There was never a doubt that the Franklin County prosecutor's office would seek the death penalty for the man accused of murdering two Westerville Division of Police officers.

"Anyone who kills a law-enforcement officer ... is death-penalty eligible and, at least as long as I'm county prosecutor, that case will be prosecuted as a death-penalty case," Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said March 23 in announcing a county grand jury had returned such an indictment against Quentin L. Smith.

Smith, 31, is charged with killing Westerville police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli on Feb. 10 in an exchange of gunfire as they entered his townhouse in the 300 block of Cross Wind Drive to investigate a 911 hang-up call. Smith was wounded in the exchange.

Investigators said Smith's wife told the arriving officers that Smith had assaulted her and had a gun.

In Ohio, the purposeful killing of an on-duty officer and the purposeful killing of two or more people are among the crimes for which a prosecutor can seek a death-penalty indictment.

"I am more than confident to stand before any jury drawn in this county and take the position that in this case the only appropriate punishment is the death penalty," O'Brien said. "I can't think of a more serious case than the murder of two officers in the line of duty."

Joering, 39, died at the scene of the shooting. Morelli, 54, died of his injuries at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.

Smith was hospitalized with gunshot wounds for a week before being transported to the Franklin County jail, where he is being held without bail.

The charges against Smith include two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder, one count of domestic violence, one count of possessing a gun despite a previous felony conviction, nine gun specifications and four repeat-violent-offender specifications.

Smith was convicted of burglary with a gun specification in Cuyahoga County in 2009.

If Smith is convicted of the murders with death specifications, the jury would decide whether to recommend the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison without parole or life with parole eligibility after 25 or 30 years.

The case isn't expected to go to trial for at least a year.

On March 21, a Franklin County jury spared the life of Brian L. Golsby after finding him guilty of death-penalty specifications in the kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder of Ohio State University student Reagan Tokes. The jurors recommended life without parole.

In the county's most recent death-penalty trial involving the murder of a police officer, a jury in June 2017 recommended life without parole for Lincoln S. Rutledge after convicting him of fatally shooting Columbus Division of Police officer Steven Smith during a standoff with SWAT officers.

A Franklin County jury hasn't recommended a death sentence since 2003.

O'Brien said the families of Joering and Morelli support his office's decision to seek the death penalty.

Westerville police Chief Joe Morbitzer, who attended the news conference with O'Brien, declined to comment on the appropriateness of the death penalty in the case, saying only that he is "confident justice will be served."

"Our goal has been to never forget Tony and Eric and their legacy," he said. "These were just two good guys, plain and simple. Two cops doing their job. Something cops do every day, firefighters do every day. Little did they know that their legacy would be to bring people together, all people together."

jfutty@dispatch.com

@johnfutty