A three-judge panel of the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals expressed skepticism this morning over some aspects of former Dayton restaurant owner Eva Christian’s five felony convictions and subsequent nine-year prison sentence.
Appeals judges Jeffrey E. Froehlich, Mary E. Donovan and Michael T. Hall questioned whether prosecutors proved all of the required elements of the most serious felony charge Christian faced — engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. Testimony by prosecution witnesses during the trial suggested that Christian conspired with two accomplices, but whether that conspiracy made Christian guilty of a first-degree felony criminal charge often used in organized-crime cases was the issue judges explored with Assistant Montgomery County Prosecutor Kirsten Brandt, who defended the convictions and sentence as proper.
Citing a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision, Brock Schoenlein, Christian’s attorney for the appeal, also argued that the trial judge, Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman, imposed a prison sentence that was too harsh because she failed to take into consideration changes in Ohio sentencing laws that occurred after the crimes were committed but before Christian was convicted and sentenced.
The judges will release their written decision in the coming weeks. Although Schoenlein’s appeal sought to have all of Christian’s convictions overturned, the judges’ questions during oral arguments focused on the portion of his appeal that challenged the severity of the crimes filed against Christian.
The appeals court judges could overturn Christian’s convictions, uphold them and the nine-year sentence imposed on her, or they could order a re-sentencing that could reduce the restaurant owner’s nine-year prison sentence by as much as half.
Christian has already served nearly two years of her sentence in the Marysville Reformatory for Women. Prosecutors say Christian faces deportation upon her release from prison unless the convictions are overturned on appeal. She was born in Croatia and raised in Germany, and has German citizenship.
The former owner of the now-defunct Boulevard Haus restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon District was convicted in May 2012 of five felony counts — including the first-degree felony count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity — related to two incidents of insurance fraud. The case revolved around break-ins and a fire during 2009 that Christian reported and which prosecutors said were staged in order to collect insurance money: one break-in at her Washington Twp. home and a reported vandalism and fire at her former Cena Brazilian Steakhouse in Miami Twp. near the Dayton Mall.
During her sentencing hearing in 2012, Christian — who testified at her trial and denied wrongdoing — remained defiant about the jury’s decision to convict her, saying she “cannot confess to a crime I have not committed.” Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman denied Christian’s request to avoid prison, calling Christian “a dangerous person” and telling the former restaurant owner, “I don’t think you have a conscience.”