NEW PHILADELPHIA — Charles A. Plants has been sentenced to life in prison, with parole eligibility after 30 years, for killing his mother and trying to kill his sister at their Newcomerstown home on July 22, 2016.
Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Judge Edward O’Farrell sentenced the 32-year-old on Friday afternoon as part of a plea agreement negotiated by the prosecution and defense.
Plants pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in connection with the death of Jane Davis, whom he beat to death with a hammer. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and felonious assault for beating his sister, Cynthia Smith, whose survival was characterized as "miraculous" by Amanda Miller, the assistant Tuscarawas County prosecutor who worked on the case from the day of the murder.
"You always protected me," Smith told Plants in court. "You’re still my brother and I still love you. I just wish I had some answers. What you did was wrong. I don’t hate you, but I wish Mom was still here."
"That type of forgiveness is impressive, and in the minds of some people, hard to understand," O’Farrell told the survivor.
Mark Perlaky, one of Plants’ lawyers, said his client had the chance to reflect on his actions during the last year-and-a-half when he was either in the county jail or a state mental hospital.
"How this incident came about is certainly due to Charles’ mental illness," Perlaky said. "I do believe that he feels genuine remorse over this incident."
Plants declined to speak after his sentencing. He spoke only briefly during Friday’s hearing to say that he had thought the negotiated agreement called for him to plead "no contest" rather than "guilty."
After a brief conference with Perlaky and fellow defense attorney Matthew Petit, and O’Farrell’s explanation that both pleas would lead to a guilty judgment, Plants proceeded with the guilty plea.
Additional charges covered by the guilty plea were tampering with evidence — wrapping the murder weapon in a sweatshirt and hiding it in the garage — and obstructing official business — fleeing after being spotted by a Newcomerstown police officer.
Plants was sentenced to life for killing his mother, 10 years for assaulting and trying to murder his sister, and three years for evidence tampering. The judge imposed no sentence for obstructing official business. All the sentences are to be served at the same time. Plants was given credit for 547 days served in jail and state hospitals since his arrest. He would be subject to five years of supervision by the Ohio Parole Board if he is released.
Miller explained in court how the events of July 22, 2016, unfolded in the house where the murder and assault occurred.
"Jane Davis made a simple request of her son," she said, reading from a prepared statement. "She asked him to turn off the light. His response to her was anger, anger that frightened her enough to call his parole officer, Brian Shurtz. Brian spoke to Mrs. Davis and then spoke to Mr. Plants telling him, ‘Calm down, it’s going to be OK, I’ll be right there.’
"It wasn’t OK. Mr. Plants, for whatever collection of reasons, went to retrieve a 30-ounce ball-peen hammer, the weapon he chose to bludgeon his mother to death in the dining room.
"His sister, Cynthia, was getting out of the shower in the bathroom that adjoins the dining room and heard a commotion in the next room. She cracked the bathroom door open to look out and saw her brother standing, holding something in his hand."
Miller said Smith said Plants "had a look in his eye she had never seen before."
Smith then tried to lock the door before he could get to her.
"But she wasn’t fast enough and she wasn’t strong enough," Miller said. "He forced his way into the bathroom and began bludgeoning her. He stopped because he thought she was dead. She was pretending to be dead. After he fled the house, Cynthia crawled to her cellphone and was able to tell the 911 operator that she needed help, she was bleeding to death."
Miller credited cooperation from Newcomerstown police, the Tuscarawas County Sheriff’s Office and Shurtz, the parole officer, for catching Plants shortly afterward.
The assistant prosecutor gave credit for Smith’s survival to Newcomerstown police Officer Alex Troyer, Newcomerstown medic Heather Wells, "a team of incredible neurosurgeons" at Aultman Hospital in Canton, and "her own refusal to give up and will to live."
After the sentencing, Miller said the plea agreement represented the best possible outcome considering the circumstances, as it eliminated the need for the victim to testify at a trial and possibly be traumatized again.
In concluding the hearing, O’Farrell acknowledged he had a hard time understanding the crime he described as "horrific."
"What does one say to a man who murdered his mother and almost murdered his sister?" he said.
Nancy Molnar is a staff writer for The Times-Reporter.