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In re Sturm

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District

December 22, 2006

IN THE MATTER OF: BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM, ADJUDICATED DELINQUENT CHILD.

David H. Bodiker, State Public Defender, and Jill E. Beeler and Molly J. Bruns, Assistant State Public Defenders, Columbus, Ohio, for Sturm.

James E. Schneider, Prosecuting Attorney, and Kevin A. Rings, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Marietta, Ohio, for Appellee.

DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

William H. Harsha, Presiding Judge

{¶ 1} After a jury trial in the Washington County juvenile court, Bryan Christopher Sturm appeals from a finding of delinquency as a serious youthful offender on two counts of murder. Sturm contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the statements he made during an interview inside a police vehicle since he was not advised of his Miranda rights. Because the interview took place in an unmarked police car with Sturm's father present initially, and the detectives clearly told Sturm he was not under arrest, he did not have to answer questions and was free to leave at any time, we conclude Sturm was not in custody at the time of the interview. Accordingly, the detectives were not required to advise him of his Miranda rights. The trial court did not err in denying his motion to suppress.

{¶ 2} Second, Sturm contends the judgment finding him delinquent of two counts of murder with gun specifications was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Because the record indicates Sturm confessed to the crimes, knew details about the crimes that only the shooter could know, and behaved in a manner consistent with guilt immediately following the shootings, we conclude that the State has presented substantial evidence that would convince a rational jury of Sturm's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

{¶ 3} Third, Sturm contends that the court improperly admitted character evidence of prior "bad acts", i.e., he became violent when he inhaled gasoline. By failing to object to this testimony at trial, Sturm has waived this issue on appeal unless it rises to the level of plain error. Because the admission of this evidence was presented to establish why the investigation shifted from the initial suspect to Sturm, rather than to show Sturm acted in conformity with his character, it doesn't amount to plain error.

{¶ 4} Fourth, Sturm contends that the trial court improperly admitted hearsay testimony from Detective Warden concerning statements made by Sturm's mother. While Detective Warden improperly relayed the mother's statement that Sturm had huffed gas and gone to his grandmother's house, this same evidence was properly admitted through other means. Because the hearsay was cumulative evidence, its admission was not prejudicial.

{¶ 5} Fifth, Sturm contends that the trial court abused its discretion in finding that a serious youthful offender disposition was appropriate. The juvenile court considered all of the appropriate factors in the statute, the nature of the crimes, and Sturm's lack of remorse when it concluded his remaining time in juvenile detention will not rehabilitate him. The juvenile court did not act in an unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable manner when it imposed a serious youthful offender disposition.

{¶ 6} Sixth, Sturm contends the trial court's imposition of consecutive sentences and a sentence exceeding the statutory minimum was unconstitutional because it required additional judicial fact finding that violated his right to a jury trial. However, the juvenile court's findings under the statute were merely discretionary sentencing factors to be considered by the trial judge and applied to the range of potential punishment that was determined by the jury's verdict.

{¶ 7} Seventh, Sturm contends that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. Because we find no deficiency and/or a lack of prejudice resulting from counsel's performance, we reject this contention.

{¶ 8} Eighth, Sturm contends that the Washington County Juvenile Court violated his right against cruel and unusual punishment when it set bail at one million dollars and placed him in a detention facility where he was isolated from other youths for up to twenty-three hours per day. Based on the nature of the charges against Sturm and his history as an inhalant abuser, neither the juvenile court's bail nor the detention center's decision to isolate him violate Sturm's right against cruel and unusual punishment. We also conclude that Ohio's serious youthful offender dispositional sentencing scheme does not violate Sturm's right against cruel and unusual punishment because the penalties provided are not so grossly disproportionate to the offenses that they shock a reasonable person.

{¶ 9} Finally, Sturm contends that Ohio's serious youthful offender law violates a juvenile's right to due process as guaranteed by the federal and Ohio Constitutions. We conclude that Ohio's serious youthful offender law is constitutional because it does not target very young offenders nor does it impermissibly treat juveniles as adults. It reserves adult punishment for serious offenders who are not capable of rehabilitation within the juvenile system. Only after a juvenile is at least 14 years-old and has engaged in further serious wrong doing can the court impose the adult sentence.

