Statement on SB 256 from Margaret Douglas’s Niece

I am the great-niece of Margaret Douglas. In 2018 my Aunt was murdered by 17-year-old Gavon Ramsay. Though the judge who heard all the evidence sentenced him to life without parole (LWOP), his sentence has now been reduced to 25 years to life by Senate Bill 256. In this statement, I will explain the devastating impact SB 256 has had on me and my family. 

On April 6, 2018, Gavon Ramsay broke into my Aunt’s home in Wadsworth, Ohio, where he held her against her will, assaulted her, and killed her by manually strangling her. While I have come to accept the fact that I will never know the full extent of what happened that night, I can say Margaret would not have been easy to attack and kill. She was not what you think of when you envision a 98-year-old woman- she was strong and fierce. She would have fought back, and she would have done everything she could to stay alive. The method Gavon Ramsay killed her with was not swift and quick, like using a gun. Manual strangulation takes conscious effort over a sustained period of time. He continued strangling her for a duration long enough to kill her, and with enough force to break vertebrae in her neck. This method of murder was chosen because he wanted to kill someone on his own accord- not with a weapon of any kind. He wanted to take someone’s life with his hands. The acts that followed in the next two hours after her murder add a picture into this man’s disturbed and evil mind- taking pictures of her dead body immediately after her murder, disrobing her and sexually assaulting her, using her dead hand to pleasure himself, and finally shoving her in a 1.5ft by 2.5ft closet and hiding her under a vacuum cleaner and clothes. If he wasn’t concerned about getting home prior to his parents’ waking, how much longer would he have stayed? What else would he have done? 

I was able to provide a written victim impact statement, as well as a verbal statement at his sentencing hearing. My mother also provided a written and verbal statement, and my sister provided a written statement. Many of these statements focused on the mindset of this man going into his crimes that night. These acts were all planned out ahead of time and documented in his journal. It was not a sudden impulse or desire, and was not a hormonal decision. These acts were carried out with precision- if not for his cell phone being obtained in relation to a separate case, or his accidental dropping of a glove in Aunt Margaret’s backyard, he may never have been caught. He was not pressured or led into his acts that night by a peer or older adult- he himself planned and committed these acts on his own accord. The acts he planned and committed that night are not things a 17-year-old can be unsure of the morality of. He fully comprehended the consequences of these crimes. Even though he understood the harm his actions caused, he engaged in those actions anyway for his own thrill and pleasure. And these were not his first crimes. He had a criminal history already, and because of this had already been undergoing reformation efforts. Despite these efforts to reform him, his crimes continued escalating until he was arrested for my Aunt’s murder. His arrest was the only thing that stopped him from escalating further. 

After viewing all the testimony, hearing witnesses and arguments from both sides, and observing Ramsay in court, the judge presiding over the case sentenced him to LWOP. She took into account his age when sentencing. During her sentencing statement, she repeatedly acknowledged the defendant’s age and explained why his crimes demonstrate his incorrigibility and inability to be reformed. She made these judgments in accordance with the current Supreme Court ruling that juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) must be saved for the rarest juvenile offender whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility, and sentenced him as such. Gavon Ramsay was granted his right to appeal, and the appellate court upheld all of the original sentencing. He then took his case to the Ohio Supreme Court, and while they sent the case back to the appellate court, they did not void the sentencing. All these parties made knowledgeable judgments after viewing the evidence presented. 

Ohio lawmakers have now changed this man’s sentence with SB 256 to 25 years to life. They have done so without knowing all of the facts of the case, without seeing any of the evidence, and without hearing any testimony from witnesses or experts. While they were unable to see any of the evidence or hear witness testimony themselves, the lawmakers who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Criminal Justice Committee had some knowledge about my Aunt’s murder. NOVJM’s Ohio coordinator provided both committees with written testimony and the House Criminal Justice Committee with oral testimony. She informed them about the murder of my Aunt Margaret and explained just some of the horrific details. She repeatedly warned them that SB 256 would reduce Ramsay’s sentence and possibly result in his release from prison. NOVJM also warned them about other criminals whose sentences would be reduced by SB 256. But several members of these committees disregarded these warnings and voted to substantially decrease Ramsay’s sentence, as well as the sentences of numerous other violent offenders. These committee members voted for SB 256 with only a basic understanding of my Aunt’s murder. Other lawmakers who did not hear or read NOVJM testimony may have not even known about Ramsay and the horrifying crimes he carried out while they cast their vote. 

