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Donna Marie ROBERTS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Plotting to kill her ex-husband - To collect insurance money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 11, 2001
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: May 22, 1944
Victim profile: Her former husband, Robert Fingerhut
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Warren, Trumbull County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on June 21, 2003

Roberts, Donna:  White; age 58 at crime; murder of white male (her ex-husband) near Warren (Trumbull County) on 12-11-2001; sentenced on 6-21-2003.


Donna Roberts (born May 22, 1944), an American convicted of being an accomplice to murder, is the only woman on death row in the state of Ohio.

Early life

Roberts was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio and was a student of Austintown-Fitch High School. In 1966, she married her first husband William Raymond and moved to Miami, Florida. She had one child, Michael Raymond, in 1969. She and William Raymond divorced in 1971.

She remarried to her second husband Burton Gelfand in 1972 and later divorced him in 1980. Roberts converted to Judaism while living in Miami, Florida and worked as a plastic surgeon assistant for over 20 years in North Miami Beach, Florida.

Roberts met her late husband Robert Fingerhut in 1980. They married and bought a home in Miami, near Miami Gardens and Ives Estates in 1983. They later sold their home and moved to Richmond, Virginia for one year, and in 1993, the couple moved back to Roberts' hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. Donna purchased their new home in Niles in 1994 on Fonderlac Ave.

During this time, Roberts and Fingerhut managed the Avis car rental franchise at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport for several years. They later managed both the Youngstown and Warren Greyhound bus stations and turned them into successful locations. For a short period of time, Roberts also ran a small restaurant located within the Youngstown Bus Terminal called "Just the Ticket".

Murder conviction

Roberts was convicted in 2003 of recruiting Nate Jackson while he was still in prison to kill her ex-husband Robert Fingerhut, which he did on December 11, 2001, in the house Roberts and Fingerhut continued to share after their private divorce.

In her appeal, it is alleged that the police performed an illegal search of her car parked inside the garage since the search warrant was only for the home. Nate Jackson stated that Donna Roberts had no knowledge of his planned actions and this was video taped during his confession by the police and he also stated this during his trial. Jackson has also since been sentenced to death for his role in the murder.

Unfortunately Nate's story did not hold water when the Trumbull County Sheriff's department intercepted several letters of their plans as well as recordings of their jailhouse phone calls.


Donna Roberts: Back to Death Row

December 29, 2008

A Trumbull County woman is heading back to death row for plotting to kill her husband six years ago. The trial of Donna Roberts was filled with tawdry details of sex, betrayal and brutality.  But earlier this year, the state supreme court ruled that there was a technical error in the way Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge John Stuard sentenced Roberts. He gave his handwritten notes to prosecutors so they could draft the sentencing entry. After allowing Roberts to speak for herself last week, Stuard re-did the sentencing process on Monday.

It was one rotten day for 63-year-old Donna Roberts. In the morning, she attended the funeral of her mother Pauline, who died of cancer last week. One hour later, after kissing her mothers obituary, Roberts heard a judge tell her she must die.

It's all because of the plot she hatched seven years ago, with the help of her lover Nate Jackson. She seduced and recruiting him while he was still in prison to kill her common law husband Robert Fingerhut. Jackson did the job in December 2001, in the house Roberts and Fingerhut shared.

Her initial trial was filled with salacious details and bizarre statements from Roberts....even to the point that she told the jury: "The death penalty. You have no other choice."  At her re-sentencing hearing, her attorneys begged to differ. "The worst of the worst are the ones who receive the death penalty.", said public defender David Doughen.  "It is our strong belief that because of Donnas mental instability, for lack of a better term, that this isn't happening in this case."

After the hearing, Roberts told First News that a letter from her husband indicates that her mental state suffered after she was involved in a car crash. Did post traumatic stress influence her judgement during her trial? Judge Stuard said he has "no opinion on whether that would have made a difference or not, but it is something that you will have an opportunity to work with."

