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State of Ohio v. Erica R. Rowe

November 7, 2011

STATE OF OHIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ERICA R. ROWE,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Seneca County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. 09-CR-0150 Judgment Affirmed

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

Cite as State v. Rowe,

OPINION

{¶1} Appellant, Erica Rowe ("Rowe"), appeals the April 9, 2010

judgment of the Seneca County Court of Common Pleas, sentencing her to a prison term of thirty-five years to life for her convictions for complicity to murder, complicity to felonious assault, complicity to aggravated burglary and complicity to aggravated robbery.

{¶2} On November 2, 2008, in the early morning hours, eighty-year-old Frank Rios and his sixty-nine-year old wife, Bette Rios, were asleep in their bedroom on the main floor just off of the kitchen. Bette was awoken by the squeaking sound of the front door opening. The light from the stove cast the silhouette of a person, who Bette observed walking in the kitchen past the bedroom door. Bette whispered to her husband that someone was inside the house. At first, Frank told Bette she was just hearing things, but then he got out of bed to investigate.

{¶3} Frank walked to the frame of bedroom door, in between the kitchen and bedroom, when Bette heard him ask "What are you doing in here?" Almost immediately, Bette observed the intruder raise a weapon and strike her husband with enough force that the blow knocked him back onto the bed. Frank got off the bed and went after the intruder, who struck him again with the weapon. Frank did not move again after this subsequent blow. At this point, Bette was screaming.

The intruder then came around to the other side of the bed and began striking Bette with the weapon, making contact with her body several times. Bette attempted to hide under the bed as her attacker continued to hit her. Bette grabbed the weapon, which felt like a wooden baseball bat, but she was not strong enough to pull it out of the intruder's hands. During the course of the attack, Bette was struck with the weapon on her head, back, hands and arms. Bette recalled that she remained still with her body partially under the bed until the intruder eventually "gave-up" on her.

{¶4} Bette waited until it was quiet. She recalled that she did not hear any voices. The only sound she heard was Frank breathing very heavily. Bette then slid-out from under the bed, crawled over her husband who was lying on the ground and bleeding profusely, and called 9-1-1. Bette pulled the bed sheets over Frank, who was still unconscious, and waited for emergency response personnel to arrive.

{¶5} Frank Rios was taken to a hospital in Toledo by life flight. Bette was transported to Bellevue Hospital, where she was treated for multiple bruises and lacerations to her head, face, arms, and hands. The next day, Bette was released from the hospital and went to visit her husband at the hospital in Toledo. Frank Rios was still unconscious and had sustained multiple skull fractures. As a result of the attack, his brain had become very swollen and emergency surgery was performed to relieve some of the pressure on his brain.

{¶6} When Bette arrived at the hospital, she was informed of Frank's situation; specifically that he had sustained a massive amount of brain damage. Bette subsequently consented to remove her husband from life support and he died shortly thereafter.

{¶7} When talking with Detective Kevin Reinbolt, the lead investigator on the case, Bette recalled some of the items missing from the house after the attack, such as her purse, her husband's wallet, which Bette thought contained $500.00 in cash, and her jewelry boxes. As time passed, Bette was better able to identify the specific pieces of jewelry missing. However, she was unable to definitively describe the person who attacked her and her husband. She could not recall any identifying characteristics--only that the person was of medium height and had a slender build.

{¶8} Rowe's name eventually came up in the course of the investigation of the case because she was in possession of Bette's wedding ring, which was believed to be stolen on the night of the home invasion. Rowe agreed to speak to law enforcement. Rowe claimed that Bette's ring was a gift from an ex-boyfriend and denied any involvement in Frank Rios' murder. Throughout the investigation, Rowe voluntarily spoke to law enforcement several times. Some of these conversations took place at the police station and some took place at private residences. In one of these discussions, Rowe voluntarily turned over several more pieces of jewelry, claiming that she did not know where the items came from because they were given to her by several different people.

{¶9} On February 20, 2009, Rowe met with Det. Reinbolt at the Seneca County Sheriff's Office. The meeting was prompted by Rowe's Probation Officer at the time, who encouraged her to cooperate with law enforcement regarding any information she may have about the incident. Rowe arrived at the Sheriff's Office with her attorney, Charles Hall. Det. Reinbolt read Rowe her Miranda rights and gave her a copy of a waiver of her rights form, which she signed. Rowe then divulged the details of her involvement in the home invasion at the Rios' residence.

