The sentencing phase of the trial continues Wednesday before a three-judge panel.
CANTON George Brinkman was waiting at the home of a Lake Township couple on a summer day in 2017.
Roberta (Bobbi) and Rogell (Gene) John had known Brinkman for more than 10 years. He knew other family members and had once dated Gene's daughter.
When the couple went on vacation in North Carolina, Brinkman watched their home and was tasked with caring for their 17-year-old dog. It wasn't unusual for Brinkman to sometimes be at the Johns' house on Mt. Pleasant Street NW.
That normalcy shattered on June 11, 2017, when Roberta, 64, and Gene, 71, returned home.
The 47-year-old Brinkman carried in the couple's luggage. At some point, after Bobbi told Brinkman she was upset about the condition of the dog, he turned violent, ordering Bobbi and Gene upstairs and then murdering them, according to details of the investigation read in Stark County Common Pleas Court Tuesday by Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Fred Scott.
Earlier Tuesday, Brinkman pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and single charges of aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence.
Despite the guilty pleas, a trial was still conducted by a three-judge panel because the defendant faces the death penalty.
Prosecutors called on investigators to testify and played a video recording of Brinkman's statements. The defense didn't call any witnesses.
After around 30 minutes of deliberations, Judges Chryssa Hartnett, Kristin Farmer and Taryn Heath found Brinkman guilty of all charges tied to the death of Bobbi and Gene John.
Then the trial went immediately into the sentencing phase late Tuesday afternoon before recessing.
Stark County Public Defender Tammi Johnson and attorney Aaron Kovalchik called Brinkman's ex-wife and two friends to testify in an effort to spare his life.
In an opening statement, Kovalchik said Brinkman suffered emotional abuse and other childhood traumas.
Brinkman's mother died, his brother committed suicide and he battled depression and went through periods of homelessness, the attorney said. Also cited by the defense is Brinkman's significant mental health problems.
The defense will continue its presentation Wednesday.
If the judges don't find that aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating factors in the fatal shootings, Brinkman can be sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole for 25 or 30 years or life in prison with no possibility of parole.
The Johns' deaths were part of a killing spree that began the same day in Cuyahoga County, where Brinkman killed a mother and her two adult daughters. Brinkman also knew those victims, witnesses had said in a trial before a three-judge panel in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in November.
The Cuyahoga judges convicted Brinkman and sentenced him to death.
Changing his story
During the trial phase Tuesday, prosecutors said that on June 11, 2017, Brinkman fatally shot Bobbi and Gene with a .45-caliber handgun owned by Gene.
Brinkman also struck Bobbi in the head, said Scott, of the prosecutor's office. Brinkman then left the house, the assistant prosecutor said.
During the recorded interview with a sheriff's investigator, Brinkman said he didn't intend to to fire the first gunshot at Gene John. However, Brinkman shot Gene and Bobbi John multiple times, Scott said, citing autopsy results from the Stark County Coroner's Office.
Brinkman said he argued with Bobbi over his care for their dog, which was deaf and blind. He also said Gene questioned him about why Brinkman had gotten Gene's .45-caliber handgun out from where it was kept, loading it.
At that point, he said he picked up the gun, told Gene and Bobbi to shut up and ordered them to an upstairs bedroom at gunpoint, Scott said. After shooting Gene, Brinkman told an investigator he threw a comforter to him to stop the bleeding. Brinkman also said in the recorded statement that Bobbi got extremely upset, and he told her to shut up before shooting her.
The recorded interview was lengthy and rambling at times. Brinkman admitted tossing evidence out the window of a vehicle while driving on Interstate 77 in Summit County.
While listening to his own words in court, Brinkman bowed his head, covering his face with his hands. In the gallery, supporters and relatives of the victims expressed visible emotion.
The motive for the killings wasn't clear in Brinkman's confession.
On June 12, after he was unable to reach the couple by phone, Gene's son found their dead bodies in the house and contacted the Stark County Sheriff's Office, according to testimony.
Scott described a bloody scene in the spare upstairs bedroom. Gene Johns' body was found covered with a comforter riddled with bullet holes, Scott said. A wallet was on the floor.
Stark County Assistant Prosecutor Dennis Barr questioned investigators from the Stark County Sheriff's office about the evidence and statements that led to Brinkman's arrest. Prosecutors also presented bullet fragments that came from a .45-caliber handgun.
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