Masonique Saunders reaches plea deal

Andy Downing
A memorial on Mount Vernon Avenue near the home of Masonique Saunders marking the location where Julius Tate, Jr. was shot and killed by police.

On Thursday, Masonique Saunders, whose case has become a flashpoint for local activists, reached an agreement with prosecutors that will keep her in juvenile court.

Saunders was arrested in December after SWAT officer Eric Richards shot and killed her boyfriend, Julius Tate, Jr., 16, during an undercover robbery sting. Saunders was charged with aggravated robbery for her alleged role in the robbery setup, as well as felony murder for the death of Tate, a controversial legal tactic you can read more about in the May 2 Alive cover feature on the Saunders case.

In the agreement, Saunders admitted to delinquency charges of aggravated robbery and involuntary manslaughter. In turn, defense and prosecuting attorneys recommended Saunders be committed to a state Department of Youth Services prison for three years, with a chance of early release for good behavior after two years.

Following the announcement of the agreement, both the Coalition to Free Masonique and the Office of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien issued statements. You can read both in full below.

The Coalition to Free Masonique Saunders

Today, Masonique pled guilty to a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutor Ron O’Brien bullied this teenager into accepting charges for a murder that Officer Eric Richards committed. This is one of many instances of the racist, classist carceral system pressuring Black people into needlessly accepting punitive measures. By scapegoating her and disappearing her behind bars, Ron O’Brien has allowed another killer cop to evade accountability. We are angry and disappointed in the outcome, but we as a coalition still stand alongside Masonique and will do what we can to advocate for her. This is not over. Please stay updated @freemasonique on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter.

The Office of Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien

Masonique B. Saunders was charged as a Juvenile in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations Division with Murder under Section 2903.02(B) ORC (Felony Murder) and Aggravated Robbery with a Firearm, both offenses based on the Complicity statute (2923.03 ORC) that holds an accomplice or co-conspirator equally guilty with the primary or principal offender. The Felony Murder statute applies when a first or second degree felony offense of violence is committed and a death is proximately caused by that crime. The basis for the Felony Murder charge was that on December 7, 2018 Ms. Saunders and Julius Tate planned and committed an Aggravated Robbery, a first degree felony offense of violence, and Mr. Tate was shot and killed during the Attempted Robbery by an undercover police officer involved in investigating a series of Aggravated Robberies that occurred in the same area during transactions to sell cell phones that had been advertised via an on-line phone app. The same name and phone number used by Ms. Saunders and Mr. Tate for the transaction with the undercover officer had been used on November 28, 2018 at the same location where a woman with a child was robbed and pistol whipped. After the charge was filed the prosecution filed a motion to bind Ms. Saunders over for trial as an adult, which is mandatory for a 16 year old when the charge is Murder. That hearing was scheduled for May 9, 2019 before Judge James Brown. Ms. Saunders is represented by Attorney Jon Tyack, who has been provided complete discovery under court rules as to the state’s evidence.

A bindover hearing will not be held because an agreement has been reached, subject to the approval of Judge Brown, in which the state will withdraw the request to try Ms. Saunders in adult court and she will admit guilt to the lesser included offense of Involuntary Manslaughter and the Aggravated Robbery from the December 7, 2018 incident that resulted in the shooting death of Julius Tate, as well as the November 28, 2018 Aggravated Robbery, with a recommended three year commitment to the Dept. of Youth Services where she will be eligible for early release after two years conditioned on good behavior. Ms. Saunders, in the presence of her counsel, has given a proffered statement that describes the crime spree of Mr. Tate and her by setting up cellphone sales transactions online for robberies. A 9mm Kel-Tec handgun was used in these robberies and was found at the scene. After her statement Ms. Saunders agreed to take a polygraph examination administered by the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which was with the consent of her counsel and parent.

On May 6, 2019 OSHP Tpr. Sharp administered a polygraph to Ms. Saunders and concluded there were no signs of deception as to her admitted involvement in the Robbery of the undercover officer that resulted in the death of Mr. Tate.