In the weeks leading up to his trial, John Fryman did little to help himself, mostly ignoring his lawyer while scheming ways to manipulate the court. At a competency hearing on September 10, 1987, Fryman revealed to the court a plan to fake insanity. “I was going to fake insanity,” Fryman told Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge John R. Moser. “I am well aware of sociology and psychology and know how to do that. Now I believe the facts will show that I don’t have to do that. I think I can stand on the facts of the case without having to push things around.” Undoubtedly thinking they’d dodged a bullet, the prosecution must have been relieved that Fryman had shelved his plan to “push things around” and manipulate the court into accepting his insanity.
Nevertheless, the competency hearing continued with conflicting testimony coming from a number of experts who examined Fryman. Psychiatrist Charles A. Feuss interviewed Fryman for an hour at the Butler County Jail and found the young man to be well oriented and able to talk about his case in a “clear and concise fashion.” According to Feuss’s testimony, Fryman blamed the killing of Monica Lemen and the shooting of Tammy Sue Rose on his accomplice Beverly Cox. Fryman also told Feuss that his attorney wants him to plead insanity, but that he doesn’t want to and doesn’t think he’s insane. Dr. Donna Winter of the Butler County Forensic Center spoke to Fryman on three occasions and also found him competent to stand trial.
However, Dr. Robert H. Fisher, director of the Butler County Forensic Center, disagreed with his colleagues, finding Fryman extremely agitated during interviews, and unable to comprehend his relationship to the charges against him. Fisher testified that Fryman suspected his attorney, F. Joseph Schiavone, was “part of a system of maneuvers against him designed to make Beverly Cox heroic and innocent while he is thrown to the wolves for crimes he denies committing.” The alleged conspiracy also included listening devices in his cell, CIA involvement and an impostor posing as his attorney. Responding to the injustices committed against him, Fryman told Dr. Fisher he (Fryman) would “lead the way to the electric chair.”
Picking up on Dr. Fisher’s testimony, Fryman’s attorney argued, “The man is totally confused, judge. When a man’s on trial for his life, he doesn’t spend seven months misleading his defense attorney and saying he will lead the way to the electric chair. He is not competent. He needs hospitalization.”
In the end, Judge Moser was unconvinced by arguments for Fryman’s incompetence. Ordering the trial to proceed, the Judge stated, “He may be different. He may be strange. He may be unusual. But different, strange and unusual (do not) mean he’s not competent to stand trial.”
The following day, a suppression of evidence hearing was held to determine if statements made by Fryman to authorities following his arrest would be admissible at trial. While in Indiana State Police custody in Connersville, Fryman admitted to shooting Monica Lemen but claimed it was an accident. Fairfield Police Sergeant Eddie Roberts testified Fryman told police that Monica Lemen entered the “sorcery room” located in the rear of his mobile home. There she began reading an inscription Fryman had written on the closet door. Fryman said he then picked up a .25 caliber handgun that was laying on the altar, and, as he inserted the clip, the gun discharged. Cincinnati police specialist Carey Rowland testified that when Fryman was asked about the inscription, Fryman told Rowland “demons did it through him,” and Fryman admitted that he often saw demons. At a later date, Fryman admitted to Cincinnati homicide detective Robert Hennekes, “I probably made a mistake telling you guys all this. I should have acted crazy,” Hennekes told the court. Additionally, Fryman also gave authorities a written statement implicating himself in the Fairfield gas station robbery and the shooting of Tammy Sue Rose.
As in the competency hearing, Fryman’s attorney F.Joseph Schiavone made little headway with Judge Moser. A motion to suppress Fryman’s statements to authorities was denied, and a motion for a 30-day continuance also ran into a brick wall. Pleading for the continuance, Schiavone argued that his client had only begun to cooperate, and that he needed more time to prepare an adequate defense. “This is a complex case with a lot of witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence. We find ourselves on the eve of trial with only three days for this defendant to bring me up to date,” Schiavone argued. However, an unyielding Judge Moser was not persuaded, asserting that Fryman’s refusal to cooperate with his lawyer was his choice. “I don’t think the court can allow a defendant to control the trial docket by changing his strategy,” the judge said. With that, Judge Moser set jury selection to begin the following Monday morning at 9:00 a.m.
