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State of Ohio v. Jeffrey Strong

September 30, 2011


Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO. B-0900625

Per curiam.

Cite as State v. Strong,

Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed


Please note: This case has been removed from the accelerated calendar.

{¶1} Defendant-appellant Jeffrey Strong appeals the judgment of the

Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas convicting him on two counts of rape in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(2) and one count of kidnapping in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(4). For the reasons that follow, we affirm Strong's convictions.

I. Background Facts

{¶2} At about 3:40 a.m. on January 27, 2010, Caroline Akinyi reluctantly allowed her neighbor, Strong, to enter her apartment so that Strong, who claimed to be locked out of his house, could contact a family member. Once inside, Strong grabbed her by her throat and pushed her into her bedroom. When Akinyi screamed, Strong warned her that if she screamed again, he would kill her.

{¶3} Akinyi tried to persuade Strong to leave her alone by reading Bible verses to him and listening to Gospel music. But Strong ordered her to remove all of her clothes. While threatening her with a knife, he told her that if she did not cooperate, he would take her to his gang members waiting outside and they would kill her.

{¶4} Akinyi reluctantly complied, and Strong ordered her to circle around naked while he watched her. Strong then removed his clothes, but he allowed Akinyi to warm herself with a blanket. Akinyi tried to escape from her apartment, but Strong grabbed her before she made it to the door. Akinyi fought him off temporarily and held up a chair to throw at Strong. Strong then told her that he would leave after dressing and ordered Akinyi to lock herself in the bathroom. Akinyi grabbed Strong's knife and locked herself in the bathroom.

{¶5} Instead of leaving, Strong unlocked the bathroom door with a pen and entered the bathroom. After wrangling the knife away from Akinyi, Strong beat Akinyi and pushed her to the bedroom, where he continued to punch her in the face and pull out her hair.

{¶6} Strong ordered Akinyi to the bed. There he licked her breast and attempted to fully penetrate her vagina with his penis. Although Strong was not completely successful, his penis pushed past her labia. Additionally, Strong "played on her private parts" for a while with his fingers and inserted his fingers past her labia.

{¶7} Although the sexual activity took place at around 7:00 a.m., Strong kept Akinyi in her apartment with him for several more hours. During this time, Akinyi was afraid to attempt an escape. Strong eventually left after Akinyi promised him that she would not tell anyone about the rapes or how she had received her injuries. Strong told her that he would return that afternoon.

{¶8} After Strong left, Akinyi immediately contacted a friend, who contacted the police. Cincinnati Police Officer Thomas Haas responded to Akinyi's apartment and described her as fearful, crying, and nervous. Akinyi told the officer that she had been raped and held against her will by a neighbor named "Jeff." Akinyi identified Strong's residence on her way to the Personal Crimes Office with Officer Haas.

{¶9} Akinyi did not know if Strong had ejaculated during the attack, but she believed that she had observed some fluid on her bed sheet. The police, however, were unable to locate any evidence of semen on her bed.

{¶10} Cincinnati Police Detective Jeff Smallwood from the Personal

Crimes Unit investigated the case. He interviewed Akinyi and photographed her injuries, which included significant swelling on her face and a bloody lip. After the interview, Akinyi was taken to University Hospital where she was examined by sexual assault nurse examiner Sharon McKenzie. McKenzie also observed and photographed Akinyi's facial injuries. In addition, she noted substantial redness to Akinyi's posterior fourchette, an area of the vagina beyond the labia. McKenzie collected swabs from Akinyi's mouth, vagina, rectum, and breasts, and placed them in a rape kit for analysis.

{¶11} Detective Smallwood interviewed Strong later that day. He began the interview, which was recorded, by providing Strong the Miranda*fn2 warnings. Strong acknowledged the receipt of these warnings both orally and in writing. Before telling Detective Smallwood that he did not want to talk to him, Strong stated that he had not seen Akinyi over the night. After the interview, Detective Smallwood swabbed Strong's mouth, hands, and genitalia.

{¶12} Hamilton County Coroner's Office serologist Tracey Sundermeier analyzed the swabs taken from Strong and the contents of Akinyi's rape kit. Sundermeier concluded that the saliva found on Akinyi's breast belonged to Strong and that neither Strong nor Akinyi could be excluded from the DNA mixture she had obtained from Strong's penile swabs. She found one sperm cell on the swab taken from inside Akinyi's mouth, but she could not detect any male DNA. And she found no sperm cells on the vaginal or rectal swabs taken from Akinyi.

{¶13} The grand jury indicted Strong on rape and kidnapping charges.

Before trial, defense counsel requested a competency evaluation for Strong. Subsequently, examiners from the Court Clinic Forensic Services evaluated Strong three times, and the court found him competent to stand trial three times.

{¶14} Strong moved to suppress statements made during the taped interview with Detective Smallwood, arguing that he had invoked his right to remain silent early in the interview. The trial court granted the motion in part. But the court found that Strong had not invoked his right to remain silent until about halfway through the interview.

{¶15} At trial, Akinyi recounted the events that had occurred in her apartment, testifying that Strong had held her in her apartment for over seven hours while he threatened, beat, and raped her. She did not know if Strong had ejaculated, and she denied that she had performed oral sex on Strong.

{¶16} Strong did not testify at trial. The court found Strong guilty on all counts and imposed consecutive five-year terms of incarceration for each offense, resulting in an aggregate prison term of 15 years. The court also classified Strong as a Tier III sex offender. This appeal followed.

II. Competency to Stand Trial

{¶17} In his seventh assignment of error, which we address first, Strong argues that the trial court erred by finding him competent to stand trial.

{¶18} A defendant is presumed competent to stand trial until it is shown by a preponderance of evidence that, because of his present mental condition, he is incapable of understanding the nature and objective of the proceedings against him or assisting in his defense.*fn3 A trial court's finding that a defendant is competent to stand trial will not be disturbed when there is some reliable and credible evidence to support the trial court's determination.*fn4

{¶19} In this case, defense counsel filed a suggestion of incompetency based on his belief that Strong at times did not understand what he told him. Strong was evaluated three times at the Court Clinic. Psychologist Charles Lee evaluated Strong in April 2009 and updated that evaluation in December 2009. Psychiatrist Gail Hellmann evaluated Strong in July 2009. After interviewing and testing Strong and reviewing ample collateral information, both examiners found that Strong was malingering symptoms related to mental illness and mental retardation, and both considered Strong competent to stand trial.

{¶20} Twice the trial court relied on the stipulated reports of the examiners in finding Strong competent. The court found Strong competent a third time after an evidentiary hearing held on December 22, 2009, at which Dr. Lee testified. At the hearing, Dr. Lee attributed Strong's failure to cooperate with his attorney to be the result of Strong's own volition, and not the result of any mental illness or brain damage.

{¶21} Strong argues that he met his burden of showing incompetency, citing his history, which included a diagnosis of schizophrenia and a low IQ, and his failure to cooperate with defense counsel. He essentially attacks the opinions of Dr. Hellmann and Dr. Lee.

{¶22} Our review demonstrates that the examiners were qualified experts and that they had appropriately supported their findings and opinions. And other than counsel's representation that Strong was not cooperating, the record from the trial court proceedings does not reflect that Strong exhibited behavior suggesting incompetency.

{ΒΆ23} Reliable and credible evidence supports the trial court's findings of competency. The assignment of error is not ...

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