Victims’ families call for tougher penalties when it comes to violent repeat offenders

Published: Jul. 7, 2022 at 9:06 PM EDT
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CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Victims are calling for tougher penalties when it comes to violent repeat offenders.

A 19 News investigation revealed the problem is only getting worse in Cuyahoga County.

Sue Mazzone’s mother was murdered by her neighbor, a man with a 34-year violent criminal history. She believes if the justice system had done its job, he would’ve still been locked up and her mom would still be alive.

“He stole my mother,” Mazzone said. “You know, he took my mom. It’s unimaginable, just to, for someone to think, wow, that’s horrible that happened to her. But you know, it was it happened to me, and I have to live with it.”

It’s been 15 years since Sue Mazzone’s mother, Gwendolyn Bewley was beaten to death by her next-door-neighbor.

Bewley was 67 years old when she died in 2007.

When investigators first got to the Bewley’s Fairview Park home, they thought they had a relatively simple house fire on their hands.

Mazzone says at first her mom’s death didn’t appear suspicious.

“They said something about a coffee pot,” recalled Mazzone. “I’m like I don’t know but we just thought it was an accident and then we learned about no smoke in her lungs which further led us to believe you know that she was murdered.”

At first, Mazzone didn’t have any reason to suspect her mom’s next-door neighbor, Timothy Sheline.

“The only thing that I noticed that she told me at the time was that he was a very friendly, helpful neighbor and he was helping her with yard work,” said Mazzone.

But then Mazzone made a shocking discovery.

“I turned into my own investigator,” she said.

Mazzone went online and dug up Sheline’s criminal record. She says what she found made her skin crawl.

A 19 News investigation revealed even more shocking convictions. Sheline’s crimes go all the way back to 1974.

He was arrested for possession of a bomb in ‘74 and convicted of stealing pounds of dynamite from a plant in Michigan and trying to sell it in Toledo.

His criminal record continues with multiple convictions of grand theft auto in Florida, Colorado, and Ohio, assaulting a police officer in Toledo, and another officer in Denver, plus fraud forgery and assault convictions.

The worst part for Mazzone was when she learned Sheline had committed an eerily similar crime in 1989.

He was convicted of aggravated arson in Lucas County, Ohio after he set his ex-girlfriend’s house on fire and killed the family’s dog.

“I was shocked,” Mazzone said. “I was just like; he killed my mother. That’s, that’s all I could think I’m like, Yeah, this guy definitely killed my mother.”

After that she learned Sheline had been conning her mom, pretending to be a financial advisor, and stealing money from her accounts. Mazzone suspected her mom had caught onto him and threatened to report him.

“He had siphoned I think it was a Discover account and put it into some kind of PayPal account and I believe he was getting her mail so that she wouldn’t see her statements,” explained Mazzone. “I think he got a clue that my mom knew, and I found a checkbook underneath the rubble, and it matched up and here he took $2,000 forged her name.”

Mazzone believes the criminal justice system dropped the ball.

“Oh, yeah, if they didn’t notice his history, he didn’t even serve his full term when he attacked the police officer, and here, he was let out on probation and became a fugitive once again,” she said.

Investigators suspected Sheline murdered his neighbor, but they couldn’t prove it.

In 2008 Sheline was arrested when police caught him driving Bewley’s car.

They also found several of Bewley’s credit cards with him.

A judge released him on bond, but when it was time for his sentencing, Sheline never showed. He was a fugitive for months until someone tipped off police that he was at Fairview hospital after getting in a car crash about six months later.

Mazzone believes Sheline never should’ve been let out on bail.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “If somebody would have noticed his history, there’s no way they should see all the times that he has been a fugitive, and given his past record, there’s no way that that man should be out on any kind of bail.”

Cleveland defense attorney Tera Coleman believes Sheline’s prior record probably went unnoticed.

“My understanding is some of the crimes he committed over that 34-year record are out of state,” explained Coleman. “I’m not necessarily sure if the judge had his full criminal record beforehand. That is a problem here in the US, we do not necessarily have a coordinated criminal record system across every State Police Department.”

“He put things on top of my mom’s body and lit her body on fire and the house on fire,” Mazzone said. “I mean, he, we believe she, he strangled her and then set her body on fire to cover up evidence.”

Mazzone has been trying to get lawmakers to do something to better protect victims from repeat offenders ever since her mother’s murder.

