Restaurateur Eva Christian’s 9-year prison term unfair, attorney says

Former Dayton restaurant owner Eva Christian should have her prison sentence reduced because she had already served the entirety of the terms of the lesser offenses when she was re-sentenced last year, her attorney said in court documents filed with the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals.

Montgomery County prosecutors disagree, urging appeals court judges to uphold the entire nine-year sentence that Christian is currently serving — and of which she has already served more than five years — in the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

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A three-judge panel of the Dayton-based appeals court heard oral arguments in August in the latest attempt by Christian to shorten her prison sentence. Following those oral arguments, the three-judge panel asked both sides to summarize their positions in writing prior to a ruling, which is likely to be announced in the coming weeks. Appeals court Judge Mary Donovan said in August that the court would make a decision “as promptly as possible” following the filing of the appeals briefs.

Christian owned and operated Cafe Boulevard (later Boulevard Haus) in Dayton's Oregon District for 15 years. The criminal case involved break-ins and a 2009 fire that Christian reported and which prosecutors said were staged in order to collect insurance money: one break-in at her Washington Twp. home and a reported vandalism and fire at what was then her second restaurant, Cena Brazilian Steakhouse in front of the Dayton Mall in Miami Twp. A jury convicted Christian in 2012 of five counts related to insurance fraud and running a crime ring.

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Christian’s court-appointed post-conviction attorney, Brock Schoenlein, argued that Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara Gorman exceeded her sentencing authority when she re-imposed a nine-year sentence last year even after Schoenlein’s appeals had reduced the severity of some of the counts on which Christian was convicted. Assistant Montgomery County prosecutor Heather Jans argued that the judge was well within her sentencing rights and urged judges to keep Christian’s nine-year sentence intact.

The appeal of Christian’s conviction has taken a slow and tortuous path through the courts already, bouncing among the Ohio Supreme Court, the 2nd Court of Appeals and Montgomery County Common Pleas court multiple times.

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Even if the appeals-court judges rule in favor of Christian — and that ruling, if appealed by prosecutors, is upheld by higher courts — Christian may not win immediate release. The case would likely be returned to Judge Gorman for re-sentencing, with Christian’s potential maximum sentence lowered from nine to eight years, Schoenlein has said.

Christian’s current release date is May 2021, according to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections records. Whenever she is freed, Christian — who was born in Croatia and raised in Germany, and has German citizenship — faces the possibility of deportation, Montgomery County prosecutors have said.

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Judge Gorman, when she re-sentenced Christian last year, “addressed how Christian had no regard for other people’s lives or well-being but her own,” assistant prosecutor Jans wrote in her original appeals brief. “Christian lied on the stand during trial and claimed everybody else was lying … she hired someone to shoot up her house while her son was still inside the home … (and) hired someone to blow up her restaurant … .”

At her re-sentencing hearing in July 2016, Christian told the judge she was sorry for the pain she caused family, friends and the employees of her restaurants, whom she said she also considered family. She said she didn’t realize four years earlier how much impact her actions would have on those close to her.

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“It has consumed me and is haunting me every day,” Christian said. She urged the judge, “Please give me a chance to be a law-abiding citizen.”

Gorman was not persuaded. The judge noted that Christian tearfully pleaded for leniency four years earlier in the very same courtroom — only at that time, she was still firmly denying that she was guilty of any of the charges against her.

“I don’t know if you’ve really made a change, or if you’re a really good actress,” Judge Gorman told Christian.

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