Attorney’s death leads to delay in sentencing of man who killed Shaker Heights teacher

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CLEVELAND, Ohio-- Sentencing for the man who killed Shaker Heights teacher James Caffrey in a hit-and-run is on hold after defendant Derick Ward’s attorney died, and no one notified the local court.

Defense attorney Kenard McDuffie, 66, of Cleveland, didn't show up for the hearing because he passed away in his Bedford Heights office on October 6, according to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. McDuffie died of natural causes.

Ward was being chased by police when he hit and killed Caffrey, a fifth grade teacher and father of two, while Caffrey was jogging along South Park Boulevard in Shaker Heights on January 24. Ward ran from the scene and evaded arrest until August. In September, he pleaded guilty to charges including aggravated vehicular homicide and failure to stop after an accident.

Caffrey’s family and friends packed the courtroom for Ward’s scheduled sentencing hearing Wednesday, including some who traveled from out of state. Relatives planned to make statements calling for Ward to receive the maximum sentence of 18 years in prison.

When McDuffie did not appear it caused confusion, with court staff and Ward unaware that the attorney had died. Judge Carolyn Friedland postponed the sentencing hearing and scheduled a contempt of court hearing for McDuffie. Friedland canceled that hearing after learning of McDuffie’s death several hours later.

The confusion added to an already emotional day for Caffrey’s loved ones, who must now return for a rescheduled sentencing hearing set for November 12. Ward is being assigned a new attorney.

“Many of these people may not be able to come back,” Assistant County Prosecutor John Colan said of Caffrey’s relatives.

According to an Ohio State Supreme Court spokesman, there are no rules in Ohio regarding notification to local courts in the case of an attorney's death. The spokesman said McDuffie's daughter did notify the Supreme Court of his death, starting a process of inventorying his cases.

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