The trial got underway Monday, September 14, with jury selection lasting a mere two hours, leaving enough time on the first day for the 12 jurors to tour the crime scene. As it turns out, the trailer had three rooms painted all black. Additionally, the living room was adorned with statues of a witch, a winged black cat and several black candles. Pictures of unicorns added a lighter touch to the home’s mostly unforgiving dark interiors. From the ‘sorcery room,’ where the murder was alleged to have taken place, an inverted cross, a silver chalice, a knife and a ram’s head had been confiscated by police along with the headstone ‘altar’ and the closet door that contained the inscription Monica Lemen had allegedly been reciting when she was shot.
At the close of the first day, defense attorney F. Joseph Schiavone met with reporters outside the courtroom to make a preemptive case to the press on his client’s behalf. In his remarks, Schiavone described Fryman’s earlier admissions of responsibility in the death of Monica Lemen as an effort to protect his then-girlfriend Beverly Cox. According to Schiavone, when Fryman was arrested, he admitted to accidentally shooting Lemen to Indiana authorities because he believed Cox was pregnant and he hoped to get a light sentence so he could be quickly reunited with Cox and their baby. Regarding a later statement to police where Fryman copped to premeditated murder, Schiavone said that Fryman believed Cox was being sexually abused in jail and he made the statement hoping she would be freed. “He read the law on capital punishment and tailor-made his statement to fit it, all to protect Beverly,” Schiavone said. With opening statements set for the following day, Schiavone seemed to be making a desperate attempt to gain sympathy for his client, promoting a “protect Beverly” rationale for the confessions while preparing to transition the following day to a “blame Beverly” defense.
During opening statements on Tuesday, Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb did not shy away from allegations of satanism and black magic as being factors in the slaying of Monica Lemen, even as detectives had previously tried to downplay the angle. Addressing the court, Holcomb said John Lee Fryman was motivated by “a mixture of anger, the occult, black magic and satanism…John Fryman arrived at the conclusion in his mind that he would kill Monica Lemen, and lured her to his trailer…John Fryman took Monica Lemen to what he called his sorcery room…and had her read a satanic incantation that was painted on the door. While she was doing that he shot her in the back of the head with a .25 automatic.” Holcomb told the court the pair had been pen pals when Fryman was serving time for robbery in the Lebanon Correctional Facility. On the day of the murder, Fryman lured Lemen to his trailer on the pretense of helping her cash some stolen checks. Holcomb assured the court that when jurors hear the evidence, they’ll conclude Fryman “deserves only to die” in the electric chair.
In his opening statement, Fryman attorney F. Joseph Schiavone launched headlong into a “blame Beverly” defense. According to Schiavone’s version of events, on February 9 John Fryman left Lemen and Cox alone together at his mobile home while he went to Middletown to buy marijuana. While away, Beverly Cox killed Lemen out of jealousy because both women loved Fryman. When Fryman returned, he found Monica Lemen dead in his living room. “Beverly Cox was hysterical. All she kept saying was it was an accident. Blood was on the floor,” Schiavone said. Fryman responded by saying, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything.”
Interestingly, the prosecution and defense not only differ in regards to who pulled the trigger, but also as to where the actual killing took place. The prosecution contends the shooting occurred in the “sorcery room,” while the defense seems to assert that Lemen was killed in the living room. Descriptions of the mobile home indicate that these are two different rooms with the ‘sorcery room’ located in the rear of the trailer. From newspaper accounts, there is no mention of the location of the killing being a point of contention at trial, and all accounts have investigators pointing to the “sorcery room” as the location of the actual shooting. If the two rooms are the same room, then the point is irrelevant. But if the defense is describing a different location for the commission of the murder from the generally accepted one, then it seems like a pretty bone-headed maneuver that could be easily discredited.