I. Facts

{¶ 10} The State of Ohio filed a complaint against Sturm alleging him to be delinquent of two counts of aggravated murder with firearm specifications. The complaint stemmed from a double homicide at the home of Sturm's grandmother, Nancy Tidd. The victims, Nancy Tidd and Emma Tidd (Sturm's aunt), were both found sitting in the living room with gunshot wounds to the head. Autopsy results revealed that in addition to the gunshot wound, Nancy Tidd had a large laceration on the top left side of her head. Police believe this injury was caused by the butt end of the .410 shotgun that was used during the commission of the homicides.

{¶ 11} The investigation initially focused on Nancy Tidd's live-in boyfriend, Frank Russell. Detectives placed Russell in an unmarked car at the scene and questioned him about the murders. However, Russell explained that he left for work that day at around 2:45 p.m. He stated he received a call at 4:30 p.m. from Nancy, who informed him that Sturm was at the home. Nancy also told Russell that she believed Sturm had been "huffing" gasoline because she could smell it, but that he seemed "alright." Russell stated that he called home throughout the evening to check on Nancy, as he normally does, but no one answered the phone. Just before 9:00 p.m. Russell stated that he had become worried and told his foreman that he needed to leave work. Following this explanation, Russell ceased being a suspect and the detectives permitted him to go into the residence. Once inside, Russell pointed out that the hinges had been removed from the gun cabinet.

{¶ 12} Detective Warden arrived at the crime scene and received a briefing. He learned that the victims were in a relaxed state when shot and that it appeared a .410 shotgun had been used in the commission of the crime. Another officer, Detective Kapple, suggested they locate Sturm because of the report that he "huffed" gasoline. Detective Warden was to locate and interview Sturm.

{¶ 13} As the investigators were preparing to leave, another detective approached and informed them that a caller named Rodney West had provided additional information. West had reported that as he was driving home earlier that evening, he picked up a boy walking along State Route 530. The boy told West his name was Chris Sturm and he asked for a ride to Lower Salem. West stated the boy was wearing jeans and shoes, but no shirt, hat or gloves. West drove the boy to Lower Salem and dropped him off at an old abandoned store with apartments above it, where the boy said he lived. Later that evening, upon learning that two women had been shot and that police were looking for the grandson, Chris Sturm, West called the Sheriffs department and relayed the information he had. In light of this new report, the detectives first went to interview West at his residence and then proceeded to Sturm's home.

{¶ 14} At 11:35 p.m. the detectives arrived at Sturm's home in an unmarked car, accompanied by a marked cruiser. Detective Warden initially spoke with Sturm's father and informed him of the homicides and asked to speak with Sturm. Detective Warden and Sturm's father were acquainted, having grown up together. Sturm's father gave Detective Warden permission to speak with Sturm but asked to be present. After Warden agreed, Sturm's father introduced Warden as a detective with the Sheriffs office and they all proceeded to the unmarked cruiser. Detective Warden was seated in the front driver's side; Sturm was seated in the front passenger side; Sturm's father was seated in the backseat behind Sturm; and another officer was seated in the back seat behind Detective Warden.

{¶ 15} Detective Warden told Sturm, in his father's presence, that he was not under arrest, did not have to speak with them, and that he could leave at any time. Sturm responded that he understood. Detective Warden initially began questioning Sturm by asking him what he had done that day. Sturm responded with a narrative, making some statements that Detective Warden knew were false. Sturm told Detective Warden that he woke up around 1:00 p.m. that day, got dressed and started to walk to school, but decided not to go. Instead, he went back home and "huffed" gasoline for half an hour to an hour. Then, his stepbrother Matt gave him a ride to his grandmother's house, where he fell asleep until around 3:20 p.m. Sturm stated that when he woke up, he asked and received permission from his grandmother to take the .410 shotgun in the backyard to target practice. Sturm stated he took the gun into the backyard, fired two shots at a beer can, went back inside and got into an argument with his grandmother. Sturm stated he put the gun back in the corner and called his uncle, Brad Russell, for a ride home. Sturm stated that when he got home, he took a shower, washed his jeans and watched television.

