Murder Victim's Sister, County Prosecutor Strongly Opposed Early Release
I would like to say that I take full responsibility for what I have done. I have used my time as wisely as possible to keep myself occupied to try to make myself a better mother, a better person in general. – Gina Battaglia
After serving just over half of her sentence for her role in the murder of 53-year-old Randy Scheffield in 2011, Gina Battaglia, 33, is getting out of prison early.
Attorney David Grant, on behalf of Battaglia — who pleaded guilty Jan. 7, 2016, to tampering with evidence and obstruction of justice, both third-degree felonies — filed a motion Feb. 10 in Geauga County Common Pleas Court to suspend the remaining 11 months of her prison sentence.
April 13, Geauga County Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn Paschke granted that request, despite the strong urging from Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz and Scheffield’s sister, Melody Scheffield, to keep her behind bars until she serves out her sentence.
Both Grant and Battaglia, as well as Sally Iannone, the therapist who has been working with Battaglia’s special needs son, Devon, spoke Thursday, stressing the importance of Battaglia’s presence in her son’s life.
“I would like to say that I take full responsibility for what I have done. I have used my time as wisely as possible to keep myself occupied to try to make myself a better mother, a better person in general,” Battaglia said to Paschke. “I just wanted to say thank you for giving me this opportunity to possibly come home.”
Grant mentioned the many letters from Battaglia’s family and friends he submitted to the court, highlighting the two letters from wardens of the Northeast Ohio Reintegration Center in support of Grant’s motion.
“While Gina has been in the institution, she literally has done everything she could possible do to improve herself. She’s engaged in a number of self-improvement programs,” Grant said. “While Gina has been away, this has had a devastating impact on Devon’s progression. His improvement with his special needs has been stunted without (Battaglia’s) help. The family is doing the best they can to do the therapy Gina was able to do with this child, but no one can do it, but the child’s mother. I think that out of all of the punishments that she has sustained in this case, perhaps her separation from Devon has been the most devastating to her and perhaps the most sobering to her.”
Prior to Battaglia’s sentencing in March of 2016, Grant had argued her actions were done on her own and not in concert with anyone else, including Randy’s wife, Doretta Scheffield, who was convicted last September of murdering Randy on Dec. 27, 2011. Doretta was sentenced to 27 and a half years to life in prison.
Charges, including conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, were dismissed against David “Tig” Rowles, Doretta’s son and Battaglia’s boyfriend and father of their child.
Battaglia had been scheduled to go to trial Jan. 12, 2016, on eight charges, including conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. Instead, she pleaded guilty Jan. 7 to the two felonies and the rest of the charges were dropped as part of her plea deal.
Thursday, Grant reminded the court the crimes Battaglia was convicted of were not crimes of violence. They were crimes against the administration of justice.
“She did not participate in a crime of violence, she did not conspire to commit a crime of violence,” he said. “Whereas the state may speculate as to what they believe her involvement might have been, as she stands before this court, she was convicted of two, non-violent, third-degree felonies. At this point in time, further incarceration won’t accomplish anything. Letting her go will enable her to get back to her family, get back to her child that needs her help. I submit your honor she has suffered enough and community control sanctions would certainly be appropriate at this time.”
Melody, however, disagreed with Grant and Battaglia, reminding Paschke the reason everyone was in that courtroom was not because of Battaglia’s child, Devon, but because of her brother’s murder.
“None of us would be here today to talk about Devon at all. We’re really here to talk about my mother’s son, who has been dead now for five years,” Melody said. “He was shot in the back of the head, in the morning, left in his room to die. Twelve hours later after all their ducks were in a row, somebody called 911 to have somebody come for a supposed heart attack. There are people in this courtroom who know exactly what happened that day. So I don’t understand why we are talking about Devon, because this is about Randy Scheffield. He is dead.”
Melody went on to describe Battaglia, who has had a history of drug abuse, on the day she met her — the day of Randy’s funeral.
“She was high, drunk and gleeful. It was like a party,” Melody said. “There was so much going on at that funeral home and nobody, nobody from the Battaglia family went up to my mother and father and said they were sorry for what happened. Gina sat on the floor in front of my mother and rocked back and forth and stared at my mother and never said a word. That’s what we remember from the funeral home. And that is the day I met Gina.
“She is trying to get away with 25 percent of her minimal sentence. I think her sentence was very minimal for what had happened and I think she should complete her entire sentence.”
Flaiz emphasized the seriousness of Battaglia’s crimes, especially as they impacted the family and friends of Randy.
“The state of Ohio strongly opposes judicial release. We have family members here and friends of Randy and through the sentencing process, the court heard what type of effect this had on so many people, his murder,” Flaiz said. “And almost four years after his murder, his wife, Doretta Scheffield, was found guilty in this courtroom by a jury. And the family and the community waited years for justice. It was a very long and complicated investigation.
“One of the big reasons that investigation took so long was because of this defendant’s actions to thwart this investigation … the text messages, the lying to law enforcement, the removal of evidence from the scene of the crime, the attempts by this defendant to create a phony alibi for Doretta Scheffield on the day of the murder — that’s what this defendant did.”
The prosecutor said all the aforementioned evidence caused the Geauga County Grand Jury to find probable cause the defendant was complicit in the murder.
“And that’s what she was indicted for. Ultimately, she was able to cover her tracks pretty sufficiently and a compromised resolution was reached where she plead guilty to these third-degree felonies,” Flaiz added. “She ultimately admitted to her wrongdoing and plead to obstructing justice and tampering with evidence, in a murder case — in an aggravated murder case. This isn’t a drug case; this isn’t a theft from Walmart. This defendant obstructed an aggravated murder investigation. And the family, the friends here and the community had to wait for years for justice to be done, in part because of that obstruction.”
Flaiz argued the sentence in this case had “nothing to do with rehabilitation.”
“The defendant’s time in prison on this case isn’t to help her overcome an addiction, help her transition back into society, help her to get back with her family so she’s a productive member of society,” he said. “The 24-month sentence on each of these counts in this case was to punish this defendant for obstructing the murder investigation. It was punishment. There is nothing about rehabilitation here. And Judge (David) Fuhry said it best, that anything less than a prison term would demean the seriousness of these crimes. Given everything that’s gone on, the defendant should be made to finish her sentence.”
While Paschke admitted Battaglia’s crimes were, indeed, serious and she understands the concerns of the prosecution and Scheffield family, she believed Battaglia has made the best of the time she has served so far.
“I believe that if you are released and are granted community control, you’re going to have the opportunity to show us whether you really have changed your life and whether you have really turned things around,” Paschke said. “Based on that, I am going to suspend the remaining time.”
Paschke ordered Battaglia to have no contact with the Scheffield family and to be placed on community control for five years, emphasizing if she goes back to her old ways, her sentence will be reinstated.
Grant had initially requested early release for Battaglia in September 2016. Prosecutors opposed the request, arguing it would demean the seriousness of the offense. Former Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry denied the request without a hearing.
So Grant filed again under the new judge.
After Paschke’s decision Thursday, a visibly frustrated Flaiz shook his head, saying he was “very disappointed.”
Melody, appearing surprised and disheartened as well, shook her head and said she had no comment.