The first murder trial in Portsmouth in approximately one year ended in a guilty verdict for homeless man Nathan Stiltner, 36.
Stiltner was convicted Friday in the August 2018 shooting death of city resident Douglas A. Thackston, who was 37 at the time of his death.
The jury found Stiltner guilty on all three counts remaining against him: aggravated murder, murder and felonious assault. Each count carried a firearm specification. However, Scioto County Prosecutor Shane Tieman said a fourth count of possession of a firearm under disability was dropped in the course of the trial for the sake of expediency.
Scioto County Court of Common Pleas Judge Howard Harcha immediately sentenced Stiltner to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years. With the firearm stipulation added onto each count, Stiltner will not be eligible for early release for 28 years.
After the verdict was read by the judge, Stiltner thanked his attorneys, who unsuccessfully tried to paint Stiltner’s actions as being in self-defense. Stiltner said everything his defense team told the jury and the court was “despite the verdict, the God’s honest truth.” He further added “at the end of the day I did everything in my power to get out of that apartment,” referring to the location of the shooting.
Stiltner’s days in court are not at an end. In March, Ohio adopted a new law regarding claims of self-defense in criminal cases.
According to Tieman, in comments to the Daily Times following the trial, the rules put a new burden of proof on prosecutors to show self-defense did not come into play in whatever case is in question. Previously, proving self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt was the job of defense attorneys.
In answering a question from Harcha, Stiltner immediately informed the judge he intends to appeal Friday’s conviction under the new rules. Tieman noted Stiltner will be the first person to appeal a case under the law, making it what he termed a case of first impression which could attract a lot of attention, possibly ending up in the state Supreme Court.
During his comments to the judge, Stiltner expressed no remorse for what happened to Thackston, which Tieman pointed out to Harcha prior to the judge passing sentence. Harcha invited members of Thackston’s family who were in the courtroom to speak prior to sentencing Stiltner, but they declined to do so.
Tieman later added Stiltner’s appeal likely will “percolate” for several months before it actually ends up in a courtroom. Part of his defense team for this trial, local attorney Rachel Daehler, who ran against Tieman for county prosecutor last year, indicated to the court she will handle that appeal. Lead defense attorney Richard M. Nash said he will not be involved.
During this initial trial which began Monday, Tieman was able to convince the jury Stiltner purposefully shot and killed Thackston with a 9 mm pistol fired into the victim’s abdomen at point blank range inside a Portsmouth Metropolitan Housing Association apartment in the 1900 block of Thomas Avenue.
According to Tieman’s version of events, Stiltner and Thackston were in the midst of an ongoing argument over an unspecified amount of money Thackston allegedly owed Stiltner. Daehler and Nash clearly were unable to sell the jury on their claim Stiltner shot Thackston in an act of self-defense and their client had reason to fear for his life. Nash claimed Stiltner was attacked by several persons in the apartment in what was then known as Wayne Hills, now Kendall Heights.
In closing arguments Friday afternoon, Nash said Stiltner was punched in the face so hard his attacker or attackers broke his glasses and gave him a black eye. He asserted the prosecution never gave any explanation for the broken glasses or the injuries allegedly suffered by his client.
On Friday and in statements given earlier in the trial, Nash said Stiltner was attempting to leave the apartment and in fact had his hand on the front screen door when he was attacked from behind and prevented from leaving. He did not deny Stiltner shot Thackston but said his client was facing the door and shot blindly behind him, accidentally hitting Thackston.
Friday’s final witness was the lead investigator in the murder investigation, Portsmouth police Detective Steve Brewster. Brewster testified he interviewed Stiltner following his arrest in New Boston the day after the shooting. He said the suspect had no visible bruises or injuries other than a black eye. Brewster did state Stiltner claimed he had been “beat to hell.” He told Brewster he had sore ribs and a sore back as result of the beating he supposedly took at Kendall Heights.
During Brewster’s testimony, Tieman produced what he said were records of Facebook Messenger texts shared between Stiltner and Thackston, even though Brewster testified Stiltner told him he did not know Thackston.
In those Facebook messages, Stiltner several times demanded money, stating at one point he was going to shoot up Thackston’s van with him in it.
In the course of the five-day trial, both Tieman and Nash said there were several witnesses to the shooting, with that number including a couple who lived in the apartment where Thackston died.
While he was described as largely being homeless, at the time of the shooting Stiltner apparently was staying at the home of a friend across the street from where the death occurred. During the trial there was a lot of talk about why Stiltner came to the apartment where Thackston was shot.
There was plenty of testimony to the effect Thackston and Stiltner engaged in a verbal and at least slightly physical altercation outside the apartment building prior to the shooting. A video surveillance camera apparently caught Stiltner slapping Thackston in the face.
According to the testimony presented in court, following that altercation, Stiltner returned to the apartment where he was staying, while Thackston headed into the apartment across the street with several other persons.
In his closing argument, Tieman indicated Stiltner entered the apartment where Thackston died to obtain drugs.
Throughout the trial, both Thackston and Stiltner repeatedly were painted as drug addicted. Brewster told the court due to the man’s numerous encounters with police, he was well acquainted with the male resident of the apartment where Thackston died. The man’s girlfriend earlier in the week admitted under oath the father of her children is or was at least a part time drug dealer.
The woman also admitted she initially lied to police when she stated shortly after the shooting Stiltner had simply walked into her apartment and shot Thackston. Later testimony showed Stiltner knocked on the door of the apartment and the woman opened the door to let him in. Thackston was shot approximately two minutes later.
In his cross-examination of Brewster, Nash tried his best to poke holes in the detective’s testimony, among other things getting Brewster to admit he lied to Stiltner about having proof regarding how the shooting occurred. Nash said this helped explain why Stiltner was not entirely truthful with Brewster during his initial statement.
Thackston’s murder was the only homicide in Portsmouth last year. It is somewhat unclear when the last Portsmouth murder trial took place, although Tieman said he believed it may have been early last year. The city suffered four murders in 2017 according to figures on the website of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. In 2016, Portsmouth saw two homicides. There were none in 2015 and one in 2014.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.