NEW TWIST: Imprisoned former restaurateur Eva Christian loses appeal, for now

Ohio Supreme Court sides with prosecutors on sentencing debate, but case is not over

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled against imprisoned former Dayton restaurant owner Eva Christian, who had sought to shave a year off her nine-year sentence.

But Christian’s appeal isn’t over. The state supreme court sent the case back to the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals for further action, and some of the language in the 5 to 2 majority opinion seemed to leave the door open for a reduction in the sentence.

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The appeals process may soon become entirely irrelevant, simply because it has taken so long to litigate.

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Christian has been in state prison since June 7, 2012, and thus has served about seven years and nine months of a nine-year sentence. If her appeal fails to shave time off her sentence, she is scheduled for release in May 2021. Both the Montgomery County Prosecutors Office and Christian’s attorney agree that even if her appeal is ultimately successful, the most time it could shave off of her sentence is one year, meaning she could be eligible for release in May 2020.

The case has bounced from trial court to appeals court to state supreme court multiple times since 2012, when Christian received her original nine-year sentence from Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman. A jury in Gorman’s courtroom convicted Christian of five criminal counts related to insurance fraud, stemming from vandalism and a fire at one of her restaurants and from what prosecutors said was a staged break-in at her Washington Twp. home.

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Brock Schoenlein, Christian’s court-appointed attorney during the appeals process, said he would request the appeals court put the case on its expedited calendar because his client’s sentence is approaching its eight-year mark.

Whether Christian ends up serving her full nine-year term or winning early release, it’s not clear what will happen to the former restaurant owner when she is released from prison. Montgomery County prosecutors have said they will seek to have her deported upon release. Although she has lived in the U.S. for decades, Christian is not an American citizen. She has German citizenship.

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For now, though, prosecutors said Tuesday that they are pleased with the decision and agree with it.

“The case will now go back to the court of appeals for a ruling on the defendant's appeal, which the court of appeals had declined to address,” a spokesman for the Montgomery County Prosecutors Office said.

Schoenlein said the supreme court ruling paves the way for the appeals court to decide more specifically on the central point of this round of appeals: whether Judge Gorman was justified in re-sentencing Christian to serve the full nine years of her original sentence after earlier appeals had reduced the severity of some of the criminal counts that the restaurant owner was convicted of.

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“This second round of Ohio Supreme Court review has been a detour for us because the issue decided there today is not the issue that I originally raised,” Schoenlein told this news outlet. “My original argument was different. In 2012, when Christian was originally sentenced the trial court ordered Christian’s applicable sentences to run concurrently, or at the same time. When the appeals court spoke to reduce most of her prison terms, (Judge Gorman) then chose to stack the sentences so that they could be made longer.”

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“We took issue with this because the facts underlying Eva’s convictions hadn’t changed at all, so we saw no reason why the sentences should be lengthened. It is to my original argument that we now return.”

Montgomery County prosecutors have said in court filings that Judge Gorman was well within her right to re-impose a nine-year sentence despite the reduction in the severity of some of the counts.

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Christian owned Cafe Boulevard (later Boulevard Haus) in Dayton's Oregon District from 1997-2011, and she also opened a second restaurant, Cena Brazilian Steakhouse, in front of the Dayton Mall in 2007.

The criminal case involved a 2009 fire and vandalism incident that Christian reported at Cena, and a break-in at her private residence in Washington Twp., which prosecutors and law-enforcement officials said were staged in order to collect insurance money. A jury agreed,  convicting Christian of five counts related to insurance fraud, filing a false report and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, the legal equivalent of running a crime ring.

Christian has spent most of her sentence in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, although Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Corrections online records showed her to be housed in the Dayton Correctional Institution today, March 11.

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