CLEVELAND- The death penalty phase of the trial of the man convicted of killing a couple inside their Collinwood car dealership began Monday.
Joseph McAlpin, 31, repeatedly cried in court as his family members testified on his behalf to try to spare his life.
Last month, a jury convicted McAlpin of ten charges, including aggravated murder, for the April 2017 murders of Michael Kuznik, 50, and Trina Tomola, 46, inside Mr. Cars, their used car dealership on East 185th Street.
McAlpin shot each victim and their family dog in the heads before prosecutors said he and two co-defendants stole vehicles from the dealership.
“I’m not standing up here to say, ‘Yeah, you found me guilty, I didn’t mean to do it, please.’ I still stand firm on my innocence,” McAlpin, who is representing himself, told jurors in his opening statement. “I’m not here to beg for my life, I’m not here to minimize anything that have tooken [sic] place.”
During this penalty phase of the trial, jurors will decide whether McAlpin should receive the death penalty, life in prison or life in prison without parole.
“Aggravated murder is prior calculation and design,” McAlpin said. “But, what is the difference between prior calculation and design to set up a date for a man to be put to death?”
Prosecutors did not present new evidence or call witnesses. Instead, they are relying on ‘aggravating’ evidence presented during the case.
Prosecutors noted the jurors’ decision should not be based on their feelings about the death penalty, but, rather, it should be based on the facts of the case.
“This is a case about about whether we proved to you beyond a reasonable doubt that this defendant meets the criteria for the death penalty,” Assistant Prosecutor Chris Schroeder told jurors.
McAlpin called several relatives, including his siblings, his father and an aunt and uncle, to the stand. For the first time, he showed emotion and repeatedly cried as relatives described a rough childhood.
“He had a hard life growing up,” his uncle, John McAlpin, Sr., told jurors. “He’s seen a lot of things he shouldn’t have seen as a child, but he did.”
Schroeder noted McAlpin’s extensive criminal record, which dates back to 2001. He served nine years in prison for a 2008 aggravated robbery.
The penalty phase is scheduled to resume Thursday morning when the next witness is available. Jurors will then deliberate and are expected to recommend a sentence to the judge, who will impose a sentence.