AKRON, Ohio – A federal court jury decided Wednesday that a woman should be sentenced to life in prison without parole for hiring her lover to kill her wealthy husband on the Ohio Turnpike two years ago.
Prosecutors say Donna Moonda, 48, promised her young lover half of her husband's multimillion-dollar estate if he killed Dr. Gulam Moonda, 69. The jury rejected the possibility of giving her the death sentence.
Moonda's attorney asked the jury not to sentence her to death because she suffers from a personality disorder and because the shooter, Damian Bradford, 26, was sentenced to just 17 1/2 years in prison.
Attorney David Grant told the jury that a life sentence in a maximum security prison was a severe enough punishment.
"This is not the Martha Stewart story. We're not talking about camp cupcake," Grant said, referring to the style icon's stay in a minimum-security facility.
About three hours into their deliberations, jurors asked U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd Jr. if there was any other sentence they could consider on the charge of murder-for-hire.
Dowd reconvened court and told them there was no other option. Several jurors nodded their heads in understanding.
Moonda, was convicted earlier this month of murder-for-hire and other charges in the May 13, 2005, shooting death of her husband along the turnpike south of Cleveland.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Barr said Moonda deserved a death sentence because she had her husband killed for the worst possible reason — money.
Bradford, of Monaca, Pa., who met Moonda in drug rehab, was the prosecution's star witness as part of a plea deal.
Bradford testified during Moonda's trial that he followed the couple from their Hermitage, Pa., home near the Ohio state line and shot the doctor in the side of the head after Donna Moonda pulled over on the turnpike, supposedly to let her husband take the wheel.
"The defendant literally held the keys to the murder and literally was in the driver's seat," Barr said.
She told the jury that Moonda was more culpable in the crime than Bradford because she came from a better upbringing than the convicted drug dealer. She also helped plan the killing, knowing her husband's schedule and what he was worth financially.
She told the jury that life in prison is the minimum punishment.
"Does this crime deserve the minimum?" Barr said.
Grant called Barr's suggestion that Moonda is more culpable ridiculous, noting Barr's own words from the trial that "two fingers were on the trigger."
He said Moonda was not motivated by money, working as a nurse anesthetist even though her husband was wealthy.
He noted psychologist Robert Kaplan's testimony that she has dependent personality disorder as a factor to consider in sparing her the death penalty.
Moonda feared displeasing her father in childhood and that pattern continued with her husband, Kaplan said. The disorder could lead her to act against her own best judgment.
Barr dismissed that argument, saying the disorder wouldn't cause someone to plot their husband's murder. Nor was she a "robot carrying out the commands of her lover," Barr said.
Grant asked the jury to spare Donna Moonda's family the same trauma that Gulam Moonda experienced.
"Donna Moonda's death isn't going to bring Gulam back," he said.
Barr said Moonda already had broken the hearts of her family, callous enough to have her mother, Dorothy Smouse, sitting in the back seat when her husband was shot.