Prosecutors don't believe defense attorneys will be able to prove that.  Assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor Chris Becker said "I respectfully disagree with him (Doughen). She is the worst of the worst. She provided the means and the manner for Nate Jackson to kill her live in husband."

Roberts will be heading back to the prison in Maryville. She'll be only one of two women on Ohio's death row.


Court Affirms Murder Conviction, But Vacates Death Sentence In Trumbull County Shooting

2003-1441. State v. Roberts, 2006-Ohio-3665.

Trumbull C.P. No. 01-CR-793. Judgment affirmed in part and vacated in part, and cause remanded.

Moyer, C.J., Resnick, Pfeifer, Lundberg Stratton, O'Connor, O'Donnell and Lanzinger, JJ., concur.

(Aug. 2, 2006)

The Supreme Court of Ohio today affirmed the aggravated murder conviction of Donna M. Roberts for her role in the 2001 shooting death of her former husband, Robert Fingerhut, but voted 7-0 to vacate Roberts' death sentence because of improper participation by the Trumbull County prosecutor in the preparation of the trial judge's sentencing order.

The Court's opinion, authored by Justice Maureen O'Connor, ordered the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas to resentence Roberts, and specified that the judge must independently determine which of the available statutory sentencing options, including the death penalty, is appropriate.

Roberts and Nathaniel Jackson, an ex-convict with whom she was romantically involved, were both convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death for planning and carrying out the ambush slaying of Fingerhut at the home he shared with Roberts in suburban Trumbull County.

According to trial evidence, Roberts, who continued to share a house with Fingerhut despite the couple's 1985 divorce, commenced a sexual relationship with Jackson prior to Jackson's incarceration in Lorain County for most of 2001. From jail, Jackson engaged in an extensive exchange of letters and telephone calls with Roberts over a period of several months in which both parties discussed in thinly veiled terms killing Fingerhut when Jackson was released from custody in order to pursue their relationship with one another and collect on Fingerhut's life insurance.

Less than a week after Jackson's release from jail, Roberts placed a late-night 911 call in which she reported finding Fingerhut's body in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor and his car missing from the garage. Investigating officers found evidence that Fingerhut had been attacked in the garage, beaten, and then shot at close range in the back, chest and head just inside the house.

During a search of the premises that was verbally authorized by Roberts before she left the crime scene to spend the night with relatives, police found 143 letters Jackson had written to Roberts from jail in a dresser drawer in Roberts' bedroom. Another 145 letters Roberts had written to Jackson were found in a shopping bag in the trunk of Roberts' car, which was parked in the garage.

Jackson was arrested after police found Fingerhut's car on a Youngstown street the next day and blood stains in the vehicle revealed DNA characteristics traceable to both Jackson and to Fingerhut – indicating that the two men's blood was commingled in the samples.

Jackson admitted shooting Fingerhut but claimed that it was in self-defense after the two had argued and Fingerhut had produced a gun and pointed it at Jackson. Based on the letters discovered during the police search of the crime scene and other evidence, Roberts was subsequently placed under arrest and charged with complicity in the killing.

Jackson and Roberts both were charged with aggravated murder with death penalty specifications and tried separately. Jackson's trial took place first and generated considerable publicity. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. His conviction and death sentence were affirmed by the Supreme Court on Jan. 4, 2006, in Case No. 2003-0137.

Roberts' attorneys sought a change of venue for her trial, arguing that publicity from the Jackson trial suggesting her involvement in the crime would prejudice Warren-area jurors. The trial judge denied a change of venue. After the jury entered a guilty verdict including death penalty specifications, Roberts waived the presentation of any evidence in mitigation of a death sentence except her own unsworn statement. The jury returned a death penalty recommendation, and the judge imposed a sentence of death.

In today's decision, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Roberts' aggravated murder conviction, rejecting multiple allegations of legal and procedural error during her trial including claims that the judge should have granted a change of venue because of pretrial publicity and that the letters uncovered during the police's warrantless search of Roberts' car on the night of the shooting should have been excluded from evidence because they went beyond her permission for a search of the house.

