Judge Apologizes for Gagging Prisoner
An Ohio judge apologized for ordering sheriff’s deputies to gag an unruly prisoner—without ever actually telling the defendant he was sorry.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Russo ordered convicted armed robber Franklyn Williams to be gagged after multiple interruptions by Williams, who refused to wait his turn to talk during his trial on July 31.
After multiple warnings, deputies placed a strip of red duct tape across Williams’s mouth—even then, he kept interrupting. Deputies then added a second piece of tape.
The judge never ordered the deputies to use duct tape.
Russo read a statement to the court explaining his actions on Aug. 6. He explained that he had no other way of maintaining order in the court and ensuring a fair trial.
Russo told the court, “In retrospect, while there is legal precedent for gagging a defendant to keep order in a court, I apologize for taking that action last week,” Cleveland.com reported.
The judge stated that because of Williams’s “frequent and offensive outbursts—I believe it was more than 60 interruptions in 54 minutes—It was my responsibility to take control of the hearing.”
“You continued to hinder the procedures of the court—procedures which are designed to protect your rights, the rights of the victims, and our justice system,” Judge Russo explained.
When the judge offered Williams the opportunity to address the court, on the record, Williams didn’t say much: “Freedom of speech—No duct tape,” he said. When the judge asked a second time if he would like to speak, he responded, “That’s all I got to say. Freedom of speech—no duct tape.”
Russo has recused himself from the case. A different judge will preside at sentencing.
Williams, 32, was on trial for a trio of armed robberies. During his trial, the defendant repeatedly interrupted proceedings to complain of bias, unfairness, and legal impropriety. Williams repeatedly interrupted the judge and even interrupted his own attorney.
Russo attempted to ignore the interruptions, then asked Williams to “follow the same rules” he had abided by at earlier hearings. When nothing else worked, Russo told the defendant that he would be gagged if he did not stop interrupting.
Russo, apparently fed up with Williams’ repeated interruptions, then told the defendant, “Shut your mouth and I’ll tell you when you can talk. It’s the same rules we played by while we were here at trial, every time we were here for a pre-trial. So just follow the same rules. Fair enough?”
The judge pleaded with Williams to follow order. “You know how this works,” he told Williams. “We’ve been in this courtroom at least fifty times this week preparing for trial.” The judge pointed out that the stenographer couldn’t take down William’s comments when he spoke over others.
Still, Williams refused to comply and instead, kept interrupting.
After almost an hour of little progress due to constant outbursts, Judge Russo threatened stronger action.
“Listen to me. If we have to, I will gag you in one second. So listen. You will get a chance to talk.
“I am going to gag you in one second, so just listen to me. Zip it, until I give you a chance to talk. You’ll get a chance to talk. I am going to give you a chance to talk.”
Williams agreed to stay silent until his turn came—and began again blurting out his stories of injustice almost immediately.
Second Trial on Same Charges
Williams was being retried after a December 2016 conviction had been overturned on appeal.
Williams was tried on multiple charges including aggravated robbery, kidnapping, theft, misuse of credit cards, and having weapons under a disability in relation to three armed robberies he committed, Fox News reported.
Williams had pleaded guilty and sentenced to 14 years in his first trial. However, he was released on appeal after he claimed his attorney told him he would be released after only seven years, when in fact he would need to serve the full 14.
Because he took a plea supposedly based on bad information, the plea and sentence were ruled invalid by the 8th District Court of Appeals, and a new trial was ordered. This was not considered double jeopardy because Williams took a plea and never went to trial.
While Williams was free pending his second trial, he cut the monitoring bracelet off his ankle and fled the state.
Williams claimed that while on the run, he had been hit in the head and lost all his memories, including any recollection of the earlier trial.
However, searches of his cell phone records show Williams researching methods for beating a conviction.
Williams was recaptured in Nebraska, brought back to Ohio, and retried. He was again convicted.
Russo sentenced Williams to 24 years, but that sentence has been set aside.