Kirkersville killer was released without a hearing

Judge orders multiple changes in handling of early-release cases.

A man who killed three people in Kirkersville on May 12 was released early from jail in April without a formal hearing or the approval of the senior probation official, according to a court review of how authorities handled the domestic violence cases against Thomas Hartless in Licking County.

The review ordered by Licking County Municipal Court Judge Michael F. Higgins also found that the probation officer who recommended release failed to read the incident reports of the three domestic violence charges Hartless was convicted of after multiple assaults on one of the women he later killed.

That was just one of multiple problems found with how Licking County Municipal Court officials handled the case of Hartless, 43, in releasing him from county jail a month before he opened fire at Pine Kirk Care Center on May 12, according to a report released Thursday by Higgins.

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Higgins ordered multiple changes in the way court and probation officials handle future early release of people convicted in domestic violence cases, including mandatory “no contact” orders and searching the offender’s home and confiscating any weapons that are found. He also ordered a three-tier checks and balances system before any offender is released from jail early.

After the killings authorities raided the home of Hartless’s father, where Hartless sometimes lived, and confiscated 64 firearms.

RELATED: 60-plus weapons seized from home of Kirkersville shooter

Hartless was released from county jail on April 12 after serving 20 days of a 90-day sentence for repeatedly assaulting his girlfriend, Marlina Medrano, 46.

Hartless hid outside the nursing home, where Medrano worked as a nurse, and took two hostages who saw him hiding. He shot Kirkersville Police Chief Steven Eric DiSario to death as DiSario, 38, responded to a 9-1-1 call behind the nursing home. Hartless, armed with a shotgun and a handgun, then shot his way into the nursing home where he killed Medrano and her co-worker, Cindy Krantz, 48, before killing himself.

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Adult Probation Director Kevin K. Saad did the investigation and noted that early release is used as a way to rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism. But, he said, inmates with violent backgrounds have not typically been let out early.

Hartless had a history of violence. He was convicted of assault in the early 1990s and was also sent to state prison in 2009 for abducting his then-girlfriend and assaulting someone else. He served eight months of a two-year sentence.

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Medrano first filed domestic violence charges against Hartless in December 2016 after she said he knocked her down the stairs and punched her in the face. She was hospitalized after another attack in January and he assaulted her a third time in March. All three incidents led to misdemeanor domestic violence charges.

Hartless pleaded guilty in Higgins’ court on all three counts and he was sentenced to 90 days after Medrano wrote a letter to the judge seeking leniency for him. She had also twice asked and received dismissal of civil protection orders against him, but a third one was still in place at the time of the killings.

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The probation officer who recommended Hartless be released early said Medrano’s letter played into his recommendation, although Medrano was not contacted before early release was granted, according to Saad’s investigation.

The investigation found:

  • The senior probation officer did not review the lower-level probation officer’s recommendation for release and no formal hearing was held before Higgins authorized early release.
  • The probation officer was supposed to read the domestic violence incident reports to determine the offender’s risk of future violence but did not read them.
  • The was a lack of checks and balances in decisions regarding early release.
  • Higgins had originally ordered Hartless to attended a batterer’s group but the probation officer did not include that in his terms of release. The judge and probation officer also did not give Hartless a “no-contact” order.
  • The probation department was informed on May 5 of a new domestic violence allegation against Hartless by Medrano. That was a violation of his probation but after making an unsuccessful effort to reach him by phone a probation official decided to wait until Hartless’s scheduled May 30 appearance at the office. Five days later a letter was sent to Hartless ordering him to instead appear at the office on May 15.
  • Medrano was not informed of domestic violence resources she could have used to keep safe.

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