Above: Susan Gwynne’s sentencing hearing in 2016
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The 65-year prison sentence of a former Columbus woman who stole more than 3,000 items from nursing home residents must be reconsidered, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last month.
For the second time, the state’s highest court reversed a lower court’s decision to sentence Susan Gwynne to 65 years in prison after she stole from nearly 50 assisted living facility residents in Franklin and Delaware counties, according to the court’s Dec. 23 ruling.
In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that trial courts must take into consideration a defendant’s total combined prison term when imposing stacked sentences that run consecutively. The Fifth District Court of Appeals, the court also found, erred when deciding it had no authority to vacate Gwynne’s 65-year prison sentence.
The court ordered the Fifth District Court of Appeals to reconsider the 65-year sentence it handed down to Gwynne, who was 55 years old at the time.
From 2008 to 2016, Gwynne stole belongings from 46 residents while working as or pretending to be a nurse’s aide, according to court records. She was initially charged with 86 felony counts and several misdemeanors in 2016 and agreed to plead guilty to 46 counts.
The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office recommended a 42-year prison term. A trial court judge handed down multiple sentences, ranging one to three years, to run consecutively for a combined 65-year term.
On appeal in 2019, the Fifth District Court of Appeals cut Gwynne’s sentence to 15 years – an ultimately short-lived reduction to her term. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the appeals court used the wrong standards when it slashed her sentence, ordering it to reconsider. At that point, the Fifth District Court of Appeals said it had to defer to the trial court’s 65-year sentence.
Writing for the majority, Justice Melody Stewart said appellate courts are not required to be deferential to the trial court’s findings.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Justice Jennifer Brunner joined Stewart’s opinion. Eleventh District Court of Appeals Judge Mary Jane Trapp, sitting in for Justice Michael P. Donnelly, also joined Stewart’s opinion.
Justice Sharon L. Kennedy, however, argued the trial court properly followed the law. Justices Patrick F. Fischer and R. Patrick DeWine also voted in the minority.
Delaware County Prosecutor Mark Sleeper said he intends to file a motion for the court to reconsider on Tuesday. Until the Fifth District Court of Appeals makes a determination, Gwynne’s 65-year prison sentence remains in place.