{¶ 16} Detective Warden then asked a series of follow-up questions; based upon Sturm's responses, Detective Warden was convinced Sturm was not telling the truth. Specifically, Detective Warden knew that Sturm had gotten a ride home with Rodney West, not Brad Russell. At that point, Detective Warden asked Sturm's father to exit the vehicle so he could speak with him. Outside the vehicle, Detective Warden told Sturm's father that he knew Sturm was lying and told him about the information they had received from Rodney West. Sturm's father was upset and asked Detective Warden if he should get an attorney. Detective Warden did not answer the father's question, but instead responded that he needed to know the truth. In response, Sturm's father said "Mark, you go ahead and talk to him, but be good to him." Sturm's father then walked towards the house and Detective Warden got back into the vehicle.

{¶ 17} When Detective Warden re-entered the vehicle, he asked Sturm again about his ride home from his grandmother's house, giving Sturm an opportunity to tell the truth. However, Sturm again stated that his uncle, Brad Russell gave him a ride home. Detective Warden told Sturm that he was lying and that Rodney West had picked him up and given him a ride home. He then asked Sturm, "Is it a possibility that the weapon could have accidentally gone off, striking your aunt and your grandmother?" Again, Sturm denied this suggestion.

{¶ 18} Detective Warden then asked Sturm "What's the biggest thing that you're afraid of right now in this situation?" Sturm responded that "I just don't want my mother and father to know what I have done." At that point, Sturm stated that he shot his aunt accidentally and shot his grandmother because she had been "putting him down."

{¶ 19} Sturm then went into a more detailed explanation, stating that his grandmother had given him permission to take the weapon out. When he came back in, his grandmother started putting him down. Sturm stated that he pulled the weapon up to shoot his grandmother and his aunt Emma reached out and grabbed the weapon. Sturm stated that when he went to fire, he accidentally struck his aunt Emma in the side of the head. Sturm then stated that he accidentally discharged the weapon into the wall behind his grandmother, but then reloaded the gun and shot his grandmother in the side of the neck. He then stated that he kicked the shells into the kitchen, put the gun in the laundry room and exited out the back of the residence into the woods. When he started to "sober up, " he puked. His shirt had burrs in it so he took his shirt off and threw it down. West picked him up and gave him a ride home. When he got there, he washed his jeans and took a shower. After Detective Warden inquired about the reason for doing this, Sturm said that he was trying to get rid of any gunshot residue.

{¶ 20} At that point, Detective Warden read Sturm his Miranda rights and after obtaining a written waiver, he tape recorded Sturm's statement. After Warden turned the tape on, the following conversation began:

"MW: Ok. (unintelligible) okay, the time now is 12:19 a.m. Uhh, I am sitting here talking to Chris Sturm. Chris, prior to talking to you I informed you that, first that you were not under arrest, didn't I?
CS: Uh, huh. MW: I also informed you that you could leave at any time. Correct? CS: (unintelligible)
MW: Ok. Uhh, you had, you just told me that you were involved with the murder of your grandma and Aunt.
CS: Yea."

{¶ 21} Sturm essentially repeated the earlier version of events. After taping the statement, Detective Warden informed Sturm's father that Sturm had confessed. Then Sturm was permitted to see his father. The detectives took various photographs, seized several items from the residence, walked Sturm back down to the unmarked cruiser and, according to Detective Warden, took him into custody.

{¶ 22} Based upon a complaint alleging Bryan Christopher Sturm was delinquent by virtue of two counts of aggravated murder with firearm specifications, the juvenile court conducted a detention hearing the same day. The court ordered Sturm to remain in detention pending further hearings. The State of Ohio filed a Notice of Intent to Pursue a Serious Youthful Offender Status, and the grand jury subsequently indicted Sturm on two counts of aggravated murder, each with a firearm specification. Sturm denied all counts contained in the indictment. The court set bond at one million dollars and denied Sturm's request to be released into the general population at the Washington County Juvenile Center.

