Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas, TRIAL NO. B-1105308
Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Judith Anton Lapp, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,
William F. Oswall, Jr., for Defendant-Appellant. Please note: this case has been removed from the accelerated calendar.
(¶ 1} Defendant-appellant Anthony Watkins appeals the imposition of multiple sentences upon him following his pleas of no contest to a single count of aggravated-vehicular homicide and to two counts of aggravated-vehicular assault. While under the influence of drugs, and without an operator's permit, Watkins drove his vehicle down a steep hill even though he knew that the vehicle's brakes were damaged. He sped through a stop sign and struck a vehicle being driven by Kathy Embry, killing her passenger, her grandson Jaylind Raven, and seriously injuring Embry and Watkins' passenger Lonnie Lane.
I. The Crash on Sutter Avenue
(¶2} In April 2011, the brakes on Watkins' 1993 Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle did not function fully. Only one of the vehicle's four brakes was operational. A driver would have only minimal stopping power when applying the Explorer's brakes. Just days before the fatal accident, Watkins had struck a parked car in Mt. Adams. He had stopped to fix a tire flattened in the accident. Watkins told an investigating Cincinnati police officer that his brakes did not work. He was issued a citation. Yet Watkins continued to drive the vehicle. He did not possess a valid operator's permit.
(¶ 3} On the morning of the fatal accident, Watkins had been on a "drug binge." At his girlfriend's urging, Watkins picked up Lane and the two went in search of more drugs. Watkins, driving the damaged Explorer, turned his vehicle eastbound onto Sutter Avenue, which runs downhill. As the vehicle travelled down Sutter, Watkins was unable to slow the vehicle. He ultimately shifted into reverse gear in a futile attempt to stop the vehicle.
(¶ 4} Watkins ran a stop sign and crashed into Embry's vehicle. The 14-year-old Raven was killed upon impact. Embry suffered serious injuries including a lacerated liver, intracranial bleeding, a spinal fracture, eye damage, and an injury to her facial nerves. Her injuries required extensive treatment including several weeks of hospitalization. Watkins' passenger Lane suffered a laceration on his forehead, broken bones, and a closed-brain injury. Watkins admitted to investigating officers at the scene that he had used drugs the day before the accident. A sample of his blood tested positive for cocaine, cocaine metabolites, and opiates.
II. Multiple Sentences Imposed
(¶ 5} Watkins entered pleas of no contest to the three charges. The trial court accepted his pleas, found him guilty of each offense, and continued the matter for sentencing.
(¶ 6} After reviewing the presentence investigation, the victims' statements, Watkins' sentencing memorandum and statement of remorse, and the arguments of counsel, the trial court imposed a nine-year prison term for the aggravated-vehicular homicide of Raven, a six-year term for the aggravated-vehicular assault of Embry, and a six-year term for the aggravated-vehicular assault of Lane. The court ordered the sentence for the aggravated-vehicular-homicide offense to be served consecutively to the prison term for the aggravated-vehicular assault of Embry. The sentence for the second aggravated-vehicular-assault offense was to be served concurrently with the other two prison terms. The aggregate prison term was 15 years' incarceration. The trial court also suspended Watkins' driver's license for the rest of his life.
III. A Dissimilar Import for Each Person Affected by the Conduct
(¶ 7} In his first assignment of error, Watkins argues that the trial court erred in imposing multiple sentences for the aggravated-vehicular-homicide and aggravated-vehicular-assault convictions as they were allied offenses of similar import. Watkins argues that after the Ohio Supreme Court's 2010 decision in State v. Johnson, 128 Ohio St.3d 153, 2010-Ohio-6314, 942 N.E.2d 1061, the "focus of our inquiry is now on the conduct of the accused" as demonstrated by the evidence adduced below. See id. at ¶ 44. Because the state relied upon the same conduct to demonstrate all three offenses, Watkins asserts that the three offenses ...