Man sentenced in housemate’s beating death

Donald Pepper, 53, pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal last month in Miami County Common Pleas Court to murder in the death of James R. Wolf, 65. He originally was charged with aggravated murder.

West Milton police were called April 13 to Pepper’s Debron Road residence on a report of a possible lawn mower accident.

They found Wolf’s body near the lawn mower and quickly said the nature of the injuries were not consistent with an accident. Police said he was beaten to death with a roofing stapler.

Pepper declined comment Thursday before sentencing by Judge Christopher Gee.

Defense lawyer Jerry McHenry of the Ohio Public Defender’s Association called Pepper an “interesting individual.” McHenry said he believed Pepper had “positive feelings” for Wolf and would experience “feelings of sorrow for his friend” the rest of his life.

Tony Kendell, first assistant county prosecutor, told Gee that evidence would have shown Pepper became power of attorney over Wolf, and took money from him.

Once that money ran out, Pepper took out an insurance policy on Wolf and then “brutally murdered him,” he said.

After sentencing, Kendell said prosecutors were pleased with the outcome and believe Pepper will spend the rest of his life in prison.

He said Pepper’s prior criminal record included theft, fraud and money laundering charges. Kendell said Pepper spent $78,000 of Wolf’s money and took out two life insurance policies on him. One policy for $300,000 went into effect three days before Wolf’s death, he said.

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