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Last witness called in Ross retrial; closing arguments expected Monday

By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer

The woman whom Denny Ross beat, choked and raped in 2004 testified in chilling detail about the attack Thursday — the final day of the evidentiary phase of his Summit County retrial for the 1999 murder of Hannah Hill.

Jennifer Jo Tittle, 40, said that the first time she looked in the mirror after spending more than two weeks in Summa St. Thomas Hospital after surgery, she did not recognize herself.

Prosecutors have theorized that Ross killed Hill during a violent sexual encounter at his Springfield Township apartment. She was beaten and strangled.

Prosecutors contend that Ross left Tittle for dead after a similar violent sexual attack. Tittle testified that Ross stabbed her in the face and broke her jaw in June 2004.

Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter has set aside today to finalize hundreds of potential prosecution and defense exhibits for submission to the jury as evidence in its deliberations.

Closing arguments are expected to begin at 8:45 a.m. Monday.

Under rules Hunter set down, Tittle was prohibited from telling the jury she was raped and that Ross went to trial for it and was convicted of attempted murder in the attack. She was allowed to testify about how she was beaten eight years ago, with Hunter citing Ohio case law saying such circumstances are admissible to show the criminal scheme or plan of a perpetrator.

How they met

Tittle told the jury she met Ross, whom she knew then only as “Joseph,” and another couple at a bar on the night of June 15, 2004. She drank eight shots and several beers, she said.

Both couples went to her home on Wilbeth Road. When the other couple left, she said, Ross asked to use the restroom just as he was about to leave.

When he did not return from the second-floor restroom after about 10 minutes, Tittle said, she feared he might be trying to steal a $10,000 ring she had. She went looking for him.

She testified that as she was walking up the stairs, Ross attacked her, stabbing her in the face, then punching, choking and kicking her.

“I am trying to turn my head away, I’m trying to not get hit anymore. I hear my jaw crack, I’m swallowing blood, I’m trying to get away, and he’s telling me, ‘You don’t deserve this. You’re probably a nice person.

“It seems to me like you’re even a good mom, but if you fight me, I’m going to come back here and kill you and your children,” she told the jury, her voice cracking with virtually every word.

She said that after vomiting, falling down and passing out for a moment, she laid back and heard Ross saying, “ ‘Oh, 
f---, she’s dead. Not again!’ ”

Ross kept repeating the profanity, she said, and kicked her in the back.

Tittle said she continued lying there, hoping someone would see her through a door she had left open. She saw Ross walk out the door with a favorite photo of her children.

Tittle said she was so afraid that instead of calling 911 at that point, she called her boyfriend. He called police from Ironton to get an ambulance.

After her release from the hospital, Tittle stayed with her mother in Springfield Township, she said.

And what happened there, prosecutors asked, when she looked in a mirror the first time?

“Black and blue, somebody I didn’t know,” Tittle said, weeping. “My eyes were swollen shut, I had stitches, my mouth was wired shut. I saw what happened.”

She said she knew she was going to look so grotesque, she sent her two children to live with their grandparents in Wadsworth “so they wouldn’t see me.”

Cross-examination

On cross-examination, lead defense counsel Roger Synenberg asked Tittle just two sets of questions.

As Synenberg paraphrased from her trial testimony in October 2004, she agreed she told the jury then that Ross said, “that he’s never done this before, he’s sorry, I seem like a nice person, and probably a good mother, but don’t fight him.”

Synenberg then wrote two dates — May 19, 1999, and May 20, 1999 — on the courtroom television monitor.

He followed up by asking Tittle if she knew where Ross was on those days.

“Are you serious?” she replied.

When Synenberg insisted he wanted an answer, she said she didn’t know.

She said in response to Synenberg’s next — and final question — that she also did not know where Hill was on those days.

Tittle was the prosecution’s last witness before the government rested its case.

The defense rested 30 minutes later, after calling only two witnesses for testimony about county and police records not directly related to the night, May 19, 1999, when prosecutors theorize Hill was murdered.

Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Anna Faraglia, lead counsel in the government’s retrial of Ross, told Hunter there are 735 to 740 potential state exhibits.

Hunter told attorneys from both sides, out of earshot of the jury, that she has compiled nine legal pads of notes taken at the bench during the six-week trial.

The first trial in the Hill slaying ended in a mistrial in October 2000 after the jury signed verdict forms finding Ross not guilty of murder, aggravated murder and rape. He is charged in his retrial with two counts of murder, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse and felonious assault. He is not charged with any sexual crimes in the retrial.

Ross, now 33, is serving a 25-year sentence for his 2004 crimes against Tittle.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.