Mixed verdict in case of boater death

PORT CLINTON Scott Speer breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday as a jury found him not guilty of murde
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

PORT CLINTON

Scott Speer breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday as a jury found him not guilty of murdering his friend who drowned during a boating excursion.

His relief turned to shock as the verdict continued. Although acquitted of murder and aggravated murder charges, Speer, 43, of Fairlawn, was found guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter.

Family members of both Speer and drowning victim James Barnett, of Barberton, filled the Ottawa County Common Pleas Courtroom. Each side voiced views on the verdict.

"Justice wasn't served here," said Barnett's sister, Lora "Dee" Snow. "If he is guilty of murder, justice didn't take care of it, but God will."

Barnett's mother, Laura Barnett, has waited for justice ever since her son drowned in Lake Erie in August 2002 after a boating trip with Speer.

"I'm just glad it's over," she said. "We can finally get some closure."

Speer's father, Larry Speer, attended the more than week-long trial and hurried out of the courtroom after the verdict was read.

"It's not an easy day for a father, as you can imagine," he said.

Russell Buzzelli, one of three attorneys defending Speer, declined to comment but did say the verdict would be appealed.

Speer could serve up to five years in prison and pay a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 31. In the meantime he is out on bail.

Ottawa County Assistant Prosecutor Lorrain Croy said she was satisfied with the verdict and intends to pursue the maximum sentence.

"Through my investigation and reviewing other statements, there was a lot of evidence that was not admissible," Croy said. "The court can take that into consideration in sentencing."

Speer and Barnett were at Put-in-Bay on Aug. 6, 2002, when the pair decided to leave for the mainland despite a small craft advisory. With 4-6 foot waves and 23 mph winds, Speer's 24-foot boat was tossed around and Barnett was pitched overboard, according to a 911 tape. Barnett's body later washed up on Mouse Island.

The accident was initially ruled a drowning in 2002.

In March 2007, Speer was indicted on murder charges after a witness testified that Speer confessed to pushing Barnett off the boat.