COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The man charged in the death of an Ohio police officer gave up his right to an initial court hearing, a prosecutor said Thursday, giving both sides more time to research the case, including whether the death penalty is appropriate.
The decision by Lincoln Rutledge means the state now has nearly two months before an indictment must be issued.
The extra time will allow Columbus police to complete their investigation and Rutledge’s attorneys to present evidence they believe argues against a death penalty, said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien.
“Then we have the best information available to us in order to make that decision,” he said.
Ohio law includes killing a police officer as a factor that can lead to capital punishment.
In recent years, O’Brien, a Republican, has only sought the death penalty for cases he believed were strong enough that a jury would vote for death.
Rutledge, 44, was charged Thursday with a preliminary count of aggravated murder, on top of a previous charge of felonious assault filed after Sunday’s shooting of SWAT officer Steven Smith but before Smith died Tuesday.
A message was left with the public defender’s office representing the Rutledge. He’ll likely receive a new lawyer once an indictment is filed.
Thursday morning, dozens of police cruisers escorted Smith’s body from the Franklin County coroner’s office to a funeral home. Smith, 54, a 27-year veteran of the department, died Tuesday, two days after being shot.
Smith’s funeral is set for Monday at a Roman Catholic church in suburban Westerville.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and other city officials stood at attention with their hands over their hearts as the procession went by City Hall.
Smith was an organ donor for eight people upon his death, according to the Franklin County coroner’s office and Columbus police chief Kim Jacobs.
“He lived to serve others, he was dedicated to that. He lived with passion,” Jacobs said. “There was an enthusiasm for life that everybody sensed in him and that will never be forgotten.”
Smith was shot in the head while inside a SWAT vehicle early Sunday outside Rutledge’s apartment in a neighborhood north of Ohio State’s campus. Officers were attempting to arrest Rutledge on an aggravated arson charge alleging he tried to set his estranged wife’s home on fire the day before.
Rutledge’s mental health is bound to be an issue in the case and would weigh heavily on a decision whether to seek the death penalty.
Rutledge told an Ohio State University co-worker last month he was not taking his medication, made a comment about “eating a Glock” and accused his co-worker of being a federal agent, according to a March 22 report from the OSU police department.
During the co-worker’s visit, “it became apparent that Rutledge may have been in the midst of a mental breakdown,” the report said.
On March 28, Rutledge’s wife told Columbus police he had been diagnosed with depression and “lately has been ‘increasingly detached from reality,'” according to a Columbus police report.
A Franklin County judge had ordered that Rutledge receive mental health treatment, the report said.
Ohio State said Rutledge, a computer network engineer, had not been at work since Feb. 1 when he requested and was granted a leave of absence. His access to buildings was revoked March 23 “when he began to behave erratically while on leave,” the university said.
Jacobs said community support has been overwhelming, including the man who pulled up to police headquarters, got out and played Taps.
“Steve didn’t hear it, but we did,” Jacobs said.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins