ST. CLAIRSVILLE Thomas Lee Gessler Jr., 36, Martins Ferry, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a carjacking which left a woman seriously injured this past March. Sentence was carried out Friday at Belmont County Common Pleas Court.. Judge John M. Solovan presided.
Gessler was sentenced to four years for felonious assault, a felony of the second degree, 18 months for theft of a motor vehicle, a felony of the fourth degree, which were merged with a third count of aggravated robbery, a felony of the first degree.
Charges stem from an incident in which Rev. Theresa Bobot, Belmont United Methodist Church, had driven to her daughter's home just outside of city limits on Barton Road to pick up her grandson to take him to school. As she was pulling into driveway, she observed a man approaching on foot waving his arms asking for help.
T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK
Thomas Lee Gessler Jr., during his sentencing hearing for a carjacking this past March. He offered apologies to the victim and family. He will serve 10 years.
Gessler entered the vehicle. Bobot exited the car, and the man got behind the wheel and hit the gas, taking off in reverse at high speed.
She became caught in the car door and was dragged some distance before she became free, suffering serious injuries and a subsequent stroke.
A manhunt ensued involving multiple agencies. Gessler would eventually turn himself in.
He claimed to have been under the influence of synthetic marijuana.
Assistant Prosecutor Dan Frye called three of Bobot's children to speak about the fear they experienced when their mother's well being was in doubt, as well as the enduring physical, mental and emotional trauma that Bobot, her family and community still suffer after that day.
Bobot took the stand and said that while she forgives Gessler for the harm done to her, but became distressed when speaking of the pain caused to her family and friends. She concluded that soul remained untouched despite the physical ordeal.
"I choose to live my life not in fear and not as a victim," she said, adding that she had believed Gessler's claim to be in danger. "I thought you needed help. I was willing to help you."
His defense attorney called a former drug addict, now clean for six years, to speak about the power drug addiction can exert over a person's actions, impair judgment and motivate related crimes to support the addiction. The witness added that rehabilitation is possible.
Defense added that Gessler had been unfamiliar with synthetic marijuana and its effects. In this case, she said the drug induced an extreme sensation of paranoia in Gessler.
Defense had asked for five years.
Frye presented pictures taken after the accident for Solovan's consideration. He noted Gessler's extensive criminal history during the past 16 years, including aggravated robbery, wanton endangerment, unlawful assault and possession of drugs. The state had recommended a sentence of nine years.
"Mr. Gessler deserves to serve every day of nine years in the penitentiary for his action on March 1, and not a day less," Frye said.
Gessler addressed an apology to the Bobot family.
"What I did to you was terrible. There is no excuse for it. I'm going to live with that for the rest of my life," he said, adding that he regrets doing harm to someone who had extended help to him.
"This act impacted for than just this family," Solovan said, adding that synthetic marijuana is now recognized as an illicit drug in Ohio.
Solovan said the voluntary consumption of an illicit substance cannot be taken into consideration when determining the existence of a mental state that is an element of a criminal offense. He added that the maximum sentence could have been 11 years.
"Voluntary intoxication does not relieve a person of a duty to act, if failure to act constitutes a criminal offense," he said. "What you have done to her and to society in your intoxicated state requires accountability and responsibility."
DeFrank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org