Regardless of the amount of awareness each lawmaker who voted for SB 256 had regarding my Aunt’s murder, none of them knew the important details that helped the judge make her sentencing decision. These lawmakers cannot state how long Ramsay filmed Aunt Margaret sleeping. They cannot state how long it took for him to strangle her. They cannot state what sexual positions he placed her in for photographs and videos. They cannot state what he used as a lubricant when he sexually assaulted her. They cannot state what charm he took off a bracelet as a trophy of his killing. They are not aware that he still has not verbalized or shown remorse for his acts that night, and that he only refers to my Aunt’s murder and post-mortem sexual assault as “it” or “what I did”. They cannot provide the names of other individuals he plotted to kill in his journal. And yet, without knowledge of any of these facts, they have made a decision that will grossly change this man’s sentence. They have made a decision that will put the Ohio community, as well as my family, at risk. 

The United States Department of Justice acknowledges the importance of victim impact statements, and the importance for the Court to know the impact the crime has had on the victims. As I stated earlier, my family and I were able to give statements to the court for Ramsay’s sentencing. However, when Ohio lawmakers were deciding to pass a bill that would affect Ramsay’s sentence, I was not able to give a statement. I was not able to share the impact of his crimes. My family tried to reach out to their legislators about the bill and received no response. We had no opportunity to share our statements that the US Department of Justice itself deems important. Where is the justice there?  

We were given a promise by the criminal justice system that this man would live out the rest of his life safely behind bars, and Ohio lawmakers have now broken that promise. They have done so without regard to how this impacts my family, and the Ohio communities this man will potentially be released into. Ahead of the sentencing, the prosecutor warned my family that the juvenile life without parole sentence was given out very rarely, and therefore it was possible Gavon Ramsay would be eligible for parole at some point. Christmas of 2018 was just the second time that year my whole family was all together, and we spent it reviewing each other’s impact statements. We spent that holiday discussing the possibility that, if we put our true thoughts and opinions in our statements, Gavon Ramsay would be able to read them and hear them. We discussed the risk of giving him fuel for the rage he carries inside him, knowing that at some point he may be released from prison while my siblings and I are still alive and he is relatively young, and knowing he may come after us at that point. We all decided to move forward with our statements as we saw fit, and trusted that the criminal justice system would ensure justice was served and that our safety and the community’s safety would be the priority when sentencing. This did indeed happen. The amount of relief we felt after the sentencing is immeasurable. That relief is now gone because of SB 256. We now spend every day worrying about his release. His release may happen not only when my siblings and I are still alive, but when my parents are potentially still alive due to how early into his sentence he will be eligible for parole. 

It has been three years since my Aunt’s murder, and I still have nights where I need to check closets and under the bed out of paranoia. I still have nights where I wake suddenly and have to put my gun next to me on the bed in order to feel safe. I still check the door and window locks three times every single night before I fall asleep. If Gavon Ramsay is ever released, this unease and fear will only increase. I cannot imagine going out into the world knowing that he is somewhere out there on the streets, especially when he will still be of an age where he is capable of causing incredible harm to others. Due to these fears, I will be speaking at each and every parole hearing that happens for him. I will do everything in my power to keep this man behind bars, despite the personal ramifications I will face of having to relive the details of my Aunt’s murder every five years. Gavon Ramsay took my Aunt Margaret’s life from her in the most disturbing and evil way, and his new sentence for her murder may allow him to live the majority of his natural life free. This sentence is in no way justice for what he did to her. 

I work with kids and young adults every day, and truly understand the ways they can develop and mature. I see it happen before my very eyes. I see young adults make mistakes and then learn from them to turn into strong adults with character and integrity. That does not mean all young adults are capable of learning and changing. There are individuals who cannot be reformed or rehabilitated. There are cases where the criminal acts done by a young adult demonstrate their permanent incorrigibility and inability to be reformed. Gavon Ramsay is one of these criminals. The Ohio lawmakers have failed the community by creating a bill that has a blanket sentencing limit for offenders, regardless of their offenses, and that will allow this man back out on Ohio streets. The only way for Ohio lawmakers to ensure justice for my Aunt Margaret, as well as safety for the Ohio community, is to make an amendment to this bill that will allow for the juvenile life without parole option for a wider spectrum of criminals outside of the triple homicide offender. It needs to include individuals like Gavon Ramsay who have demonstrated the evil that lies within them, a kind of evil that cannot be reformed or rehabilitated.