{¶ 23} Sturm's counsel filed multiple pre-trial motions, including a motion to suppress. After the court denied Sturm's motion, the matter proceeded to trial where the State introduced Sturm's statements and many of the facts mentioned above.

{¶ 24} In its verdict, the jury found Sturm delinquent of two counts of murder, along with each firearm specification. The court imposed a "blended sentence": the traditional juvenile disposition, committing Sturm to the Department of Youth Services until age twenty-one and two consecutive terms of fifteen years to life in an adult prison for each count of murder. The court stayed the adult portion of the sentence pending successful completion of the juvenile disposition.

{¶ 25} Sturm filed this appeal, asserting the following assignments error:

I. THE JUVENILE COURT ERRED WHEN IT DENIED BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS THE STATEMENTS HE MADE DURING A CUSTODIAL INTERROGATION BECAUSE THOSE STATEMENTS WERE ELICITED IN VIOLATION OF HIS CONSTITUTION (SIC) RIGHT AGAINST SELF-INCRIMINATION.
II. THE TRIAL COURT VIOLATED BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM'S RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS UNDER THE FIFTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 16 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION WHEN IT ADJUDICATED HIM DELINQUENT OF TWO COUNTS OF MURDER WITH GUN SPECIFICATIONS WHEN THAT FINDING WAS AGAINST THE MANIFEST WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.
III. THE JUVENILE COURT VIOLATED BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM'S RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS BY ADMITTING CHARACTER EVIDENCE IN VIOLATION OF OHIO RULES OF EVIDENCE 401, 402, 403, AND 404, THE FIFTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 16 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.
IV. THE JUVENILE COURT VIOLATED BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM'S RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS BY ADMITTING HEARSAY EVIDENCE IN VIOLATION OF OHIO RULES OF EVIDENCE 801 AND 802, THE FIFTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 16 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.
V. THE JUVENILE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION WHEN IT FOUND THAT THERE WAS A NECESSITY FOR A SERIOUS YOUTHFUL OFFENDER DISPOSITIONAL SENTENCE UPON BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM.
VI. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN SENTENCING BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM TO CONSECUTIVE TERMS IN AN ADULT PRISON THEREBY DENYING HIM DUE PROCESS AS PROVIDED FOR BY THE FIFTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 16 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.
VII. BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM WAS DENIED HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL UNDER THE SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE I, SECTIONS 10 AND 16 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.
VIII. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT IMPOSED A TERM OF INCARCERATION THAT EXCEEDED THE MINIMUM TERM OF INCARCERATION. THE SERIOUS YOUTHFUL OFFENDER SENTENCE WAS IMPROPERLY BASED ON FACTS THAT WERE NOT FOUND BY THE JURY, IN CONTRAVENTION OF BLAKELY V. WASHINGTON (2004), 542 U.S. 296.
IX. WASHINGTON COUNTY'S JUVENILE COURT AND DETENTION FACILITY AND OHIO'S SERIOUS YOUTHFUL OFFENDER DISPOSITIONAL SENTENCING SCHEME, R.C. 2152.021, R.C. 2152.11, R.C. 2152.13, AND R.C. 2152.14, VIOLATES A JUVENILE'S RIGHT AGAINST CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT AND VIOLATED BRYAN CHRISTOPHER STURM'S RIGHT AGAINST CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT AS APPLIED AS GUARANTEED BY THE EIGHTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION AND ARTICLE I, SECTION 9 OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.
X. OHIO'S SERIOUS YOUTHFUL OFFENDER LAW, R.C.2152.021, R.C. 2152. 11, R.C. 2152.13 AND R.C.2152.14 VIOLATES A JUVENILE'S RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS AS GUARANTEED BY THE FIFTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES ...

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