Judge's Radio Show Comments Prompt New Hearing

Court says Judge Leslie Ghiz made inaccurate assertions about manslaughter case during appearance on 700 WLW

click to enlarge Leslie Ghiz
Leslie Ghiz

A Hamilton County Appeals Court has ordered a new hearing for a man convicted in the death of his girlfriend’s 1-year-old child. That order comes after Hamilton County Court Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz made critical statements on a radio station the day after she sentenced the defendant last year.

Hamilton County Court Judge Peter J. Stautberg, writing on Wednesday to order the hearing for Daniel Hamberg, pointed out that Ghiz was in error when she claimed Hamberg had admitted to beating 13-month-old Cohen Barber and might have been biased against the defendant when she handed down his 11-year prison sentence and $20,000 fine.

“The trial court’s remarks at the sentencing hearing and on the radio show made plain that the court imposed the maximum prison sentence based not on the sentencing purposes and factors, but on its disregard for the opinions of the defense’s experts and the unfounded belief that the victim’s death had resulted from an intentional '“beat[ing],' ” Stautberg wrote.

Hamberg received the sentence from Ghiz last April after taking a plea deal on involuntary manslaughter charges for his role in Cohen Barber’s death in 2012. Hamberg says the child fell down the stairs and hit his head. Prosecuting attorneys in his trial last year, however, alleged Hamberg shook or beat Barber. Prosecutors initially sought murder, aggravated murder, felonious assault and endangering children charges for the defendant, but later offered the plea deal, citing difficulty in getting murder convictions in cases like Hamberg’s from juries who don’t want to believe an adult would kill a child.

Heather Noonan, the child’s mother, told authorities that Barber would often jump down the small stairset into the arms of waiting adults. Noonan’s family would later call for Hamberg’s conviction on murder charges, however.

While prosecutors said they had experts ready to testify that Barber was shaken, several medical experts for the defense testified that the child’s death was brought about by a single blow to the back of the head and subsequent swelling and seizures, not from a series of blows or shaking. That evidence seemed to back up Hamberg’s assertions that while he might have been negligent in looking after the child, he did not strike or shake him.

Hamberg is a veteran of the Marines disabled by injuries he sustained while serving in Afghanistan.

During his sentencing, Ghiz blasted Hamberg for killing the child, then said on the air with 700 WLW's Bill Cunningham the next day that the child’s death “came from a number of different things, but they can’t pinpoint exactly what it was… a lot of people know that as shaken baby syndrome. I don’t know that that was the case here. I think the kid was just beat.”

Ghiz also asserted that, “He admitted to it. I don’t care if he had been president of the United States, he’s perfectly capable of behaving in an appropriate manner, and beating a child and admitting to beating that child, and pleading to that is not OK.”

The judge, who is a former Cincinnati City Council member, also shrugged off expert testimony that seems to back up Hamberg’s side of the story, saying that “you can get an expert to say anything.”

Ghiz handed down the maximum sentence, 11 years in prison, which Hamberg is currently serving. His attorneys appealed that sentence after Ghiz’s remarks, and now Hamberg will receive a new hearing regarding his sentence by another judge.

Stautberg was joined by Hamilton County Judge Sylvia Hendon in his call for a new trial. Judge Patrick DeWine dissented, citing procedural concerns he had with the court’s decision.

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