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In the Matter of A.T.

September 30, 2011

IN THE MATTER OF: A.T., DELINQUENT CHILD


Civil Appeal from the Lake County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, Case No. 2010 DL 1031.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Jane Trapp, J.

Cite as In re A.T.,

OPINION

Judgment: Reversed and remanded.

{¶1} A young Marine, home on leave from Afghanistan, leaves the neighborhood bar with a friend when they decide to join in on a friendly snowball fight with some neighborhood kids. The pair move on to the Marine's mother's home and prepare snowballs to lob in anticipation of the arrival of their friends. Seeing the neighborhood kids again, the pair resume the friendly snowball fight, which quickly turns ugly after the Marine's mother's boyfriend hurls racial insults, rather than snowballs, at the kids. The Marine attempts to apologize and smooth things over but a window is broken by one of the kids and play quickly turns to melee, resulting in serious physical injury to the Marine, Jeremy Lawson, and his friend, Allan David Ash.

{¶2} In the aftermath, A.T. was charged with four counts of felonious assault, felonies of the second degree if committed by an adult. The trial court found three of the four charges to be true, adjudicating A.T. delinquent. A.T. now argues that his delinquency adjudication was against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the trial court erred in permitting complicity to be argued for the first time during closing arguments. For the reasons stated below, we find A.T.'s manifest weight argument to be with merit and reverse his adjudication of delinquency.

{¶3} Statement of Facts and Procedural History

{¶4} On January 14, 2010, Jeremy Lawson and Allan David Ash, childhood friends now in their early twenties, were catching up and having a beer at the Liberty Tavern in Painesville, Lake County, Ohio. Mr. Lawson, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, had recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The pair left the bar to smoke a cigarette, when they noticed a group of teenagers engaging in a snowball fight as they passed the bar. Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash joined the fun for a few minutes, lobbing snowballs at the group of teenage boys. Everyone involved appeared to be laughing and having a good time. The group of teenagers continued walking past the bar, and Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash reentered the bar to pay their tab and returned home. They returned by car to Mr. Lawson's mother, Jackie Smedy's, home, which was located just a few blocks down the road from the bar.

{¶5} Upon arriving back at home, Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash began to make snowballs in anticipation of some other friends' arrival. Before those friends arrived, however, the group of teenagers with whom Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash had engaged earlier at the bar walked past the house. Recognizing the group, Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash renewed the snowball fight. The group returned fire and everyone appeared to engage in yet another friendly snowball fight in the front yard of Ms. Smedy's house.

{¶6} At some point during the snowball fight, Ms. Smedy's boyfriend, Frederick "Jay" Hadden, came outside and threw a few snowballs at Mr. Lawson. Mr. Hadden made a number of offensive and racially based remarks to the group of teenagers, most of whom were Hispanic. Mr. Lawson heard Mr. Hadden make these statements and told him to stop. Mr. Hadden then left the property, and Mr. Lawson attempted to apologize for Mr. Hadden's behavior and smooth things over with the teenagers. He then told the kids to go on their way, and he and Mr. Ash headed to the backyard where their friends had gathered.

{¶7} Upon reaching the backyard, Ms. Smedy told Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash that the teenage boys had broken a window. An angered Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash headed to the front yard to investigate and identify the individual or individuals responsible. Mr. Lawson demanded to know who had broken the window. A teenager holding a broomstick admitted to doing so, and asked Mr. Lawson what he was going to do about it. Mr. Ash then began yelling back and forth with another one of the teenagers, who invited Mr. Ash to hit him. Eventually, that teenager hit Mr. Ash and the melee then ensued. The group of teenagers had expanded to close to 30 by that point and Mr. Ash and Mr. Lawson sustained substantial injuries. Mr. Lawson was hit in the forehead with a broomstick, struck with fists, and beaten with a metal pole, which fractured his jaw. Mr. Ash was struck with a wooden stick in the head, on the hip, and on the back. He sustained a two-inch laceration to his head and bruising on the hip and back.

{¶8} Eventually Mr. Lawson wrested the broomstick and metal pole from the teenagers, who then fled. The police and an ambulance were called to the house, and Mr. Lawson and Mr. Ash were taken for medical treatment. Mr. Lawson's forehead required stitches and his jaw required two surgeries to repair. The Painesville police investigated the matter, and while no suspects were apprehended the evening of the fight, eventually charges were brought against a number of teenagers, including A.T.

{¶9} A.T. was charged with four counts of felonious assault, two as related to Mr. Lawson and two as related to Mr. Ash. He was charged under R.C. 2903.11(A)(1) and R.C. 2903.11(A)(2). After trial, the trial court found the allegations contained in Counts Two, Three, and Four of the indictment to be true and adjudicated A.T. delinquent. The trial court held a disposition hearing, and committed A.T. to the custody of the Ohio Department of Youth Services for three indefinite terms of a minimum of one year, to be served concurrently.

{¶10} A.T. timely filed a notice of appeal and now brings two assignments of error:

{¶11} "[1.] The true finding by the court is against the manifest weight of evidence.

{¶12} "[2.] The trial court erred in allowing the state to allege complicity."

{¶13} Manifest Weight of the Evidence

{ΒΆ14} In his first assignment of error, A.T. argues that his adjudication of delinquency was against the manifest weight of the evidence presented at trial. We agree that the trial court's true finding is not supported by the manifest weight of the evidence. The state did not meet its burden of proof ...


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