NORTH ROYALTON, Ohio (WJW)– Family and friends of a murdered North Royalton family said justice was snatched away after a court tossed out the conviction and death sentence of the man who admitted to killing them.
The ruling came down Wednesday from the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of George Brinkman.
“He actually admitted it and said he would take the death penalty. And now four years later, we’re here… Why is that OK?” said Rhonda Rush-Whitelock, longtime friend.
Whitelock said she knew 45-year old Suzanne Taylor since they were 5 years old. In June 2017, Suzanne and her daughters, 21-year old Taylor Pifer and 18-year old Kylie Pifer, were found dead in their home in North Royalton.
“Every holiday, every time I’m anywhere, I’m always thinking about what they could be doing right now with their life,” she said.
In November 2018, George Brinkman, who had known Suzanne since high school, pleaded guilty to killing the family. The next month, a three-judge panel in Cuyahoga County convicted him and sentenced Brinkman to death.
On Wednesday, the Ohio Supreme Court threw out Brinkman’s conviction and death sentence. It sent the case back to the trial court. The justices ruled that the three-judge panel failed to inform the defendant that by pleading guilty, he was waiving his right to confront witnesses and have his guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“What does this tell everyone? Well, it’s OK to commit a heinous crime like this, but you can get off with a technicality,” Rush-Whitelock said.
“I miss my family and I really want him to pay for what he did,” said Kenneth Taylor, Suzanne’s brother.
Taylor said the ruling is upsetting, but he understands mistakes happen.
“It’s also not fair, you know, for him to get a new hearing and everything. But I also don’t want to blame people… I mean, I know people tried hard,” Taylor said.
In a statement, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office called the ruling unfortunate, saying, in part…”We empathize with them and share their frustration and disappointment. We remain committed to ensuring that this defendant is held accountable.”
“I pray to God that someday, our courts and our justice system get reformed and changed because this truly is not fair and it’s a travesty. And this has definitely brought all of those feelings for us up all again, like everything is back where it was, like it just happened yesterday,” Rush-Whitelock said.
Brinkman will remain behind bars. He’s serving two more death sentences for killing a couple in Stark County, whose bodies were found the day after the North Royalton murders.
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County court said because the case is back in common pleas court, the judges involved could not comment.