The Court ruled, however, that the trial judge had committed reversible error when he sought and accepted the assistance of the prosecutor's office in preparing the sentencing opinion in which he affirmed the jury's recommendation that Roberts receive the death penalty.

“Our prior decisions have stressed the crucial role of the trial court's sentencing opinion in evaluating all of the evidence, including mitigation evidence, and in carefully weighing the specified aggravating circumstances against the mitigating evidence in determining the appropriateness of  the death penalty,” wrote Justice O'Connor.

“In this case, our confidence in the trial court's sentencing opinion is undermined by the fact that the trial judge directly involved the prosecutor in preparing the sentencing opinion and did so on an ex parte basis. … The trial court's delegation of any degree of responsibility in this sentencing opinion does not comply with R.C. 2929.03(F). Nor does it comport with our firm belief that the consideration and imposition of death are the most solemn of all the duties that are imposed on a judge. … The scales of justice may not be weighted even slightly by one with an interest in the ultimate outcome,” she wrote.

Citing prior court decisions and Canon 3(B)(7) of the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, which bars ex parte communications between a judge and counsel concerning a pending proceeding, Justice O'Connor concluded that “(t)he trial court's consultation with the prosecutor, particularly when undertaken without the knowledge or participation of defense counsel, can neither be ignored nor found to be harmless error. … It is so severe a violation (of the statutory deliberative process) that independent reweighing cannot serve as an adequate remedy. We find that we must vacate the sentence because of the critical constitutional interests and notions of justice that are implicated by the prosecutor's participation in drafting the sentencing opinion."



[Cite as State v. Roberts, 110 Ohio St.3d 71, 2006-Ohio-3665.]

Criminal law — Aggravated murder — Convictions affirmed — Court’s ex parte
communication with prosecutor invalidates sentencing opinion — Death
penalty vacated and resentencing ordered.

(No. 2003-1441 — Submitted January 24, 2006 — Decided August 2, 2006.)
APPEAL from the Court of Common Pleas for Trumbull County,
No. 01-CR-793.


{¶ 1} At 12:01 a.m., December 12, 2001, the appellant, Donna M. Roberts, phoned 911 to report the death of her former husband, Robert Fingerhut, at the home they shared in Howland Township, Trumbull County, Ohio. After investigating, the police learned that Roberts and Nathaniel Jackson had plotted to kill Fingerhut while Jackson was in prison in the months preceding the murder. Subsequently, the pair were arrested and indicted.

{¶ 2} Jackson was convicted of the aggravated murder of Fingerhut and was sentenced to death, a conviction and sentence that we have affirmed. See State v. Jackson, 107 Ohio St.3d 300, 2006-Ohio-1, 839 N.E.2d 362. In a separate trial, Roberts was found guilty of the aggravated murder of Fingerhut and was also sentenced to death.

{¶ 3} Roberts now appeals, raising an array of challenges to her conviction and sentence. Although we reject all of Roberts’s attacks on her conviction, because of the trial judge’s ex parte use of the prosecutor in directly preparing the court’s sentencing opinion, we must vacate the sentence and remand the case to the trial court for resentencing.


{¶ 4} The facts taken in the light favorable to the state establish the following facts.

{¶ 5} Donna Roberts met Robert Fingerhut in Florida in 1983; they married, but were divorced soon thereafter. According to Roberts, the divorce was for financial and business reasons — i.e., that Fingerhut wanted to shelter and protect assets in case his business was sued or collapsed.

{¶ 6} The couple moved to Ohio and established a home on Fonderlac Drive in Howland Township, Warren, Ohio. Fingerhut bought two Greyhound bus terminals – one in Warren and one in Youngstown – and began operating them. Those assets and almost all others were listed in Roberts’s name.

