2011, I reviewed the legislative discussion that took place prior to 2011 and resulting work done to craft legislation that would increase funding and alternatives in Ohio communities for non-violent Ohioans to receive judicial sanctions locally. I supported H.B. 86. The recommendations were based on research and experience from other jurisdictions by the Council of State Governments and debate that took place in our legislative settings. The intent of H.B. 86 was to reduce funding to prisons and increase funding to communities to address nonviolent offenders."

"When that information first came to light, I can tell you that it left me speechless," Nicole Schultz said.

Schultz's co-worker, Natalie Nutter, was shot and killed by her husband, Kevin, in 2019.

While attending calling hours, Schultz decided to turn her anguish into advocacy.

"It was in the moments I spent hugging her grieving mother... that I found my voice," she said. "It was the reality of a young child being left without parents that I found the courage to advocate for change," she said during a hearing with Ohio lawmakers this spring.

Nutter left behind a son. He was 7 years old when his father shot and killed his mother.

Natalie Nutter was shot and killed by her husband in 2019.  Kevin Nutter then turned the gun on himself.

Schultz contacted her local state lawmakers, Rep. Kevin Miller (R-Newark) and OH Rep. Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.)

They crafted HB 111, which increases the sentencing range for felony domestic violence and creates a presumption of prison time.

It would mean serial domestic violence offenders would likely spend more time behind bars.

"We need to get offenders under control sooner rather than later," LaRe said. "There's going to be, automatically, some form of jail time."

The Ohio Domestic Violence Network also supported the bill during a hearing in the Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee in May.

"House Bill 111 would give survivors more time to work with our local programs and shelters to establish a long-term safety plan," said Maria York, Policy Director, ODVN.

York found that in 52% of domestic violence homicides in Ohio over one year, the perpetrator has previous involvement in the criminal justice system.

The bill unanimously passed the committee. It has yet to be introduced on the House floor.

For Ferguson, it's too little, too late.

"It's not going to change the fact that ... this is forever," she said.

Her sister and Lynch shared a 7-year-old daughter.

She was in the car when her mom was murdered.

"She has nightmares. And she cries, and she screams that she misses her mom," she said. "She's also happy and figuring out a new normal because that's what we have to do because… we don't have a choice."

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled in Lynch's murder case Nov. 27.

News 5 reached out to his defense attorney. Our calls have not been returned.

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