It was a day before jury selection would begin in the death penalty trial of 48-year-old Robert Seman Jr., an Ohio man accused of raping a 10-year-old girl and later killing her and her grandparents in a fire.
To attorneys and others present at his final status hearing Monday at the Mahoning County Courthouse, the man seemed to be in “good spirits” as he talked about the future of his trial, Sheriff Jerry Greene said. Due to court rules, he wore no shackles or handcuffs after the hearing as deputies led him to a holding cell through a fourth-floor hallway overlooking a rotunda below.
Suddenly, Seman bolted from the deputies and jumped over a balcony wall, falling more than 50 feet.
The impact of his body hitting the marble floor “shook the building,” onlookers told Youngstown Vindicator reporter Joe Gorman, who witnessed it. Paramedics rushed to treat the man as he lay motionless on his side. But his skin was already pale. Courthouse workers hugged, and others cried as medical staff placed a white sheet over Seman’s body.
One prosecutor there was overheard saying: “That was an evil, evil man,” before turning away.
The man’s apparent suicide, under investigation by the sheriff’s office, brought a shocking close to a case that rattled the Youngstown, Ohio, community and spanned more than two years. The bulk of the case began in the early hours of March 30, 2015, when a blaze engulfed the home of 10-year-old Corinne Gump, trapping her and her grandparents, Bill and Judy Schmidt, inside. All three were killed.
The fire, which investigators concluded was fueled by gasoline, took place the day before Seman, of Green Township, was scheduled to testify in trial in connection to the 10-year-old’s rape. Burns were found on Seman’s body after his arrest, the Associated Press reported.
After Seman’s sudden death Monday, Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa told reporters the apparent suicide was “very telling.”
“He knew the evidence against him,” Cantalamessa said. “Every witness we talked to in preparation for the case, they didn’t know why he wasn’t pleading guilty or asking for some sort of plea, so this is very telling.”
But Seman’s defense attorney Thomas Zena told Reuters in a videotaped interview that there was “no indication of anything like that whatsoever,” insisting that his client had maintained his innocence.
Neighbors showed little remorse, while others in the community expressed anything but satisfaction with the trial’s sudden end.
Jean McCammond, who lives across the street from the former home of the Schmidt grandparents, told the Vindicator that in the wake of Seman’s death, “I hollered, ‘Hallelujiah!’ ”
“Lucifer is digesting the weirdest, meanest soul that was ever on this Earth,” she said, adding, “I feel that now Judy, Bill and Corinne will be at peace.”
Britney Fedor, meanwhile, said, “They don’t get the justice. He took that easy, easy way out.”
Gorman, the reporter who witnessed the aftermath of Seman’s fall, said he was “shocked” that a man “who went through all this trouble to avoid going to jail would do this.”
He told a local broadcaster: “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’ve seen a lot of stuff. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Yet there have been multiple instances in recent years in which a defendant has committed suicide in court.
In 2012, former investment banker Michael Marin died after he swallowed a cyanide pill in a downtown Phoenix courtroom just after he was convicted of arson, according to the Arizona Republic. The following year, a Missouri man committed suicide by ingesting a cyanide pill in court, just after he was convicted of sodomizing a 14-year-old girl, CBS affiliate KCTV reported.
And in October of last year, in Orange County, Calif., Jeffrey Scott Jones pulled a standard razor blade out of his pocket and slit his throat, just after he had been found guilty of sexually assaulting and raping a girl when she was 13.
And in the same Ohio courthouse where Seman died, another man took the fatal leap from the fourth-floor railing onto the marble rotunda floor about 70 years ago, according to the Vindicator. The death of Frank Rigelsky, 57, of South Avenue, a tailor, who made the same jump Aug. 5, 1947, was ruled a suicide by the coroner.
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