Robert Seman, a triple murder defendant, jumped to his death off a fourth-floor balcony in the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas.
Seman was on his way back to the Mahoning County Jail from the courthouse, where he appeared for a last-minute status hearing before his trial was set to begin in Portage County. Suddenly, he apparently committed suicide by leaping over a banister into the courtroom rotunda about 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Seman was accused of arson for setting fire to a Youngstown home in March of 2015, killing 10-year-old Corinne Gump and her grandparents, Bill and Judy Schmidt. Seman set fire to the house where they lived because Gump was set to testify against him in a rape case according to the prosecutors.
Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa said Monday’s hearing was very informal. She said lawyers in the case were going over what would be said this Wednesday in Portage County as part of jury orientation there. Seman never even went into the courtroom.
Deputies escorting Seman was captured by the surveillance video of Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office. He had been allowed to change out of his usual orange jail jumpsuit and wear civilian clothing to court just like the case during his earlier hearings. His only restraint was a brace worn under his pant leg to keep him from running.
In just a few seconds, video showed Seman lurching away from deputies and diving over a banister of the balcony. He landed on the floor of the rotunda, four floors below, and died minutes later.
Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said it was standard procedure that Seman wasn’t restrained by the deputies.
“Due to the fact that the courts do not want individuals on trial to be seen with restraining devices on, or per se, in custody,” Greene said.
While workers and everyone inside in the courthouse were doing their own businesses, they were shocked by what happened right before them.
“The Vindicator” reporter Joe Gorman was inside when it happened.
“I heard somebody shout and I looked up on the opposite side. I saw a deputy at the railing, and I saw this white object falling to the ground,” he recalled. “I knew what it was, and I just screamed.”
Apparent suicide was completely unexpected according to Seman’s attorney, Tom Zena, He said his client maintained his innocence.
“We told him he’d have to be there on the 12th, and he said, ‘When will they be taking me?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. They don’t tell us that for security reasons, but we’ll see you there on the 12th,’” he said.
The prosecutors wonder if this final act wasn’t some sort of confession although Seman insisted from the beginning he was innocent and even claiming he was under house arrest at the time of the fire.
“I think it’s very telling,” Cantalamessa said. “He knew the evidence against him. Every witness we talked to in preparation for the case, they didn’t know why he wasn’t pleading guilty or asking for some sort of plea, so this is very telling.”
The Sheriff’s Office is concluding an internal investigation into Seman’s apparent suicide. When that investigation is complete any evidence against Seman may be released.
According to court employees, the last time that someone committed suicide by diving off a railing in the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas was in 1947.