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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Death Penalty Upheld for Man Who Killed Couple While Housesitting for Them

Image of a bearded prison inmate wearing a beige shirt

Death row inmate George C. Brinkman

Image of a bearded prison inmate wearing a beige shirt

Death row inmate George C. Brinkman

The Supreme Court of Ohio today confirmed the death sentence of a man who requested capital punishment for killing a North Canton couple whose house he was watching while they vacationed.

The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed a three-judge panel’s decision to sentence George C. Brinkman to death for the 2017 murder of Rogell “Gene” and Roberta “Bobbi” John. Brinkman was a longtime family friend of the Johns, until he shot and beat them to death before fleeing with $140 of their cash. He pleaded guilty to the crimes and waived his right to a jury trial.

At his sentencing hearing , Brinkman apologized and said he deserved nothing less than the death penalty. Writing for the Court, Justice R. Patrick DeWine stated that Brinkman’s guilty pleas and his statements to the panel were significant evidence in his favor. But, the Court explained, his show of remorse at his hearing was undermined by his conduct immediately after the crimes and his untruthful confession about how the crimes took place. Brinkman first told police that he accidentally shot Gene John. Justice DeWine wrote the evidence indicated Brinkman shot the door open to a bedroom in which the couple fled to hide and then intentionally shot Gene.

In affirming the sentence, the Court rejected all but one of Brinkman’s legal arguments, finding the court improperly sentenced him to postrelease control for two lesser crimes he committed during his attack of the couple.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Jennifer Brunner agreed with Brinkman’s argument that the three-judge panel made a procedural error when overruling Brinkman’s attempt to exclude 13 crime-scene photographs from the evidence. Only the presiding judge, not all three judges, ruled on the issue. Justice Brunner wrote that under R.C. 2945.06, all three judges should have decided whether to permit the photographs.

However, both the majority opinion and Justice Brunner’s concurrence determined that the error did not affect the outcome of the case.

Housesitter Murders Couple Returning From Vacation
Brinkman had known the Johns for more than a decade. According to Gene’s son Jason, Brinkman had dated Jason’s half-sister, and began working for a company owned by Gene and Jason. Although the relationship with the sister ended, Brinkman continued to work for the company and spent some holidays with the John family.

In June 2017, Brinkman stayed at the Johns’ home and watched their dog while they vacationed. The day of the couple’s return, Brinkman found a handgun Gene owned. He later told police he loaded the gun and was playing with it before the couple returned.

When the couple arrived, Brinkman said, he helped them carry their luggage into the house. Then Bobbi began yelling at him, accusing him of neglecting the dog, and Gene asked why his gun was out of the box. Brinkman said he told the couple to “shut up” and he directed them at gunpoint to an upstairs guest bedroom.

Brinkman told police that he ordered the couple to sit on the bed. He said as he turned to leave the room, Gene got off the bed. When Brinkman turned back around, the gun accidentally “went off,” he stated. Brinkman said Bobbi started “freaking out” when she saw that Gene had been shot.

Brinkman began hitting Bobbi with the butt of the gun, and as Gene stood up, Brinkman shot him two more times. As Bobbi continued to scream, Brinkman covered her head with a pillow and shot her. He put pillows under Gene’s body so “he would be comfortable,” Brinkman told police. Brinkman then realized that Bobbi was not dead, so he smothered her with a pillow.

Brinkman took $140 from the couple’s wallets and their cellphones. He disposed of the phones, gun, shell casings, and his bloody clothing somewhere along a nearby interstate.

Son Discovered Bodies
The next day, when his father did not show up for work and Jason John could not reach Gene or Bobbi, he called Brinkman, who told the son that the couple had arrived home around 5 p.m. the previous night. Brinkman told Jason that he talked with Gene for a few hours and left. Jason went to the Johns’ home and found them dead.

Jason gave Stark County sheriff deputies Brinkman’s cell phone number and address. Police tracked Brinkman to North Royalton where he was arrested. When first meeting with a sheriff deputy and North Royalton police officer, Brinkman denied any involvement in the murders.

The next day, he was interviewed by another deputy and an FBI agent, and confessed to the crimes. Brinkman was charged with six counts, including the aggravated murders of the Johns. The charges carried death penalty specifications.

Death Penalty Requested at Sentencing
Because Brinkman pleaded guilty to all charges, Ohio law required a three-judge panel to accept his plea and determine whether he was guilty of aggravated murder. The panel confirmed Brinkman understood the effects of pleading guilty, and the judges heard from four witnesses , including Jason John. The panel found Brinkman guilty on all counts and specifications.

Before imposing a death sentence, the panel conducted a hearing to determine if the aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating factors. At the hearing, Brinkman told the court he “was responsible for what happened to Gene and Bobbi. They were extremely kind, caring, and wonderful people who did not deserve to be killed by me.”

He stated he did not want mercy, and that he deserved the death penalty.

 “There should be absolutely zero doubt about that,” he said.

The panel sentenced him to death, and he received a three-year sentence for tampering with evidence to run concurrently a with six-year sentence for firearm specifications. The court also imposed postrelease control for aggravated-burglary and aggravated-robbery convictions, should Brinkman be released from prison.

Because the death penalty was imposed, Brinkman’s case was automatically appealed to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Evaluated Sentence
The Supreme Court independently weighed the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Justice DeWine wrote the physical evidence and Brinkman’s statements to police support a finding that he intended to murder the Johns and to rob them so he could leave town.

The Court noted that most of the mitigating evidence came from an examination of Brinkman’s history, character, and background by forensic-psychologist Bob Stinson. Stinson detailed Brinkman’s troubled childhood and the abuse he suffered from his father.

Stinson also noted that Brinkman experienced several medical and mental health issues, and those seemed to spiral after the death of his mother from a terminal illness in 2013 and his brother’s suicide in 2015. Brinkman was diagnosed in 2015 with “uncontrolled and untreated diabetes” and an aortic aneurysm.

Stinson explained that severe diabetes can affect one’s mood and cause blackouts. Brinkman began taking prescription drugs for pain and panic attacks. Stinson also said that after conducting more than 13 hours of interviews with Brinkman, he diagnosed Brinkman with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and substance-abuse disorders related to his use of alcohol and marijuana.

The Court stated there was no evidence that Brinkman’s medical issues or substance abuse factored into his commission of the crimes. The Court further noted there was no indication Brinkman’s mental health conditions impacted his ability to “appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the law.”

“Brinkman’s decision to shoot Gene multiple times and subject Bobbi to multiple forms of violence, including beating her on the head with Gene’s gun and smothering her, outweighs his mitigation,” the Court concluded.

The Court affirmed the death sentences.

The Court explained that because the trial court merged the convictions for aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery with the murder convictions, the trial court could not impose separate sentences on those crimes. The Court ordered the trial court to vacate the postrelease control sentences for the burglary and robbery counts.

2019-1642. State v. Brinkman, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-2550.

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