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State v. Hoffman

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District

September 23, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
AARON D. HOFFMAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.

Appeal from Seneca County Common Pleas Court Trial Court No. 12-CR-0060

Kent D. Nord for Appellant

Derek W. DeVine and Heather N. Jans for Appellee

OPINION

ROGERS, J.

(¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Aaron Hoffman, appeals the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Seneca County convicting him of sexual battery and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and sentencing him to a 60-month prison term. On appeal, Hoffman argues that his conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

(¶2} On April 4, 2012, the Seneca County Grand Jury indicted Hoffman with sexual battery in violation of R.C. 2907.03(A)(5), (B), a felony of the third degree, and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor in violation of R.C. 2907.04(A), (B)(3), also a felony of the third degree. The indictment arose from Hoffman's purported sexual relationship with A.G. from 2009 until 2011, during which time she was between 15 and 17 years old. The alleged relationship occurred while Hoffman lived with A.G. and her mother, Abby Hartsel.

(¶3} A jury trial was held from September 24, 2012 to September 27, 2012. At trial, the following relevant evidence was adduced.

(¶4} First, Officer Gary McClure of the Tiffin Police Department testified regarding his investigation of an incident on August 25, 2010 at Hoffman's residence. Officer McClure responded to a possible burglary at the residence which led him to make contact with Hoffman. The alleged perpetrator of the burglary suggested that his motivation for his actions was Hoffman's purported sexual relationship with his daughter. Based on the nature of the perpetrator's allegations, the investigating officers delved into Hoffman's possible activities inside the house with A.G. According to Officer McClure, his initial contact with Hoffman about those activities proceeded as follows:

Hoffman advised that he received back rubs from [A.G.] due to a back injury that he had received several years before this. He advised that he receives back rubs from [A.G.] there, two to three times a week. Normally, he is wearing just a pair of gym shorts. And when [A.G.] rubs a certain spot on his lower back, he does get aroused and ejaculates. Trial Tr., p. 159-60.

Despite these revelations, the investigation did not move beyond this initial contact. On cross-examination, the following exchange occurred:

Q: Well, what - well, did it - you looked at the [police] report earlier today. Did it say in that report that [Hoffman] admitted ejaculating?
A: I don't believe he admitted that [Hoffman] did, but [A.G.] and [Hartsel] -
Q: Well, all right. Thank you. That's all the questions I have.

Trial Tr., p. 161-62.

(¶5} Tiffin Police Department dispatcher, Alexia Feasel, then testified regarding a telephone call received by the department on March 27, 2011. In that call, the boyfriend of A.G.'s brother reported A.G.'s allegation to him and her brother that Hoffman was engaged in a sexual relationship with her. The boyfriend also indicated that A.G. alleged Hoffman threatened her.

(¶6} Tiffin Police Officer Jack DeMonte responded to the March 27, 2011 call from Hoffman's residence. He indicated that he made contact with Hoffman and that Hoffman denied A.G.'s allegations. According to Officer DeMonte, Hoffman "referred to [A.G.] as his daughter." Trial Tr., p. 173. Officer DeMonte said that A.G. left Hoffman's residence on March 27, 2011 to go live with her brother.

(¶7} Lieutenant Michelle Craig of the Tiffin Police Department was the next witness to testify. She discussed the execution of a search warrant at Hoffman's residence on March 31, 2011. Lieutenant Craig described Hoffman's behavior during the search as follows:

Q: Did [Hoffman] make any other comments during the search warrant?
A: Yes. He would contradict himself throughout. We found numerous VCR, VCR tapes of nudity. He says those were old. He doesn't even have a VCR. And we opened up the TV stand underneath the TV and there was a VCR. And I said, I thought you didn't have a VCR. Well, "that's dusty." I said, okay.
Ugh, I then asked him if [A.G.] ever slept in the back bedroom, in the main bedroom? And he said, nope, she never slept there.
And, I said, well, we will be taking samples for DNA comparison. And then he changed and said "well, she does sleep there, but when she does I sleep on the couch."

Trial Tr., p. 190. Lieutenant also testified that Hoffman denied the allegations:

Q: Did [Hoffman] make any other comments with regards to this relationship with [A.G.]?
A: He said he wouldn't touch her inappropriate [sic] because he was like a father to her. Uhm, every morning she kisses him on his cheek good morning and every night she kisses on his check for good-night.

Trial Tr., p. 190.