“I think they should do like a three-strike law and obviously, if people can’t be rehabilitated, they’re not going to be,” Mazzone said. “They are certain people that I believe low-level offenders shouldn’t be in jail, maybe some kind of treatment program, but people that commit these heinous murders. They’re, most of them are sociopaths, and they have no business being out in society. They’re not going to be rehabilitated and this in and out of prison is not working. They’re not being rehabilitated.”

Mazzone believes if Sheline had faced more severe charges for his previous crimes, her mom would still be here.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” said Mazzone. “Especially attacking a police officer. Yeah, and burning a lady’s house down and setting, making sure the dog was dead. Because her son came to court, apparently, he ratted him to his mother because Tim was stealing from his piggy bank. So, he ratted him out. And that was the boy’s dog and that was his way of getting even.”

In the end, Sheline was sentenced to three and a half years for the car and credit cards. New technology in 2014 finally gave investigators the evidence they needed to charge Sheline with Bewley’s murder. That’s little comfort to Sue Mazzone who says the system failed her mother and her family.

“I just don’t want to see other people go through this,” Mazzone said. “It’s not fair.”

A decade after Bewley’s murder, Sheline was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years to life. He’s currently serving his time at Marion Correctional Institute.

Five years ago, Ohio State University student Reagan Tokes was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a man recently out on parole for kidnapping and raping a pregnant woman.

“That would have saved Reagan’s life if you had somebody actually monitoring where this killer was,” said Representative Juanita Brent.

Her killer, Brian Golsby, is now serving multiple life sentences. Ever since lawmakers have been fighting to make changes to Ohio’s criminal justice system.

“If we are seeing people who are doing repeated crimes, we should be able to take that back to our prosecutors and say, we need to give them more time,” Brent said. “We have to take it even a step farther about making sure that we are monitoring with our GPS, and it has to be live tracking with those GPS monitors that we have.”

Part of Reagan’s law already passed. It changes how violent offenders are sentenced to prison.

Judges can sentence felons to a range of years instead of a set term, but HB166 would take Reagan’s act further.

It deals with life after prison for convicted felons.

Under the law, the state could keep offenders behind bars for longer than the minimum sentences require.

“So, it will be able to be determined by a suggestion by the prosecutor’s office and it will go through their actual legal system,” explained Brent.

Hb166 would increase GPS monitoring, allowing law enforcement to access offenders’ locations in real-time in the case of a crime. It would also reduce caseload burdens on parole officers. It’s something Sue Mazzone wishes had been in place before her mother was brutally murdered by repeat offender Timothy Sheline.

“I just don’t want to see other people go through this,” Mazzone said. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to innocent, hardworking people out there that are just trying to be good people in life and have their life snuffed out by these criminals that shouldn’t even be out on the street.”

So how much of a problem is recidivism in Cuyahoga County? About 34% of Cuyahoga County inmates released in 2015 were back behind bars within three years.

Nearly 36% of Cuyahoga County inmates released in 2016 were back behind bars within three years of their release. That’s an increase of nearly 5%.

When you look at the numbers overall, they are moving in the wrong direction.

There was a nearly 19% increase in the 3-year recidivism rate in Cuyahoga County over the past four years.

“This is why with this bill, we have to have live GPS monitoring of all recent returnees, returning to citizens, because if there’s no one that’s monitoring their whereabouts, how can we really make sure that things are going according to what’s happening,” said Brent. “We have to think about people who are returning and making sure that we are aware of their whereabouts at all times. It’s not just them picking up the phone calls, not just them, returning the page, it’s us physically knowing where they’re at.”

Representative Brent thinks it’s also about making sure parolees have the resources they need to succeed.

The bill also tries to revolutionize re-entry programs in Ohio, creating more halfway houses and job training programs to keep former offenders off the streets.

“If you really want to give people a fighting chance after they are returning back to the community, you have to make sure people have basic needs,” explained Brent. “That’s housing, that’s a job, ways of transportation. If not, then it kind of forces people to almost have to make, you know, questionable decisions that they really don’t want. Not everyone has that support of a family of a traditional family. So, we as lawmakers, as leaders have to make sure that they are the system to help people out when they’re returning.”

For now, families are left waiting and wondering. Families who suffered and don’t want anyone else to suffer like they did.

“I can’t stand the way they’re just in and out of prison and these poor innocent victims are just these families are, you know, having to deal with their dead children, their dead parents, their dead grandparents, because of these idiots that are letting these people out on the loose,” Mazzone said.

The next step for HB166 is a committee hearing in the senate, but the proposal will most likely have to be reintroduced in January of 2023.

Sheline is up for parole in 2037.

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