Pickaway News Journal

Wed, Jul 26, 2017

Conviction reversed in Lambert murder-for-hire case

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Tara Lambert is taken into custody following her conviction in January 2016. (File photo by Trish Bennett)

CIRCLEVILLE - The conviction of Tara Lambert in a murder-for-hire plot last year has been reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeals in a document filed Tuesday in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court.

Lambert, 34, was convicted in January 2016 on one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder involving Kellie Cooke of Lucasville, the ex-wife of Lambert's husband. She was sentenced in February 2016 to serve seven years in state prison for the crime.

The appeals court reversed the conviction this week, however, finding that insufficient wording in the original indictment from the Pickaway County Grand Jury violated Lambert's rights as outlined in the Ohio Constitution.

Specifically, the court ruled the indictment did not contain sufficient wording to "give the defendant notice of all the elements of the offense with which the defendant is charged."

According to the 28-page document, the original indictment stated "...Tara J. Lambert, did with purpose to commit, promote or facilitate the commission of Aggravated Murder with another person, plan or aid in planning the commission of such offense..."

A "bill of particulars" was subsequently filed, elaborating on the case and alleging Lambert "solicited the aid of an undercover officer in planning and promoting the murder of Kellie Cooke..."

Prosecutors argued that the bill of particulars corrected the lack of specific language in the indictment, but the appeals court rejected that argument and reversed Lambert's conviction and sentence.

According to the court, "...nothing appears to prevent the state from seeking to re-indict the appellant," and that Lambert may continue to be held in custody for no more than 14 days pending the filing of a new indictment, information or complaint.

Judy Wolford, Pickaway County Prosecutor, said she and her staff are currently considering their options regarding the case, and they will be meeting with the victim Thursday to determine the best course of action.

As of Wednesday, Wolford said the choices were either to appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court or to re-indict Lambert and take the case back to trial.

Lambert was arrested July 28, 2015, by detectives from the Pickaway County Sheriff's Office on charges that she attempted to hire a hit man to kill Kellie Cooke and Cooke's current husband, Shawn, regarding a visitation issue involving their two teenage daughters.

According to court testimony, Lambert approached a former high school classmate, Ginny Cheadle, to see if she knew someone who needed extra cash and might be up for the job.

Concerned by the request, Cheadle took the information to the Pickaway County Sheriff's Office, and detectives moved quickly to arrange for an undercover Franklin County deputy to play the part.

Lambert met with the undercover deputy July 28, 2015, in the parking lot at KFC in Circleville and paid him $125 in cash as a down payment for the job. She also provided him with a photo of Kellie Cooke and information about her home, vehicles, work habits and other details.

Lambert was arrested about 20 minutes later leaving the nearby Walmart store. She was released on bond and was placed under house arrest until her conviction. She has currently served just over one year of her seven-year sentence.

The case made international headlines during the trial and was featured on the cable television crime show starring Nancy Grace.

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