Licking Co. judge says he is haunted by release of Thomas Hartless

NEWARK, OH (WCMH/AP) — A judge in Ohio says he will be haunted forever by his decision to grant early release to a domestic violence suspect who authorities say killed his ex-girlfriend, her co-worker and a police chief.

Licking County Municipal Judge Michael Higgins said Friday he will go to his grave regretting he didn’t know who Thomas Hartless was when he signed off on his release in April.

Weeks after his release, Hartless murdered his girlfriend Marlina Medrano, her co-worker Cindy Krantz, and Kirkersville police chief Eric DiSario.

The Licking County Municipal Court started an internal investigation that revealed several concerns surrounding the courts decision to release Hartless early.

A review of what happened found a lack of checks and balances in the court’s early-release process.

Hartless wasn’t supposed to have weapons, but a probation officer never checked his home, where authorities later found over 60 guns.

Higgins did not give NBC4 an on camera interview as he said he would just days ago. Instead, NBC4 received an email from his office stating he’d meet with us, but not on camera.

Higgins said a disciplinary hearing will will happen for the senior probation officer, the ISP officer, and the general unit probation officer. This hearing could result in them being fired.

Higgins said moving forward, the court will see to it that no guns are in homes of people released on parole for domestic violence or related cases. The judge said the old system was broken, and new procedures in place will ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

Medrano’s friend Niki Arter isn’t convinced.

“For them to say that they’re going to change it around now, how are we suppose to trust that they’re going to do that after they already had the steps to take before that happened?” said Arter.

It all doesn’t seem real to Arter. She’s been friends with Medrano for years. She said she’s frustrated after seeing the results of the internal investigation.

Arter looked at multiple concerns authorities had with the way Hartless was released early from jail following several domestic volience cases.

“The way that it happened with everything all of it together. this is the perfect time right now to fix it and change it, and bring awareness of what’s wrong with the system,” she said.

Arter said she is going to accomplish this with a march in Marlina Medrano’s honor.

“Marlina’s March” is scheduled on Medrano’s birthday next Thursday in downtown Newark. Click here for more details. 

Arter said it’s all in an effort to bring awareness to domestic violence, and to shine a light on the way the Licking County Municipal Court failed Medrano.

“If it was me I know she’d be my cheerleader and, I’m going to be her cheerleader now. She actually used to call me her cheerleader,” said Arter.

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