Westerville News & Public Opinion

Teen to accept life sentence for murdering Blendon Township woman

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The 16-year-old accused of murdering a Blendon Township woman is expected to plead guilty in adult court.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Timothy Horton was scheduled to hold Jordan T. Stewart's plea hearing at 9 a.m. May 8.

Stewart is expected to plead guilty in a plea deal that will result in a sentence of life in adult prison with no chance for parole for 18 years, for the murder of 55-year-old Jane Juergens on Oct. 20, said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.

"That would be 15 to life for murder, which is the statutory penalty for murder," O'Brien said Tuesday, May 6, "and three years for tampering with evidence, which is the maximum for that. That's a third-degree felony."

After the plea, O'Brien said, Stewart would be transported within five days to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's Correctional Reception Center in Orient.

"(The facility) is the reception center for everyone going into the prison system," O'Brien said. "He'll be classified there, and then they will send him off within six weeks to the prison to which he'll be assigned."

Stewart lived in a group home for troubled youths run by Consumer Support Services at 5548 Copenhagen Drive. He was assigned to the home by Franklin County Children Services. He attended Westerville Central High School.

According to reports, a staff member of the group home had taken Stewart and another resident to the nearby Ridgewood Park, where Juergens was jogging. Stewart went into the woods for a period of time, and returned acting strangely, prompting the staff member to contact police.

Police found Juergens' body that evening after following a trail of blood. She had been stabbed 26 times. It was the first murder in Blendon Township since 1991.

It was determined that Stewart and Juergens had never previously met.

Stewart led police to where he had thrown a knife into the woods.

Is it common for a 16-year-old to be tried as an adult? O'Brien said that in a case like this, it is.

"On a murder, yes," he said, "when they're that age, and when it's as violent and unexplained as this."

Spurred by the incident, Franklin County Children Services held a community summit, "to discuss at-risk youth" in December, and Blendon Township established a "Community Bill of Rights," that established new rules for group homes, including a "right to have a clear grievance process in place when any group home is established in the neighborhoods."

Meanwhile, the Blendon Township community is happy to see the trial coming to an end, and township Trustee Stew Flaherty -- who has been heavily involved in the ongoing attempt to change legislation regulating group homes -- said he and others will be happy to see the outcome without a drawn out, contested trial.

"We were extremely glad to see that he was (prosecuted) as an adult," Flaherty said. "And we feel that, rather than a long, lengthy trial, this is probably the best for all parties involved. Certainly, for the family and the community, it would reopen all the wounds again if you had a big public trial."

"I think that's a fair outcome. I also think the community respected the wishes of the family. At the memorial services, they talked a lot about how (Juergens) was a person who was big on forgiving people. And I think that's a lot of the feeling in the community -- forgiveness but not forgetting."

Flaherty said that a memorial for Juergens in the park should be completed this summer.

Juergens was a longtime human resources executive with American Municipal Power who left AMP in 2013 to start her own consulting business. She is survived by her mother and two adult sons.

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