{¶ 7} Despite the divorce, Fingerhut appears to have continued to treat Roberts as his wife, referring to her as such in many of his business dealings. Most people who dealt with Roberts and Fingerhut assumed that they were married. Roberts similarly maintains that, in her mind, she did not consider herself divorced because she and Fingerhut were a devout, loving couple.

{¶ 8} Notwithstanding her feelings for Fingerhut, at some point during that relationship, Roberts met Nathaniel Jackson and began an affair with him. The liaison was interrupted in 2001, when Jackson was incarcerated in the Lorain Correctional Institution. Upon his release, however, they were reunited.

{¶ 9} On December 6, 2001, Roberts reserved and paid for a Jacuzzi suite in Jackson’s name at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Boardman. Three days later, Jackson and Roberts spent the night in that room.

{¶ 10} Over the next several days, the pair were seen together at various places. A day or two before Fingerhut’s death, Frank Reynolds, then an employee of the Greyhound bus terminal in Youngstown, saw Roberts and Jackson kissing and talking with one another near the terminal before Fingerhut arrived for work. Earlier, Reynolds had overheard Roberts asking Fingerhut for $3,000. Fingerhut had refused. According to Reynolds, Roberts was nervous and shaking and gave Fingerhut “the dirtiest look.”

{¶ 11} On December 11, 2001, Greyhound bus driver Jim McCoy saw Fingerhut working at the Youngstown terminal at approximately 4:30 p.m. Fingerhut was the only person working that afternoon.

{¶ 12} Soon after seeing Fingerhut in the terminal, McCoy drove his bus to Warren. He saw Roberts and Jackson at the Warren terminal, and Jackson told McCoy, “[W]e’re trying to get out of here.” On December 11, a server at the Red Lobster restaurant in Niles waited on a couple she later identified as Roberts and Jackson. The two paid for their dinner at 6:43 p.m. and left the restaurant.

{¶ 13} Fingerhut left the Youngstown bus terminal around 9:00 p.m. on December 11, telling the security guard on duty that he was leaving early for the evening. Around 9:30 p.m., a neighbor observed Roberts driving her car very slowly on Old State Route 82 near their homes, even though no one else was on the road at the time.

{¶ 14} Later that night, Roberts went to the Days Inn in Boardman to reserve a room for the following week. She was alone and paced around the lobby. The room receipt indicates that she paid for the room at 11:33 p.m.

{¶ 15} At 12:01 a.m., December 12, 2001, Trumbull County authorities received a 911 call from Roberts, who was screaming hysterically that there was something wrong with her husband. Upon arriving at the home, police found Fingerhut’s body on the kitchen floor near the door to the garage.

{¶ 16} A Trumbull County forensic pathologist, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, observed Fingerhut’s body at the crime scene and later performed an autopsy. Fingerhut had sustained lacerations and abrasions to his left hand and head, as well as multiple gunshot wounds to his head, chest, and back. Dr. Germaniuk concluded that the gunshot to Fingerhut’s head was the cause of death.

{¶ 17} During the crime-scene search, police found a fully loaded .38- caliber revolver near Fingerhut’s body. A firearms expert with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (“BCI”) later concluded that the bullets recovered from the home and Fingerhut’s body were fired from the same weapon, either a .38-caliber special or a .357 Magnum, but that none of the bullets had been fired from the revolver found near Fingerhut’s body.

{¶ 18} During the hours immediately following Roberts’s 911 call, police observed that her emotional state fluctuated. At times, she was calm and quiet, and at other times she was crying or screaming, “Oh, my Robert, my Robert.” Two detectives noticed that when police investigators talked extensively, they no longer heard Roberts shouting. When a detective checked on Roberts in her bedroom because she had been quiet, she began shouting again upon seeing him. One officer at the scene remarked that he “didn’t notice any tears coming from [Roberts’s] eyes” when she appeared to be crying.

