Jury trials scheduled in July for a Galion couple accused in the death of Frederick Saunders, Sr. will be postponed.
Saunders’ son, Frederick “Lee” Saunders and his wife, Marla K. Saunders, made an appearance in Crawford County Common Pleas Court on Thursday for a pretrial hearing in the case.
Frederick Jr., has been charged with aggravated murder and Marla is facing one count of complicity to commit murder. Both have also been charged with kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony.
Judge Sean Leuthold said that a hearing on several motions filed by both the prosecution and defense in the case will be ruled on, at a hearing scheduled for June 13.
“New trial dates will be scheduled after that hearing is held,” said Leuthold.
Leuthold said he normally moves cases along in a shorter amount of time than the Saunders case.
“This is an aggravated murder case, though, so we have to be very thorough and all issues must be dealt with before the case goes to trial,” Leuthold said.
One of the issues dealt with at Thursday’s hearing was that both Crawford County Prosecutor Matthew Crall and defense attorney Adam Stone agreed that Dr. John Fabio will be conducting a competency evaluation on Frederick Saunders before the hearing on June 13. Leuthold allotted $8,000 to be paid for Fabian’s evaluation.
Leuthold also said that a gag order in the case is being lifted but cautioned both the defense and prosecution to be respectful of the case and the defendants’ rights to fair trials.
At the motions hearing on June 13, Leuthold will be hearing testimony in several different motions including Stone’s motion to dismiss the charges against both Marla and Frederick Saunders due to the cremation of the victim’s body before the defense could have their own expert conduct an autopsy. Crall has said the defense did not file in a timely manner to have the body available.
Stone said in court on Thursday that he will be filing a motion within the next few days to have the Crawford County Prosecutor’s Office removed from prosecuting the case. Leuthold will also rule on that motion during the hearing on June 13.
Marla and Frederick, Jr. are accused of purposefully causing the death of Frederick Saunders, Sr., on Sept. 30.
According to authorities, Saunders Sr. was taken by family members to the emergency room of the Galion Community Hospital on the night of the incident with multiple injuries that are consistent with a beating and was pronounced dead shortly after midnight.
Preliminary results from the Lucas County Coroner’s Office indicated that Saunders Sr. died as a result of strangulation and blunt force trauma to the skull.
Frederick has been held on a $5 million bond at the Crawford County Justice Center since his arrest in October while Marla was released on home monitoring until giving birth to twins. She is now being held in jail under a $2.5 million bond.
The pair could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted on the murder-related charges.
Marla Saunders’ twin sister, Carla R. Willoughby, was arrested in connection with the incident a few weeks after the couple was arrested. She pleaded guilty in a plea agreement with prosecutors on Dec. 21 to lesser charges and was scheduled to be sentenced on March 16. Her hearing was postponed and has been rescheduled to May 16.
Reach Gasuras on Twitter: @kimberlygasuras