Ohio Supreme Court upholds trucker's death sentence in co-workers' murders

By Clarissa Hawes, Land Line staff writer | 5/9/2014

The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence in the case of a truck driver who was convicted by a jury of killing two of his supervisors, who had called him in for a meeting to discuss his firing back in August 2007.

Calvin C. Neyland Jr., 50, of Toledo, Ohio, worked as a truck driver for Liberty Transportation Co. in Perrysburg, Ohio, from July 2006 until the time of the shootings on Aug. 8, 2007. He had graduated from American Trucking School in 1988 and worked at numerous trucking companies before being hired on at Liberty Transportation, according to court documents.

The state’s high court voted 5-2 on May 8 to uphold Neyland’s convictions after a jury found him guilty on two counts of aggravated murder and sentenced him to death. He was also sentenced to six years on two gun charges. Neyland filed his appeal in August 2013.

According to court documents, Neyland was convicted of killing Douglas Smith, 44, the company’s branch manager, and Thomas Lazar, 58, the company’s corporate safety director. Court documents allege that Neyland shot Lazar four times in the yard outside Liberty’s warehouse, then went inside and shot Smith one time in the head.

Neyland pleaded not guilty to all charges. He claimed in his appeal to the high court that he was not mentally competent to stand trial. One psychiatrist stated he was not fit to stand trial and suggested Neyland was mentally ill and suffered from possible schizophrenia. However, two other psychiatrists found him competent to stand trial. The trial court also agreed he was fit to stand trial.

In the week leading up to the shootings, Neyland had been involved in an accident where he was found to be at fault. A few months earlier, he had been warned by company officials after being cited numerous times for falsifying his logbooks and committing other driving violations. Court documents state company officials made the decision to fire Neyland and ordered a meeting on Aug. 8, 2007, the day Lazar and Smith were fatally shot.

After the shootings, Neyland then drove to Monroe County, Mich., where the county’s Special Weapons and Tactics team arrested him in his truck later that same day outside of the motel where he had been staying. Court documents allege he admitted to having a gun in his truck. At the trial, forensics tests matched the handgun and bullets recovered in Neyland’s truck to the shell casing found at the murder scene. Gun residue was also found on Neyland’s hands and steering wheel, according to court documents.

Neyland claims in his appeal that other guns found in his storage unit and in his hotel room, not used in the murders, should not have been introduced as evidence during the trial. While the state’s high court stated in its opinion that the trial court erred in admitting this into evidence, it determined the trial court committed a “harmless error”

Neyland may still be eligible to file an appeal in federal court.

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