Nevertheless, Schiavone pressed ahead with the defense assertion that Beverly Cox was also responsible for the shooting of gas station attendant Tammy Sue Rose. According to Schiavone, two days following the Lemen shooting, John Fryman was pumping gas at the Clark Service station when Beverly Cox entered the station. Fryman said he heard two “pops,” and when Cox returned to the car she “had a smile on her face and money from the gas station.” If we are to believe the defense account, it seems like everytime the hapless John Fryman lets his girlfriend out of his sight for even a few minutes, she goes off and shoots somebody.
While the defense mostly portrayed Fryman as an unwitting accomplice to the remorseless, trigger-happy psychopath, Beverly Cox, it did concede that Fryman sawed off Lemen’s legs the day following the shooting to make it easier to remove the body from the trailer. Concluding his opening remarks, Schiavone related a touching account of Fryman’s boundless love and devotion to the murderous Cox. Having received letters from Cox describing ongoing sexual abuse while in jail, Fryman decided to take the fall to protect the woman he loved. “He said bring me a Quarter Pounder and a Coke and I’ll make a statement. The Quarter Pounder was given to the woman he loved, it wasn’t for him. And so was the confession,” Schiavone told the court. One can only imagine the tears that were shed in the courtroom that day upon hearing this heartwarming tale.
Among the witnesses called that day was Lemen’s live-in boyfriend Dennis Whitt who testified that he last saw Lemen on February 9. Whitt said Lemen received a phone call from Fryman who arranged to pick her up. Whitt testified Lemen had become fearful of Fryman following a confrontation in December at Fryman’s trailer. “She said he threatened to kill her and write her name in blood on the wall,” Whitt said. Witnesses also testified that Fryman had helped Beverly Cox acquire a gun for $45 because she was fearful of her ex-husband. It was the same gun found in Cox’s purse when the pair were arrested.
When day three of the trial got underway, the jury was presented with a courtroom reconstruction of the satanic altar discovered in the trailer of John Fryman. Fairfield Police Officer Ed Roberts testified that the items were confiscated following a search of Fryman’s trailer. The altar consisted of a tombstone that sat atop a wooden frame, topped by two black candles, a bell, a chalice, a book of black magic, a butcher knife and ram’s skull. It was revealed the previous day that the tombstone came from the same Indiana churchyard where Monica Lemen’s severed legs were discovered. The saw that was used to sever Lemen’s legs was placed underneath the altar. Additionally, the sorcery room’s closet door from which Monica Lemen allegedly “read a satanic incantation” as John Fryman shot her was displayed for the court. On the door in Runes language was written an “Invocation to Satan” which when translated read: “In the name of Satan, the Ruler of the earth, the King of the world, I command the forces of Darkness.…Come forth and answer to your names by manifesting my desires!”
A number of details emerged regarding the numerous confessions John Fryman made to authorities in the months following his arrest. In a written statement to police, Fryman admitted killing Lemen because she insulted him by bringing another magician to his trailer to kill him. Fryman further confessed that for two weeks he told Beverly Cox he intended to kill Lemen, adding that Cox hid in a closet when Lemen came to the trailer. Fryman wrote that it was his idea to cut off Lemen’s legs and that Cox helped him. “Bev cut the jeans away. I cut her flesh with the butcher knife on the altar, and her bone with the wood saw under the altar.” In his statement, Fryman also revealed that he placed Monica Lemen’s deceased body in a dumpster, and that he chose the Indiana churchyard to leave the legs because it was a place where he practiced “magic.” “I drove to Indiana. I went to the church, as it was a place I practiced magic. By throwing the legs there, I increased the power of that spot,” Fryman stated. Fryman’s written statement also included an admission that he shot Fairfield gas station attendant Tammy Sue Rose in the face and stole $175 from the cash register while Beverly Cox waited in their car.
