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State v. Armstrong

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District

June 24, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LEONARD J. ARMSTRONG, Defendant-Appellant.

Criminal Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. Case No. 2011 CR 0425.

Victor V. Vigluicci, Portage County Prosecutor, and Pamela J. Holder, Assistant Prosecutor, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

Shubhra N. Agarwal, (For Defendant-Appellant).

OPINION

TIMOTHY P. CANNON, P.J.

{¶1} Appellant, Leonard J. Armstrong, appeals the judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. After entering a plea of no contest to count one of the indictment charging appellant with the offense of murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.02(A) and R.C. 2929.02, and count two, murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B) and R.C. 2929.02, appellant was sentenced to a definite term of imprisonment of life with parole eligibility after 15 years. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand this matter for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

{¶2} Appellant was indicted on two counts of murder, pursuant to R.C. 2903.02(A) and (B), for the death of Jeffrey Sipes. Appellant entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Following an evaluation at the Summit Psychological Association, the parties stipulated to the findings of the evaluation that appellant was sane and able to stand trial. Appellant filed a motion to suppress his statements made to police on June 16, 17, 21, and 22, 2011. Appellant also moved to suppress a black memo notebook taken from his apartment by the police pursuant to a search warrant.

{¶3} At the hearing on the motion to suppress, the state presented the testimony of Detective DiJerome of the City of Kent Police Department who was assigned to the investigation of the murder of Sipes, which occurred on June 6, 2011. Sipes was found in his apartment with multiple stab wounds. A broken kitchen knife was also found in his apartment-the blade was found on the kitchen counter, and the handle was found in the hallway of the apartment. DNA was found on the handle of the knife.

{¶4} After learning that appellant had lived with Sipes and may have a key to his apartment, Detective DiJerome ran a background check on appellant and discovered he had a criminal history in New Jersey and Florida. Detective DiJerome then learned the DNA on the knife had a partial hit on the CODIS database from someone in New Jersey. Detective DiJerome, along with another officer, went to appellant's apartment on June 16, 2011, to speak with him regarding Sipes. Detective DiJerome testified that the conversation lasted nine minutes. Detective DiJerome stated he did not advise appellant of his rights, as he was not under arrest.

{¶5} Detective DiJerome testified that on the following day, June 17, 2011, he and Officer Ennermoser again visited appellant's apartment to interview him. This interview lasted 16 minutes. Again, Detective DiJerome testified that he did not advise appellant of his rights because he was not under arrest, "he was free to leave at any time, " and the interview occurred at his own residence. Officer Ennermoser reiterated that the interview was conducted at appellant's apartment and that he was not in custody.

{¶6} During this visit, Detective DiJerome obtained a DNA sample "because [the officers] were checking anybody that had actually been in the apartment to try to eliminate them." During this conversation, Detective DiJerome learned that appellant had stopped by Sipes' apartment in April 2011 and had a bowl of soup, and that he had a previous disagreement with Sipes.

{¶7} Then, on June 21, 2011, Detective DiJerome and Officer Ennermoser again interviewed appellant; this interview lasted 14 minutes. Detective DiJerome stated they had confirmation that appellant's DNA was found on the knife handle found in Sipes' apartment. Detective DiJerome testified that when he arrived at appellant's apartment, he informed appellant he was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time, but that he wanted to show appellant some pictures. Officer Ennermoser testified that Detective DiJerome informed appellant he was not under arrest and did not have to answer any questions.

{¶8} At this visit, Detective DiJerome showed appellant a picture of the knife handle and informed appellant that his DNA was found on it. Appellant stated he should speak with an attorney. After appellant made this statement, Detective DiJerome and Officer Ennermoser left the apartment.

{¶9} On June 22, 2011, Detective DiJerome, along with Detective Bassett, Officer Harris, and Officer Ennermoser, arrived at appellant's apartment to execute a search warrant. Detective DiJerome testified that the purpose of the search warrant was to look for the following: "Any object or item that may contain biological evidence (blood/DNA), including but not limited to shoes or clothing. Key(s) to apartment building located at 933 Lawrence Drive, and keys(s) to apartment #303, located at 933 Lawrence Drive, located in the City of Kent, County of Portage, State of Ohio."

{¶10} Appellant was home when the officers knocked on his door. Appellant was advised he was free to leave and was not under arrest, and the officers were there to execute a search warrant. He chose to remain on his front porch during the search of his apartment.

{¶11} Detective DiJerome testified that during his search he opened a drawer and found a memo book, which he knew, in his experience, could be used to conceal items such as keys and money. He testified that he opened the memo book in search of the key to Sipes' apartment and any biological evidence that may have been transferred to its pages. He observed a writing about the homicide of Sipes on the third page. The entry stated: "Man killed in apartment. Silver Meadows. Police Investigating. Mystery. Beware."

{¶12} Officer Ennermoser, who had taken a picture of the aforementioned entry, flipped the page. On the following page of the memo book, the entry stated: "Sir, I awoke at 9:30 am. Tuesday morning. It was very dark and raining. I don't know why, then it started to dawn on a new exodus on Sunday, June 5, I did indeed kill Jeffrey Sipes. Approximate."

{¶13} Detective DiJerome testified that he did not look through any of the other pages, but he took the memo book to appellant and asked if it belonged to him and if it was his writing. Appellant confirmed both. Detective DiJerome returned to the inside of the apartment to continue the search while Officer Ennermoser stayed with appellant on the front porch.

{¶14} Officer Ennermoser then asked appellant if an accident occurred in Sipes' apartment, to which appellant replied, "No." Appellant informed Officer Ennermoser that he did not wish to speak with her, and not replying, she remained kneeling by his side. Appellant then began to talk about his dysfunctional family, becoming increasingly agitated.

{¶15} At this point, Detective DiJerome joined appellant and Officer Ennermoser on the front porch. Detective DiJerome testified that he had overheard some of this conversation. In response to Detective DiJerome's statement that appellant may feel better if he just told the truth, appellant confessed to killing Sipes. Appellant was not Mirandized until he was at the police station.

{¶16} The trial court overruled appellant's motion to suppress. Appellant was sentenced, and he then ...


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