LIMA, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio appeals court has ordered a new trial for a woman accused of compelling her 10-year-old stepson to fatally shoot his father in 2003 and say it was an accident.
Judith Hawkey, of Oakwood, was convicted of aggravated murder, insurance fraud and child endangering and was sentenced in 2013 to life in prison. But judges from Ohio’s Third District Court of Appeals ruled this week that testimony from three witnesses — a child abuse pediatrician, a former teacher, and a clinical psychologist — should’ve been inadmissible at the trial and that the 49-year-old Hawkey should get a new one.
The court found the evidence was based primarily on the testimony from her stepson, Corey Breininger.
The death of Hawkey’s husband, Robert Breininger, initially had been ruled accidental, but authorities reopened the case in 2012 after receiving new information indicating Hawkey physically and emotionally abused her stepson. The boy, who wasn’t charged in the case, told authorities the shooting was accidental, but later said Hawkey forced him to shoot his father at their home.
“The shooting was ruled an accident based solely upon Corey’s statements to the police, despite the contradictory physical evidence,” appeals Judge John Willamowski wrote. “Nine years later, Corey changes his story and indicates for the first time that the shooting was intentional and that he did it because he was forced to do so by Hawkey. All of the evidence is based upon the statements of one person, Corey.”
Defiance County prosecutor Morris Murray couldn’t be reached for comment. He had suggested that Hawkey was at least partially motivated by nearly $500,000 in insurance money.
Defiance attorney Clayton Crates, who represented Hawkey during her trial, said Corey Breininger’s claim that Hawkey physically and emotionally abused him on a daily basis was unsupported as there weren’t any signs of abuse when he visited doctors at the time.
“Obviously a young child dealing with the guilt of shooting his father, which isn’t disputed, is going to have some mental health problems,” Crates said. “I don’t know if it’s him lying or just his mental health and his view of reality that is not reality.”