It was a damning statement, which may as well have been written in cold blood. Defense attorney Schiavone’s attempts to deflect blame onto Beverly Cox were of little merit against his client’s own words. As Prosecutor Holcomb told reporters after the court had recessed for the day, “(Fryman) confessed five or six different ways. What more do we need? I think all the elements are there.” Fryman’s own statements were so damning that Holcomb felt no need to call Beverly Cox to the stand unless needed to rebut Fryman’s testimony. But that wouldn’t happen, because the following day the defense rested without calling Fryman or any other witnesses. “He has no obligation to take the stand and be abused by the prosecutor. They haven’t proved anything against him,” Schiavone told reporters. Despite defense efforts to argue that Fryman’s statement came about as a result of pressure applied by Cox through a series of letters written to Fryman in the months since their arrest, Fryman did concede that the part about cutting off Lemen’s legs was true and pleaded guilty to gross abuse of a corpse.
Closing statements got underway on Friday, September 18, 1987. Prosecutor Holcomb continued to hammer on Fryman’s multiple confessions as proof he committed the crimes and the budding sorcerer’s involvement with black magic as the motive. “In his own words he said it’s a perfect statement to put him in the electric chair – and it is….Being an admitted so-called magician, he would have had to do the killing to increase his powers. You see, it makes sense that he did it; it doesn’t make any sense that Cox did it.” Holcomb also cast doubt on the defense claim that Fryman took the blame out of love for Beverly Cox. “Why does he want to take the blame for her if she has immunity? He should be putting the blame on her because she’s going to go free anyway.” Finally, in an act of biblical drama worthy of the great Charlton Heston, Holcomb held up the Holy Bible and delivered his closing remarks: “He went against that ancient law, ‘Thou shall have no other gods before me.’ Moderation in dealing with wickedness only adds foolishness to the crime. Find him guilty as charged.”
It was pretty much curtains for the defense after that bit of theater. According to Schiavone’s closing statements, the motive boiled down to two jealous females battling for the affections of a promising young magician who owned a pretty wicked trailer. “The devil didn’t make this man do this. What made this happen was Beverly Cox’s jealousy of Monica. It was a female rivalry…. Beverly Cox sits 200 yards away from this witness stand laughing because she pulled it off–she pulled off her little trick…. (She) has made a fool of the state of Ohio. Don’t let her make a fool of this jury.”
The jury deliberated 6½ hours before returning a verdict of guilty of aggravated murder while committing felony kidnapping. That specification made Fryman eligible for the death penalty. Additionally, Fryman was convicted for attempted murder and aggravated robbery, stemming from the gas station holdup and shooting of Tammy Sue Rose. A sentencing hearing was set for the following Tuesday with Judge Moser presiding. In remarks to reporters, defense attorney Schiavone did not take issue with the outcome. “Naturally, we’re very disappointed. It was an uphill battle. Unfortunately, John insisted on confessing at almost every juncture in this case.” For his part, prosecutor Holcomb voiced what many must have been thinking. “I think the guy earned it, he deserved it and he got it. This is a bizarre business. The evidence shows this man worked at being evil.”
That John Fryman worked at being evil, there could be little doubt. The practitioner of black magic who maintained a sorcery room in his home was clearly trying to increase his stature in the world of the dark arts. But there was also the earnest college student who was only a few credits short of completing his degree, and the attentive care home worker who received positive reviews from supervisors. Could he have pursued a different path? One former acquaintance of Fryman’s described him as someone who didn’t stand out in any way. And maybe that was the problem. Perhaps his embrace of black magic stemmed from a desire to be noticed, to be taken seriously, to increase his power and stature, and to be feared. Playing it straight relegated him to a life of obscurity, but immersing himself in the world of dark spirits garnered him prestige and a small following, conferring on him the designation of Todva the Magician.
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Dayton Daily News
The Indianapolis Star
The Indianapolis News
The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana)
The Brookville Democrat
Franklin County Historical Society