The primary co-defendant in the Jessica Rae Sacco murder case pleaded guilty to aggravated murder during a final pretrial hearing Wednesday in the Champaign County Common Pleas Court.
Matthew S. Puccio, 26, also pleaded guilty to felonious assault, abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and two counts of gross abuse of a corpse in relation to the murder of Sacco on or around March 22. Charges that were dismissed in the case included three counts of possession of criminal tools and one count of tampering with evidence.
Puccio waived his right to a grand jury to plead guilty to one of the counts of gross abuse of a corpse, a fifth-degree felony, that he was not previously indicted on. Judge Roger Wilson said the Constitutions of the United States and the state of Ohio require that a person cannot be brought before the court on the charge unless a grand jury sent the case to the respective court or the defendant goes through the process of giving up his right to a grand jury.
Puccio faces a maximum consecutive prison sentence of 13 years and three months with a $30,750 fine in addition to the potential life imprisonment sentence stemming from the aggravated murder charge.
Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 2929.13 (F)(1), the aggravated murder charge carries a mandatory term of imprisonment. The charge also carries the potential sentence of life imprisonment without parole or life imprisonment with parole eligibility after 20, 25 or 30 years.
Wilson said as of Wednesday, the court believed the sentence for the aggravated murder charge had to be served first and the other sentences would be served afterwards. The decision of which sentence has to be served first will be determined during the sentencing hearing Aug. 20 at 3:30 p.m.
"The one thing that the court knows now is you won't be placed on community control," Wilson said to Puccio. "If we have a sentence where the minimum sentence involves 20 years in the (Ohio) Department of Corrections, the court is not going to make an order now for community control that wouldn't be effective for 20 years."
On the other individual charges, Puccio faces a maximum two to eight year prison sentence for the felonious assault charge, $15,000 fine, a 90 day jail sentence, $750 fine for the abuse of a corpse charge, a six to 12 month prison sentence, $2,500 fine for the gross abuse of a corpse charges and a nine to 36 month prison sentence, $10,000 fine for the tampering with evidence.
Puccio said in an April interview with WHIO-TV that he planned to plead guilty and deserved the death penalty in relation to the death of Sacco, with whom he lived. During the April 6 initial arraignment hearing he said he was clinically insane and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity during the April 10 continued arraignment hearing.
After undergoing mental health evaluations at the Forensic Psychiatry Center for Western Ohio, Dayton, in May, Puccio was ruled competent to stand trial and did not meet the statutory definition of insanity during a status conference hearing on June 27.
During the hearing, Puccio said that he had taken prescribed medication for manic depression and schizophrenia for 11 years when Wilson asked him if he took any medication on Wednesday. He also said he was on probation stemming from a February case in the Champaign County Municipal Court. In that case, Puccio was convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor for custody interference after housing a 14-year-old girl from Texas.
Co-defendant Sharon K. Cook, 26, also pleaded guilty to complicity to abuse of a corpse, complicity to gross abuse of a corpse, complicity to tampering with evidence and two counts of failure to report a crime during a hearing on Wednesday. A charge of complicity to obstructing justice was dismissed and a motion to suppress was vacated.
The motion asked the court to suppress an earlier statement by Cook contending that she did not understand and could not waive her Miranda rights. During a June 11 status hearing, the court accepted a report from the Dayton forensic center that found Cook competent to stand trial.
On each individual charge, Cook faces a possible 30 day jail sentence, $250 fine for both failure to report a crime charges, a 90 day jail sentence, $750 fine for the complicity to abuse of a corpse charge, a six to 12 month prison sentence and $2,500 fine for the complicity to gross abuse of a corpse charge and a nine to 36 month prison sentence and $10,000 fine on the complicity to tampering with evidence charge.
Cook is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 20 at 10 a.m.
The other three co-defendants are scheduled to appear in court today for attorney conferences at 2:30 p.m. for Kandis J. Forney, 25, 3 p.m. for Christopher J. Wright, 37, and 3:30 p.m. for Andrew P. Forney, 26.
The five co-defendants were arrested on March 30. All five suspects are in the Tri-County Regional Jail, Mechanicsburg.
Nick Walton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org