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State v. Letts

June 22, 2001

STATE OF OHIO PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
JOSEPH LETTS DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



T.C. Case No. 94-CR-2753/4

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brogan, J.

OPINION Rendered on the 22nd day of June, 2001.

The present case is the third appeal brought by Defendant-Appellant Joseph Letts. We decided the original direct appeal of his convictions for aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated robbery and firearm specifications on June 13, 1997, wherein we vacated the aggravated murder conviction and remanded for re- sentencing. State v. Letts (June 13, 1997), Montgomery App. No. 15681, unreported. Following re-sentencing, Letts appealed again, at which time we affirmed the trial court's decision. State v. Letts (Jan. 29, 1999), Montgomery App. No. 17084, unreported. On April 6, 2000, Letts filed an application to reopen his appeal on the basis of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. We later granted his application and the parties have briefed the issues that should have been raised in the original appeal. The new assignments of error are as follows:

I. The evidence presented at trial was insufficient as a matter of law to support a conviction on any firearm specification.

II. The evidence presented at trial was insufficient as a matter of law to support any conviction of aggravated robbery.

In the early morning hours of September 20, 1994, five girls, Holly Lai, Michelle Lai, Amy Brogan, Candace Brogan*fn1, and Danielle Jones, were sitting in a Chevette in the parking lot of an apartment complex. They had been out "roguing" or stealing that night, and had stopped there for Amy and Holly to steal a car radio out of a garage. Upon their return to the Chevette after an unsuccessful theft, a Chevrolet Caprice driven by Aaron Moten and occupied by Rebecca Stidham, Kellie Johnson, and Tyra Patterson passed by and then blocked in the Chevette. At approximately the same time, Joseph Letts, LaShawna Keeney, and Angela Thuman had walked up with a pit bull terrier and joined the people from the Caprice.

As they approached the Chevette, a few of the females outside of the vehicle said, "check it in," which is a slang term meaning they were going to rob the girls. All of the individuals began threatening and harassing the girls in the Chevette, demanding money, drugs, jewelry and other items. In addition, some of the individuals told the dog to "sic 'em" several times. Letts in particular attempted to pull a necklace off Danielle's neck, rummaged through the glove compartment, tried to pull Amy out of the car, and either placed or allowed his pit bull to enter the car and sit on Amy's lap, frightening the girls. Among the items forcibly stolen were a purse, jewelry, a pair of shoes, and some cassette tapes.

While the robberies were in progress or immediately thereafter, LaShawna Keeney pulled out a gun and waved it around. During this time, Kellie Johnson was fighting with Michelle Lai and told LaShawna to "shoot the bitch." At that moment, LaShawna shot Michelle in the head. Letts was still near the car at the time of the shooting. As soon as the shot was fired, all of the individuals outside of the car fled the scene.

Letts argues in this appeal that there is insufficient evidence to support either his aggravated robbery convictions or the firearm specifications. When an appellant alleges a sufficiency of the evidence error, the court must determine whether the evidence is "legally sufficient as a matter of law to support the jury verdict." State v. Clemons (1998), 82 Ohio St.3d 438, 444 (citations omitted). An appellate court's standard when presented with this question "is to examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Jenks (1991), 61 Ohio St.3d 259, paragraph two of the syllabus. More specifically, "[t]he relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.

In his argument, Letts relies heavily on the statement in our June 13, 1997 opinion that "no evidence was presented to show that Letts even knew that a weapon was to be used * * *." Taking this statement as the law of the case, we still find there was sufficient evidence to support Letts' four aggravated robbery convictions and the firearm specifications.

The aggravated robbery statute states:

(A) No person, in attempting or committing a theft offense, as defined in section 2913.01 of the Revised Code, or in fleeing immediately after such attempt or ...


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