(¶8} As part of the search, Lieutenant Craig took DNA samples from Hoffman, Hartsel, and A.G. She indicated that Hoffman's residence had two bedrooms: (1) the back, master bedroom, which was described as Hoffman's and Hartsel's room; and (2) the front, single bedroom, which was described as A.G.'s room. Lieutenant Craig also said that a portion of the mattress from the back bedroom and several sex toys were taken from the residence for further testing. Additionally, she testified that the searching officers found several pornographic movies, magazines, and pictures in Hoffman's residence. In regard to the August 2010 investigation of Hoffman, Lieutenant Craig testified as follows:

Q: What caused the case to be put on hold?
A: Basically when we questioned [Hartsel] and [A.G.] about that and massages were, yes, that's what was happening. [Hartsel] said, yes, he did tell me he was ejaculating, but that later she was told it was just something [Hoffman] was using against her. And when he asked if there was any other sexual activity, [Hartsel] said, no.
Q: Was there an explanation for why the information - that was coming out during this investigation was different from the investigation that occurred back in 2010?
A: Yes. I did ask [A.G.] why she lied to us. And she said that she was afraid. She said [Hoffman] gets out of everything. I thought he would get out of it and come after me or take things away from me or hit me, as he has in the past or - or hit me.

Trial Tr., p. 201-02.

(¶9} Lieutenant Craig also discussed A.G.'s receipt of text and electronic messages from a person claiming to be "Byron Smith." According to her investigation, the phone number "Smith" gave to A.G. was registered in Hoffman's name. This discovery led to the execution of another search warrant. In the second search, the police found text messages on Hoffman's phone and electronic messages on his computer between "Smith" and A.G. When asked about "Smith, " Hoffman indicated that "Smith" was a person who lived in Bascom, Ohio. However, after further investigation, Lieutenant Craig was unable to find any "Byron Smith" who lived in the Bascom area.

(¶10} On cross-examination, Hoffman testified as follows regarding the contents of the messages between "Smith" and A.G.:

When we came across [the messages], at that time we already knew that Aaron Hoffman was purporting to be Byron Smith. And we wanted to know why he was contacting her in that way and what the purpose of that was. Which, once you read the notes you see that it's a controlling issue.
And that basically he's trying to persuade her saying, "His sister had the same incident. Regrets throwing her uncle in jail for doing the same thing to her." Basically. Uhm, that "he must have really cared for her to promise these things for sexual favors." And, "shouldn't you have a serious talk?"
And also, uhm, a lot of things that were the same, "he'll go [to] the prison for life. Do you really wanna do that to him?" These kind[s] of statements are made in there.

Trial Tr., p. 221.

(¶11} Sergeant Jason Windsor of the Tiffin Police Department also testified regarding the investigation of the messages between "Smith" and A.G. As part of the investigation, he posed as A.G. during the exchange of messages. The following relevant exchange occurred:

Q: How did this ["Smith"] character appear when he was texting you as [A.G.]?
A: Uhm, he appeared very obsessed and controlling. Uhm, he would send texts six, seven, eight in a row. And if I didn't respond he was asking, where you at? What are you doing? At that time, I was on midnight shift so I come [sic] up with an excuse that I was babysitting in the day you can't text me. Because I go to sleep after I got home from work, I turned the phone off When I woke up at two, three in the afternoon, there would be seven, eight texts in there waiting for me.
* * *
Q: Was there any indication from these text messages and communications that this ["Smith"] individual had any kind of interest in [A.G.]?
A: He appeared to wanna know what she was doing all the time. He appeared to be infatuated with her. Said, he would say that, you know, "I really like you. You mean the world to me, " stuff like that.

Trial Tr., p. 295-96. According to Sergeant Windsor, Hoffman, posing as "Smith, " did not try to get A.G. to stop pursuing the charges. Rather, Hoffman merely said that the case "could become a long drawn out thing." Trial Tr., p. 297.

(¶12} Freda Cardwell, one of Hoffman's neighbors, next testified that Hoffman lived in his residence with A.G. and Hartsel. She further stated that Hoffman called A.G. his daughter.

(¶13} A.G. was the primary witness regarding the alleged sexual relationship between her and Hoffman. She said that she was born in February 1994 to Hartsel and her father, Duane Gelhausen, who has several disabilities and lives in a nursing home. Starting in 2009, when she was 14 or 15 years old, A.G. started to live in Hoffman's residence with Hoffman and her mother. According to A.G., the sexual relationship started soon after moving in:

Q: And once you moved into [Hoffman's residence], did anything sexual happen between you and [Hoffman]?
A: Yes.
Q: And do you remember approximately when this sexual activity started between you and [Hoffman]?
A: Uhm, I believe it was around when I was 15, 15 ½.
* * *
Q: * * * What kind of sexual activity started between you and [Hoffman] at that time you were living at [his residence]?
A: Uhm, it began with, uhm, hand ejaculations, uhm, moving to oral and anal and vaginal.
Q: Now, when you're talking about oral sex and such, who was performing what to who?
A: Uhm, both.
Q: And there was sexual intercourse between ...

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