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State v. Willis

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District

June 20, 2013

STATE OF OHIO PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
TIMOTHY WILLIS DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-559905

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Robert A. Dixon The Brownhoist Building

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Timothy J. McGinty Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Adrienne E. Linnick Assistant County Prosecutor The Justice Center

BEFORE: Kilbane, J., Boyle, P.J., and Rocco, J.

JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

MARY EILEEN KILBANE, JUDGE

{¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Timothy Willis, appeals his convictions and sentence for kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and grand theft. Finding merit to the appeal, we reverse the judgment, vacate Willis's convictions, and remand for a new trial.

{¶ 2} In Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-559905, Willis was charged with three counts of kidnapping, felonious assault, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and grand theft, resulting from the kidnapping of Leslie Slocum ("Slocum") on July 21, 2011. Each of the counts, except grand theft, carried a one- and three-year firearm specification.

{¶3} In Case No. CR-560590, Willis and codefendant, Tony Brown ("Brown"), were charged in an 11-count indictment resulting from a home invasion on Selwyn Avenue in Cleveland Heights on April 7, 2011.[1] Both men were charged with two counts of aggravated burglary, five counts of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, and theft. Brown was also charged with having a weapon while under disability. Each of these counts, except theft and having a weapon while under disability, carried a one- and three-year firearm specification.

{¶ 4} Both cases were joined for trial, and proceeded before a jury in July 2012. While Willis was found not guilty of all the charges in Case No. CR-560590, facts concerning both cases will be discussed for purposes of clarity, because Slocum was present at the earlier incident on Selwyn Avenue.

{¶ 5} In Case No. CR-560590, members of the Sanderfer family testified that they were victims of a home invasion. The Sanderfer members include Desdemona Sanderfer ("Desdemona"), her minor daughter, M.D., Desirae Sanderfer ("Desirae"), and Cedric Sanderfer ("Cedric"). On April 7, 2011, four masked gunmen forced their way into the residence on Selwyn Avenue in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. The men forced the family down into the basement. They demanded money and ordered Desirae to locate the money. Desirae gave the men approximately $7, 000 in cash from her mother's dresser. The men also took cell phones and jewelry.

{¶ 6} The home invasion was interrupted when Slocum arrived at the house to pick up M.D. for school. She pulled up in the driveway and honked the car horn. M.D. did not come outside, so she attempted to enter the house. As she reached for the door, one of the gunmen grabbed her shirt collar. She grabbed back, thinking Cedric was playing a joke on her. She realized it was not Cedric, and both of them fell to the ground. The masked gunman then pointed his gun in her face. She started to scream, and all the gunmen fled the scene. She got into her car and called 911. The next door neighbor heard the commotion and also called 911. An investigation ensued and Brown's DNA was identified on a torn t-shirt used as a mask that Slocum found in the Sanderfer's bathroom. Months later, in September 2011, Desirae recognized Willis's picture from a news broadcast on TV and identified him as one of the perpetrators. She recognized him because she was able to observe his face when he brought her upstairs.

{¶ 7} In Case No. CR-559905, Slocum testified that she was attacked while in the garage of her apartment building located in East Cleveland, Ohio. As she exited her vehicle, she observed two masked men running toward her. One of the men had a gun and used it to hit her in the head. The other man punched her in the face. They grabbed her purse and car keys. The men then duct-taped her eyes and mouth shut, duct-taped her ankles together, and tied her wrists together. The men pushed her in the trunk of her car and drove her around. The men demanded money from her and threatened to kill her if she did not tell them where the money was located. When speaking with her, one of the men referred to her by her nickname. Eventually, one of the men told her that he was going to release her. The men partially opened the trunk and cut the tie around her wrists. The men left the scene while she counted to 50. She then opened the trunk and drove to the East Cleveland Police Department to report the incident. She returned to her apartment to find it ransacked. She testified that $4, 000 in cash and some jewelry were taken from her apartment. Upon processing Slocum's vehicle, two latent prints were lifted from the trunk lid that matched the right and left thumb prints of Willis.

{¶ 8} At the conclusion of trial, the jury found Willis guilty of all three counts of kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and grand theft. The jury found him not guilty of felonious assault and all of the firearm specifications. The trial court sentenced him to ten years in prison on each of the following counts: Count 1 (kidnapping), Count 2 (kidnapping), Count 5 (aggravated burglary), and Count 6 (aggravated robbery). The trial court sentenced him to five years on Count 3 (kidnapping), and one year on Count 7 (grand theft). The trial court ordered that Counts 1 and 2 be served concurrent to each other, but consecutive to Count 3; Counts 5 and 6 be served concurrent to each other, but consecutive to Counts 1, 2, and 3; and Count 7 be served concurrent to Counts 1 and 2 and Counts 5 and 6, for a total of 25 years in prison.

{¶ 9} Willis now appeals, raising the following ten assignments of error for review.

Assignment of Error One

The lower court erred and denied [Willis] due process of law and a fair trial when it admitted evidence of flight or resisting arrest[, ] which was unrelated to the crime charged.

Assignment of Error Two

The lower court violated [Willis's] right to present a complete defense as guaranteed by the sixth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution of the United States.

Assignment of Error Three

[Willis] was denied due process of law and a fair trial due to [Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 ...

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