Ohio woman sentenced to life with no parole after being found guilty of capital murder

Woman accused of killing her son found guilty of capital murder
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 12:51 PM CDT
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LAUREL, Miss. (WDAM) - An Ohio woman accused of killing her 11-year-old son in a Laurel hotel bathroom in 2020 was found guilty of capital murder Thursday evening.

After a four-day trial, Judge Dal Williamson sentenced Latina Oates to life in prison without parole.

The state did not seek the death penalty in this case.

A jury made up of seven white men, four white women and one black man deliberated for more than four hours before returning a verdict.

Interviews of Oates and her children, and hours of testimony from expert witnesses were factors in determining whether Oates was sane at the time of the murder. Two psychologistswho conducted forensic evaluations of Oates to determine her competency to stand trial and her mental status, and both testified

The defense stated Oates was “schizophrenic” and suffering from a “severe mental illness” throughout the course of the trial.

Oates’ 11-year-old son, Joshua Oates, was found dead in a hotel bathroom at the Hampton Inn in Laurel with a 5-pound metal stake driven through his head in March 2020.

In police interviews played in court, Oates stated that she believed she had not killed her son, but a demon that had become her son.

The death penalty was off the table because originally Oates’ children were being considered to testify and they did not want to bear the burden of their mom being sentenced to death, said Jones County Assistant District Attorney Kristin Martin

Jury deliberations started after closing arguments were given Thursday by the defense and prosecution on the fourth day of the murder trial

Before closing arguments were given, the jury was instructed to consider the following four outcomes:

  1. Guilty of capital murder
  2. Not guilty of capital murder
  3. Not guilty of capital murder by reason of insanity and has since been restored to her reason
  4. Not guilty of capital murder and has not been restored and presents a danger to society.

The jury chose the first option.

The defense and prosecution each had 30 minutes to present closing arguments once jury instructions were given.

Jones County Assistant District Attorney Katie Bisnette Sumrall represented for the prosecution to give its closing remarks.

Sumrall argued that the defendant was not insane at the time of the crime, and the proof has shown it after Dr. Chris Lott, a clinical and forensic psychologist, testified only one percent of the population is schizophrenic and even a smaller portion is violent. She also argued that Latina could also choose when to obey the voices and when not to after Lott called them command hallucinations.

However, Sumrall did say Latina had no choice but to inflict more than 60 wounds on her 11-year-old son, Josh, with her other two sons hearing him say, “Why are you doing this?”

During the remarks, Sumrall said the psychologist agreed there were inconsistencies in how Latina killed Josh.

Additionally, Sumrall mentioned the psychologist feared that Latina’s mother was possibly coaching her about schizophrenia. She stated that Latina was in jail for 60 dwith no medicine and no counseling and she was fine.

Sumrall argued as time went on, Latina’s story of what happened became more elaborate, arguing that Latina said in her interview, “To kill anyone is wrong,” and that she even asked about the death penalty.

“But why is she concerned about a consequence when she feels she didn’t do anything wrong,” Sumrall said in her argument.

In every recorded statement, Sumrall argued that Latina is only concerned with herself, not Josh or her two surviving children.

One of Latina’s attorneys, Cruz Gray, was next to give his closing remarks on behalf of the defense.

Gray said that Latina knew that killing a child was wrong, but argued that she was not killing a child since Latina constantly repeated in her interviews with law enforcement and forensic psychologists that it was a demon. He said Latina did not know she was killing Josh, whether it was schizophrenia or delusions, and thought she was killing a demon.

During his remarks, Gray argued that Latina suffers from a mental disease that caused her to commit this act.

“It’s hard not to let the desire for revenge against a person who’s killed a child overcome your reason, but you have to,” argued Gray. “You will have hard conversations in the jury room. It’s hard. I have a little boy, too.

Do you believe she saw a demon that night or that she murdered her little boy? What do you believe? Just maybe, maybe she didn’t know Joshua that night.”

Latina’s other defense attorney, Lenderrick Taylor, argued during closing remarks that she was so overcome with severe mental illness that she could not control her actions, and she did not know right from wrong.

Taylor argued that the psychologist testified Latina was suffering from a severe mental illness at the time of the crime, and she had presented psychotic behavior leading up to the crime. He also argued that the second psychologist went in with an error of caution after learning she may have been coached by her mother.

