Eva Christian’s behavior behind bars prompts legal dispute

Imprisoned former restaurant owner Eva Christian's behavior while behind bars prompts is prompting a legal dispute prior to her re-sentencing later this week.

Former Dayton restaurant owner to be re-sentenced this week after appeals-court ruling that could set her free

Imprisoned former Oregon District and Dayton Mall restaurant owner Eva Christian has been written up 44 times for improper conduct — including possession of contraband food items — during more than eight years in a state prison, and prosecutors appear poised to bring up those disciplinary actions during Christian’s re-sentencing hearing on Thursday in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

But Christian’s appeals attorney, Brock Schoenlein, said in a court filing last week that the judge who has twice sentenced his client to nine years in prison is bound by an appeals-court ruling to reduce her sentence, in effect setting his client free, and he cautioned Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara P. Gorman that she herself could face sanctions if she strays from the parameters outlined in the appeals-court ruling.

Christian has served more than eight years of a nine-year prison sentence after she set her own Miami Twp. restaurant on fire on Christmas Eve 2009 as part of a scheme to collect insurance money. She is scheduled to complete her entire nine-year sentence and to be released on May 8, 2021.

But two months ago, Christian won an appeals-court ruling that appeared to effectively shave a year off of her sentence, meaning she could be set free very soon. The appeals court sent the case back to Judge Gorman for re-sentencing, and that hearing has been scheduled for this Thursday, Sept. 24.

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In records obtained by this news outlet from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Christian’s 44 disciplinary “conduct reports” began within months of her 2012 arrival at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, where she has spent the bulk of her prison time. She is now housed at the Dayton Correctional Institution.

The conduct reports detail rules violations such as failure to report to assigned work duties to being in parts of the prison she was not authorized to be in. Several are for possession of contraband food items or clothing that had been improperly altered, or for attempting to take food items from the prison’s commissary without paying.

Eva Christian stands before Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara P. Gorman at her original sentencing hearing in 2012. Staff file photo by Jim Witmer
Eva Christian stands before Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Barbara P. Gorman at her original sentencing hearing in 2012. Staff file photo by Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

According to one conduct report dated March 1, 2014, a guard at the Ohio Reformatory of Women noticed that upon exiting the commissary, Christian’s pockets and shirt “were bulging” with what appeared to be food items. She was given multiple orders to remove items from her pockets and clothing. Ultimately, the conduct report said, the items recovered after a search included “two cups of peanut butter, one apple, four slices of bread, two additional jelly packets, and a Ziploc bag containing cereal.” All food items were confiscated, and Christian was written up for disobedience of a direct order and stealing or embezzlement of property.

Christian was convicted in 2012 of five criminal counts following a two-week jury trial, and her appeals of those convictions have traveled a complex and circuitous route up and down the state’s legal chain, from Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The July 24 decision was issued by a three-judge panel of the Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled that Judge Gorman, who presided over the 2012 trial, improperly re-sentenced Christian to her original nine-year sentence even after earlier appeals had reduced the severity of three of the five charges Christian was convicted of.

Christian founded and owned the now-defunct Cafe Boulevard (later Boulevard Haus) for nearly 15 years in Dayton’s Oregon District. She also founded and owned Cena Brazilian Steakhouse in Miami Twp. She was convicted in 2012 of masterminding a scheme in 2009 to hire others to set Cena on fire, and later trying to set it on fire herself, and later staging a break-in at her Washington Twp. residence, all in order to collect insurance money. Christian’s court-appointed appeals attorney told the Dayton Daily News after the July 24 appeals court ruling that, “The war for Eva Christian’s release is finally over ... . Eva will be released as quickly as she can be brought back to court.”

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There’s no indication Christian was charged with any crimes for her behavior while in prison, and it is not clear whether Judge Gorman will take Christian’s prison disciplinary record into account during her re-sentencing later this week.

The Montgomery County Prosecutors Office apparently believes Christian’s prison conduct is relevant. It filed a notice late last month requesting that an updated pre-sentence investigation be completed, and said prosecutors have “additional evidence to provide to the (judge) regarding defendant’s numerous infractions since her admission to prison.”

That prompted a sharp retort from Schoenlein, Christian’s post-conviction attorney who has guided eight years of appeals. In a “Notice of objection to court’s re-sentencing intentions” filed early last week, Schoenlein wrote that Gorman would be going around the higher court’s directives if she were to re-sentence his client to any term in excess of eight years.

Schoenlein cited a similar case in which the Dayton-based Ohio 2nd District Court of Appeals filed an ethical sanction against a common pleas judge after the judge refused to adhere to a sentencing ruling handed down by the appeals court. He warned Judge Gorman that if she were to re-sentence Christian again to a nine-year term, he would ask the appeals court to “assume control of this case permanently.”

Montgomery County prosecutors responded to Schoenlein’s objection on Friday, Sept. 18, saying Judge Gorman would be well within her right to hear “all relevant evidence” prior to re-sentencing.

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