Jury finds man guilty of paraplegic wife’s murder — (Bellefontaine Examiner)

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Bellefontaine Examiner

Jury finds man guilty of paraplegic wife’s murder

Created on Saturday, 18 April 2015

MARYSVILLE — A Milford Center man has been convicted of killing of his paraplegic wife.

A jury took just four hours Thursday to find Jon Costell, 57, of 25 S. Mill St., Milford Center, guilty of aggravated murder, failing to provide for a functionally impaired person, domestic violence and involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Debra Lyn Costell.

Jon Costell refused to look at the jury as the verdict was read and jurors were polled individually. He could face life in prison at Monday’s sentencing. Union County Common Pleas Court Judge Don Fraser said he does not need a presentence investigation, but has asked the attorneys involved in the case to write a brief memo addressing how some of the sentences should be handled.

“Jon Costell almost got away with murder,” Union County Prosecutor David Phillips said in closing arguments. “He mistreated his wife, he abused her, he controlled her, and ultimately, he poisoned her.”

Doctors, toxicologists and coroners testified during the four-day trial that Debra Costell died of a lethal overdose of Tramadol, a painkiller, and Sertraline, an antidepressant. Both the drugs had been prescribed to the woman.

The September 2013 death of Debra Lyn Costell was originally ruled as undetermined.

Debra Costell was confined to a bed due to complications from diabetes and other infirmities. She had chronic wounds that would not heal. She was, on several occasions, admitted into a nursing home. Each time, she wanted to go home as soon as possible. The pair had been married for 17 years.

About 5:30 a.m., Sept. 25, 2013, Jon Costell called 911 to report his wife was not breathing. Paramedics pronounced Debra Costell dead at the scene.

Within moments of learning about the woman’s death, the state Medicaid office contacted Union County Coroner David Applegate asking him to investigate the death. The Medicaid board cited repeated complaints from home-health providers and reports of abuse in the home.

After an autopsy, toxicology report and further investigation, Applegate ruled the death homicide.

“He didn’t count on an autopsy,” said Phillips. “He didn’t count on forensic evidence. He counted on ‘She was sick.’ And he thought no one would be any the wiser.”

Phillips offered pictures of the dead woman and her wounds.

“These are not pleasant to look at,” Phillips told the jury.

During three days of testimony, 25 witnesses took the stand, all on behalf of the presentation.

Doctors and home health aids told the jury about Debra Costell’s poor health and injuries as well as Jon Costell’s abusive and neglectful behaviors. Health care providers said Jon Costell would not allow his wife to use her oxygen at night because it was too loud and he refused to give her pain medication despite excruciating pain.

Those who came to care for Debra Costell said her husband was also verbally abusive toward them and asked to have several of them fired. Several workers also refused to return to the home because of the defendant’s behavior toward them and his wife.

The health care workers also gave conflicting reports about how the Tramadol and some other medications were given as well as the levels of the drugs in the woman’s body at the time of her death.

Jon Costell did not take the stand in the trial and offered no defense.

“After the presentation of these 25 witnesses…we still don’t know,” said defense attorney Cliff Valentine.

He said the prosecution was trying to overwhelm the jury with “sheer volume” of circumstantial evidence.

“Jon loved Debra,” Valentine said during closing arguments.

He said Jon Costell, who has three prior domestic violence convictions, had problems of his own, but “he did the best he could.”

Phillips said the defendant did his best to control his wife, not help her.

“He wanted power over life and death and on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, he chose death,” said Phillips.

The prosecutor said he was not obligated to show motive, but he said it was obvious.

“He blamed her,” Phillips told the jury. “He blamed her for his job loss. He blamed her for them not having any money. He blamed her for him not being able to live the life he wanted.”

Now Jon Costell faces spending the remainder of his life in prison.

Phillips said he doesn’t yet know if he will seek a life sentence. He said he wants to review the law. He credited the investigators in the case for finding justice for the woman.

After the verdict was read, Jon Costell said he had nothing he wanted to say. Valentine said he would not have done anything different in the case. He stood by his decision not to let Jon Costell take the stand. He said the case against his client was entirely circumstantial, but doubts there was anything he could have done to earn an acquittal.

“The facts were what the facts were,” he said.