{¶ 19} In this period of initial investigation, Roberts told police that she had left work at the Greyhound bus terminal in Warren at 5:30 that evening, had dined alone at a Red Lobster restaurant, and had then gone home. According to Roberts, Fingerhut called her and said he would be late coming home and suggested that she go shopping. Roberts said she had left her home at 9:00 p.m. and had gone to several stores. When she returned home shortly before midnight, she found Fingerhut lying on the floor, bleeding from the face. She also stated that her husband’s car was not at the house.

{¶ 20} Eventually, police arranged for Roberts’s brother to pick her up while they continued to secure the scene and collect evidence. Before Roberts left the house, Detective Sergeant Paul Monroe told Roberts that the house was a crime scene and that police needed to search the house and everything in it, including the garage and cars. Roberts allegedly replied, “Do whatever you have to do to catch the bastard.”

{¶ 21} At 3:38 a.m. that morning, police were still at the house investigating. The phone rang, and Detective Sergeant Monroe answered it. There was a pause, and then the caller hung up. Detective Monroe traced the call to Roberts’s cell phone.

{¶ 22} Around 10:00 a.m. that morning, Detective Monroe visited Roberts at her brother’s home. At that time, Roberts gave police written consent to continue searching the residence.

{¶ 23} Later, on the afternoon of December 12, Roberts met with Sergeant Frank Dillon and Detective Sergeant Monroe at the police station. Roberts described her “loving relationship” with Fingerhut but also stated that she and Fingerhut were a “cool couple” and that he “did his thing, she did hers.”

{¶ 24} She described Fingerhut as “go[ing] both ways” and said that he had a friend named “Bobby.” She recalled that about a week and a half before the murder, Fingerhut was acting kind of “nutty,” and she had thought the behavior was because of his relationship with Bobby.

{¶ 25} Roberts also stated that she had been having a sexual relationship with a man named Carlos for six months. She additionally indicated that she had a friend named Santiago whom she had tried to help, but that he had stolen money and a gun from her. When Detective Monroe asked Roberts whether she had relationships with anyone else, Roberts replied, “No, there’s nobody else. I told you everybody.”

{¶ 26} Monroe then asked her about a man named Nate Jackson, and Roberts said, “Yes, I forgot about him.” Roberts admitted that she had been dating Jackson for two years and that he had called her from prison and had exchanged letters with her. Roberts claimed that she had last seen Jackson on December 9, when she picked him up at Lorain Correctional Institution and had then left him in Youngstown at a house on Wirt Street. Roberts added that she had last spoken to Jackson over the telephone rather than in person on the morning of December 11.

{¶ 27} Detective Monroe asked Roberts whether she had a cell phone and whether he could look at it. Roberts searched her purse and said that she had left it at home. Monroe then told Roberts that a call originating from her cell phone had been placed tothe crime scene at 3:38 that morning. Roberts said, “Nate must have had the phone. He’s always borrowing it.”

{¶ 28} In the ensuing week and a half, police continued to investigate and learned that Jackson and Roberts had spent a night together at the Wagon Wheel Motel and that Roberts had registered at the Days Inn and had paid for one week’s rental.

{¶ 29} Police and a BCI agent located and retrieved evidence, including Jackson’s fingerprints, from the room at the Days Inn in which Jackson had stayed. Police also recovered a garbage bag in a dumpster at the motel that had come from Jackson’s room. That bag contained a bottle of peroxide, used bandages, and gauze with blood that was consistent with Jackson’s DNA profile.

{¶ 30} Police learned that Fingerhut had taken out two life insurance policies on his life, naming Roberts as sole beneficiary. The aggregate benefit of the policies amounted to $550,000.