{¶10} Rowe admitted that at approximately 3:00 a.m. on November 2, 2008, she and her boyfriend at the time, P.S.,*fn1 drove to the Rios' residence to "pick-up" some prescription drugs. P.S. broke into the house while Rowe remained on the front porch. Rowe recalled hearing people arguing in the home, and then silence. According to Rowe, P.S. opened the front door and ordered her to, "Grab whatever you can." Rowe admitted that she then entered the Rios' bedroom and stole a jewelry box from the top of the headboard. However, Rowe denied any involvement in Frank Rios' murder. Rowe claimed that she did not know about the murder until a few days after the incident, when she read about the crime in the local paper.

{¶11} On July 15, 2009, Rowe was indicted by a Seneca County Grand Jury for the following offenses. Count One: complicity to murder, in violation of

R.C. 2923.03(A)(2) and R.C. 2903.02(B), an unclassified felony; Count Two: complicity to felonious assault, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(2) and R.C.

2903.11, a felony of the second degree; Count Three: complicity to aggravated burglary, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(2) and R.C. 2911.11(A)(1), a felony of the first degree; and Count Four: complicity to aggravated robbery, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(2) and R.C. 2911.01(A)(3), a felony of the first degree. Rowe subsequently entered a plea of not guilty to each of the charges.

{¶12} On March 4, 2010, Rowe filed a jury trial waiver, electing for her case to be tried by the bench. On April 5 and 6, 2010, the trial court conducted the trial of Rowe's case. Several witnesses testified, including Bette Rios, Rowe's mother, the coroner who conducted the autopsy of Frank Rios, and Det. Reinbolt. The trial court subsequently found Rowe guilty on all four counts listed in the indictment. On April 9, 2010, the trial court sentenced Rowe as follows. On Count One, complicity to murder, an indefinite term of fifteen years to life. On Count Two, complicity to felonious assault, a prison term of eight years. On Count Three, complicity to aggravated burglary, a prison term of five years. Finally, on Count Four, complicity to aggravated robbery, a prison term of seven years. The trial court ordered each prison term to run consecutively for a total term of thirty-five years to life.

{¶13} Rowe subsequently filed her notice of appeal, asserting the following assignments of error.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. 1

ERICA ROWE WAS DEPRIVED OF HER RIGHTS TO EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL BY HER COURT- APPOINTED COUNSEL, IN CONTRAVENTION OF THE SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, AND ARTICLE ONE, SECTION TEN OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION, WHICH SEVERELY PREJUDICED THE RIGHTS OF APPELLANT AND DID NOT FURTHER THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. II

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN DURING SENTENCING THE TRIAL COURT ORDERED THE DEFENDANT TO SERVE CONSECUTIVE TERMS FOR THE CONVICTIONS OF COMPLICITY TO AGGRAVATED BURGLARY AND COMPLICITY TO AGGRAVATED ROBBERY.

ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR NO. III

THE CONVICTION IN THE TRIAL COURT SHOULD BE REVERSED BECAUSE IT IS AGAINST THE MANIFEST WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE AND BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTING IT WAS INSUFFICIENT AS A MATTER OF LAW TO PROVE CONVICTION BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.

{¶14} For ease of discussion, we elect to address the assignments of error out of the order in which they are presented.

First Assignment of Error

{¶15} In her first assignment of error, Rowe maintains that she received ineffective assistance from her trial counsel, and that she was prejudiced as a result of her trial counsel's deficient performance.

{¶16} Initially, we note that attorneys licensed by the State of Ohio are presumed to provide competent representation. State v. Hoffman (1998), 129 Ohio App.3d 407, 717 N.E.2d 1149. To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must prove that trial counsel's performance fell below objective standards of reasonable representation and that the defendant was prejudiced as a result. Strickland v. Washington (1984), 466 U.S. 668, 687; State v. Bradley (1989), 42 Ohio St.3d 136, 538 N.E.2d 373, paragraph two of the syllabus. This requires showing that counsel ...


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