In his argument, Taylor stated the psychologist still concluded that while Latina was competent to stand trial, but at the time of the incident, she did not know the nature and quality of her acts during the alleged offense. Additionally, Latina did not know it would be illegal to kill a demon.

Taylor ended his argument by stating Latina Oates was insane at the time of the offense.

New testimonies also revealed more details about what took place before and after her Latina’s son murder.

Latina’s husband, Mark, would take the stand for the defense to begin the next portion of the trial, while Mark’s mother, Dabrina, took the stand for the State of Mississippi, along with two other witnesses for rebuttal testimonies.

Mark took the stand first Thursday morning, describing the months leading up to Josh’s death.

During his testimony, Mark said in January, Latina was “overly religious and had so much to talk about religion.” He said she always believed in God, but not to this extent.

Mark said things were fine at the start, until one day when he went to the store, Latina called him and thought he was plotting to take her kids away. When he showed her his phone and messages, she “returned to reality” and told him, “I must be going crazy.”

As Mark continued his testimony, he described the night the EMTs came to their home in February before their son Josh’s death, which made him emotional. He said he called Latina’s mother and aunt because he did not know what to do, and she was struggling.

Latina’s mother told Mark to tell the EMT that Latina was a threat to herself and others so they would take her away; however, when they arrived, Mark testified he didn’t feel that way when they asked that question.

With emotions flowing through his testimony, Mark continued, this time, going over what happened in March.

Mark testified that Latina said she was going to take the kids hiking the next morning. When he called her after the hike, she was on her way to Mississippi with the children, stating that she told him that she needed to get away. He said Latina did not answer any calls from him while she was traveling to Mississippi until she reached Kentucky, as he tried to contact her and one of their sons.

When Mark testified about Josh’s death, he became emotional again. He said a few days after Latina left Ohio, police came to his door and told him his son was deceased. He said police questioned him about his wife and why she would go to New Orleans, and he said, “Marie Laveau.” Laveau was a New Orleans native who practiced vodou in the 1800s.

Mark mentioned during the testimony that police came to question him when they sent out the nationwide Amber Alert to find the children.

One day after police issued a nationwide Amber Alert, officers found Latina and her surviving sons in New Orleans.

Mark testified that he continued to communicate with Latina by writing letters to each other since she was in solitary confinement in jail. He testified that she still wasn’t herself by what she was saying in the letters. She told him that she was waiting on God to get her out of jail. He said he called the jail nurse and said Latina needed to be on some kind of medication.

Mark testified Latina wanted to go get help somewhere and not go back home after the trial.

“With what had happened to Josh, the word ‘shock’ was an understatement,” Mark said during cross-examinations following his testimony.

When asked if he would ever move on from his son’s death, Mark replied by saying it’s something that he would have to deal with forever.

“There is no moving on,” said Mark. “It’s just something you have to live with.”

After Mark’s testimony, the defense told the court Latina Oates declined to testify on her behalf. The defense rested its case.

The prosecution then called Latina’s mother-in-law to the stand as one of their rebuttal witnesses.

During her testimony, Dabrina spoke about Josh, whom she nicknamed “Prince.” She said he was a happy, caring, protective and very loving kid “that was so sweet and precious.” She said he loved to play baseball, played trombone at school, and loved to hang out with his cousin and his brothers.

When asked about Latina, Dabrina testified that Latina never brought up anything about her mental health, vodou or ancestors to her since they’ve known each other.

After a lunch break, the trial resumed with the State calling on Carol Johnston to approach the stand. Johnston is a Jones County resident who worked at the Jones County Jail as a nurse at the time Latina first came into custody. She is now retired and works on an as-needed basis.

Johnston testified that Latina never had an outburst at the jail and was never seen crying or convulsing, and Latina never told Johnston that she was hearing voices.

Johnston said in her testimony that she did not see a need for a mental health evaluation on Latina, but Latina’s mother did set up an evaluation through Pine Belt Mental Health Resources.

Following Johnston’s testimony, the prosecution called their final witness to the stand: Shannon Teel. Teel was the night auditor at the Hampton Inn Hotel back in 2020.

During her testimony, Teel said she checked Latina in when she arrived. She said nothing stood out about Latina to raise any red flags.

Teel testified she usually uses her gut feelings when checking people in and will refuse rooms if someone seems unsafe, but Latina did not raise any red flags.

Once the rebuttal testimonies ended, the defense continued to rest its case.

More details will be added as soon as they become available.

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