{¶ 31} On December 12, police found Fingerhut’s abandoned vehicle in Youngstown, approximately three blocks from Wirt Street. A forensic specialist found blood on the driver’s side visor and on other areas inside the automobile. Subsequent scientific analysis determined that blood on the visor contained a mixture consistent with both Jackson’s and Fingerhut’s DNA profiles. Blood recovered from the trunk release inside the car contained a DNA mixture with a major profile that was consistent with Jackson’s DNA and a minor profile consistent with Fingerhut’s DNA. The frequency for Jackson’s DNA on the trunk release was one in 45 quintillion, 170 quadrillion in the Caucasian population, and one in 29 quadrillion, 860 trillion in the African-American population. Jackson is African-American.

{¶ 32} Cell-phone records indicated that a number of phone calls were made on December 11 between 9:45 p.m. and 11:44 p.m. from the cell phone that Roberts said Jackson had borrowed from her and a cell phone located in Roberts’s vehicle.

{¶ 33} Additional evidence implicated Roberts and Jackson in the murder. As noted previously, Roberts had admitted to police that she and Jackson had exchanged letters and telephone calls during his incarceration. During their initial search of the home, police discovered more than 140 letters and cards written by Jackson to Roberts, most of which were addressed to Roberts at a post office box in Warren.

{¶ 34} Police also found a brown paper bag with Jackson’s name on it in the trunk of Roberts’s car, which had been parked in the garage at their residence. The bag contained clothing and approximately 140 handwritten letters, dated between October and December 2001, sent by Roberts to Jackson.

{¶ 35} Passages from letters exchanged between Jackson and Roberts suggested strongly that there had been a plot to murder Fingerhut. Many of the letters described the couple’s physical relationship and plans for Jackson’s release, as well as references to how they would deal with Fingerhut once Jackson was out of prison.

{¶ 36} For example, in a letter from early October 2001, Jackson wrote Roberts:1 “[W]hy don’t you leave Robert an lets carry on with a world of our own? Or let me do what I was gonna do to him, because you know that – that was our little thing so you better not go an try to get know one else to do it, because I told you its getting done when I come home * * *.” Less than a week later, Jackson wrote Roberts: “Donna I got it already planned out on how we are gonna take care of the Robert situation? An baby its the best plan ever! Because Donna its now time that we really be together so that we can really see the true side of our love because I’m tired of not being able to be with you * * *.”

{¶ 37} Soon thereafter, Jackson again expressed his desire to be with Roberts and to be rid of Fingerhut: “Donna I don’t care what you say but Robert has to go! An I’m not gonna let you stop me this time. An Donna you know that I’ve always wanted to live my life with you an only you but everytime that I wanted to take care of the situation by myself you wouldn’t never let me. * * * Because you wouldn’t let me do what I wanted to do to make you happy an that was get rid of him! So Donna can I do this so that we can go on an live happy? An then maybe we can sell the house an move on to somewhere else in our own world. An I’m not gonna be happy until that happens!”

{¶ 38} Roberts responded to Jackson with her own letters. In one from mid-October 2001, she indicated her frustration over limits that Fingerhut apparently had imposed on her spending and her apparent agreement to Jackson’s plan for Fingerhut’s murder. She wrote, “You know you can always count on me — you always could. It’ll just be a little tougher now because he gives me $100 a week for everything and then makes me write checks to keep track of it all. And I haven’t been ALLOWED to use any of my 52 charge cards – emergency only. I am not used to living like this. I am used to having plenty of cash for whatever I want & buying everything I want. Maybe those days will return again soon. Do whatever you want to him ASAP. Amen.” Jackson replied, “An then after that you don’t ever have to worry about making know more excuses to him, because he will no longer be with us after 12-10-01 an then it’ll be me an you totally an completely * * *.” Within that same passage, Jackson drew a tombstone with the inscription, “Rest In Piss,” before continuing, “Hey Donna just think come 12-11- 01 you’ll be waking up to me or maybe we’ll give it a couple of days to let things look cool an then after the funeral baby when I come home I’m never leaving an we’re only doing it like that just to make it look good * * *. Alls I need is for my baby not to worry an leave everything else up to me.”

{¶ 39} Jackson’s subsequent letters further evinced the developing plan to deal with “the Robert problem.” Jackson wrote, “Yes I’m taking care of that the next night, because I told you I’m tired of living like this when I don’t have to. An after that will you get me a 2002 Cadillac Deville?” In that same letter, Jackson wrote: “An even if I gotta come to the house and shoot Robert in his fucking head you’re gonna be with me.”

{¶ 40} The letters also indicate a role for Roberts in the scheme. An October letter from Jackson reads, “Well I see now you know that I’m about my business when I get out as far as our little situation? An get me a size large leather gloves an see if you can find me a ski mask hat okay? An I need them handcuffs you have an its mandatory, so get them for me, because the way that I’m gonna do it is gonna be right okay?” About two weeks before the murder, Roberts wrote to Jackson: “I also went to 4 stores and finally found your ski mask & boxers & a pair of beautiful fleeced lined black leather gloves.”

{¶ 41} Though the words written in those letters were significant evidence of the planning of the murder, the state also marshaled the actual words spoken between Roberts and Jackson.

{¶ 42} Prison authorities at Lorain Correctional Institute routinely record telephone conversations of prisoners and maintain the recordings for at least six months. Eighteen phone calls between Roberts and Jackson were recorded electronically. Those recordings also reflect the plot to murder.

{¶ 43} For example, in a recorded conversation between Jackson and Roberts on October 25, 2001, the following colloquy took place:

{¶ 44} “[JACKSON]: I’ll be home to you. December 9th all the worries will be over baby.

{¶ 45} “* * *

{¶ 46} “[JACKSON]: The next day out, I’m goin to – I already got it in my mind, my mind made up. I’m goin to go ahead and do that the next day, okay. All right.

{¶ 47} “[ROBERTS]: Oh, I just wrote to you that I didn’t think that you really meant it.

{¶ 48} “[JACKSON]: What. My mind is made up. My mind made – I wrote it in my letters, you know what I’m saying, but you know, I don’t like to talk too much like that but when I come home, you know what I mean, it’s goin to be in full detail. Okay. I’m goin to let you know how I’m goin to do it and everything. I’m goin to do it for sure the next day.”

{¶ 49} In recorded phone conversations between Jackson and Roberts during November 2001, they continued to discuss what Jackson planned to do to Fingerhut. In a conversation on November 8, 2001, Jackson told Roberts that he wanted Fingerhut to see Roberts performing oral sex on Jackson before Fingerhut “goes away.”

{¶ 50} Two weeks later, Roberts worried about Jackson’s being apprehended for the murder of Fingerhut:

{¶ 51} “[JACKSON]: You know what I’m saying, the next day after. You know what I told you I wanted to do right?

{¶ 52} “[ROBERTS]: I’m afraid Nate.

{¶ 53} “[JACKSON]: What you, man.

{¶ 54} “[ROBERTS]: I can’t afford to lose you. * * * I can not lose you. Like I will kill myself.

{¶ 55} “* * *

{¶ 56} “[JACKSON]: Just forget about it man, * * * when a person, man, know what he’s doing, man, * * * that’s like jinxing, man. * * *

{¶ 57} “[ROBERTS]: But what was the story with the trunk and handcuffs, that’s too involved.

{¶ 58} “[JACKSON]: Just, just, just leave it alone, alright.

{¶ 59} “[ROBERTS]: It’s too much involved. Your gonna leave hair, your gonna leave prints, your gonna,

{¶ 60} “[JACKSON]: Leave it alone, man. Leave it alone, alright. * * * Come on man. This ain’t Perry Mason man.

{¶ 61} “[ROBERTS]: I don’t want to know anything about it ever.”

{¶ 62} On November 24, Jackson tried to reassure Roberts about his plan.

{¶ 63} “[JACKSON]: Man, we gonna * * * really talk when I come home, ok.

{¶ 64} “[ROBERTS]: OK.

{¶ 65} “[JACKSON]: Especially about our, that situation, man. You know.

{¶ 66} “[ROBERTS]: Yeah.

{¶ 67} “[JACKSON]: I mean, it just, you know, you get too nervous at times, that’s all the deal is.

{¶ 68} “[ROBERTS]: Yeah I know, it part of my nature.

{¶ 69} “[JACKSON]: And then you said DNA, the only way they can do a DNA is if they got the other, the person’s, you know what I’m saying. If they got the person and thehair cause they can’t just take no hair and say this is such and such hair. * * * [T]he laws that we got in the State of Ohio and the laws from everywhere else, * * * I mean they way different. * * *

{¶ 70} “[ROBERTS]: Really.

{¶ 71} “[JACKSON]: Hell yeah. We’ll, we’ll talk about it when I come home Donna. Ok, I don’t want to talk about it over the phone.”

{¶ 72} Around Thanksgiving 2001, Roberts and Jackson discussed DNA evidence, a “big 38” firearm, their reunification on the night after his release from prison and his stay in a hotel the week thereafter, and Roberts’s complete reliance on Jackson.

{¶ 73} On December 8, the day before Jackson was released from prison, Jackson and Roberts had one final recorded conversation. Roberts expressed misgivings about what Jackson was planning to do to Fingerhut, but Jackson told her, “I got to do this Donna. I got to.” Roberts told Jackson that she did not want to know about it. The following colloquy then took place:

{¶ 74} “[JACKSON]: Just consider it a done deal. Only thing I’m gonna need is one thing.

{¶ 75} “[ROBERTS]: What?

{¶ 76} “* * *

{¶ 77} “[JACKSON]: I just need to be in that house when he come home.

{¶ 78} “[ROBERTS]: Oh no.

{¶ 79} “* * *

{¶ 80} “[JACKSON]: Baby it ain’t gonna happen in the house. It ain’t gonna happen in the house man, I promise you.

{¶ 81} “* * *

{¶ 82} “[JACKSON]: I just need to be in there man. It ain’t gonna happen in the house man. I mean I ain’t gonna jeopardize that man.

{¶ 83} “[ROBERTS]: Well, let’s not talk about it now.

{¶ 84} “[JACKSON]: Ok. We’ll talk, we’ll, I’ll just wait until tomorrow.”

{¶ 85} In light of the accumulating inculpatory evidence and Roberts’s unpersuasive explanations for it, Jackson and Roberts became the prime suspects in Fingerhut’s murder. Detective Monroe then arranged for Roberts to call Jackson to ask him some prepared questions and for police to record the conversation. According to Detective Monroe, however, Roberts failed to ask Jackson the critical questions that police had instructed her to ask.

{¶ 86} On December 21, 2001, Roberts was arrested at her home for the murder of Robert Fingerhut. That same day, police raided a home on Wirt Street in Youngstown, and Jackson surrendered. At that time, Jackson had a bandage wrapped around his left index finger. A search of the Wirt Street home uncovered additional evidence. Included in that evidence was a pair of black leather gloves; the index finger of the left glove appeared to have been torn off, and there was a red substance on the glove near the tear.

{¶ 87} On December 28, 2001, a grand jury indicted Roberts on two counts of aggravated murder related to Fingerhut’s death. R.C. 2903.01(A) and (B). Both murder counts carried two death-penalty specifications: murder during an aggravated burglary and murder during an aggravated robbery. R.C. 2929.04(A)(7). The grand jury also indicted Roberts on separate counts of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, each carrying a firearm specification.

{¶ 88} At trial, the state presented numerous witnesses establishing the facts previously set forth. The defense presented no witnesses. The jury found Roberts guilty of aggravated murder and the other offenses as charged.

{¶ 89} At the mitigation hearing, Roberts waived the presentation of evidence except for a lengthy unsworn statement. The jury recommended – and the trial court imposed – the death penalty on Roberts.


Donna Roberts


Donna Roberts


Nathaniel Jackson



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