APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE Nos. 07CR073809 07CR074609
PAUL A. GRIFFIN, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.
DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and MARY SLANCZKA, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
(¶1} Appellant, Neil Simpson, appeals from his convictions in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas of kidnapping, felonious assault, having weapons under disability, and two counts of aggravated robbery. Some of his convictions also included firearm and/or repeat violent offender specifications. This Court affirms.
(¶2} Simpson's convictions in this case stem from two separate armed robberies in Lorain, Ohio on June 16 and 21, 2007. In a separate case, he was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and other crimes for his involvement in a third incident at Granny D's Pizza in Lorain on June 23, 2007. This Court affirmed those convictions on appeal. State v. Simpson, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 11CA010138, 2012-Ohio-3195. Although Simpson's convictions stemming from his acts at Granny D's are not at issue in this appeal, some evidence about that incident was admitted at his trial in this case.
June 16 - Chapman's
(¶3} On June 16, 2007, at approximately 10:00 p.m., a masked gunman entered Chapman's Food Mart in Lorain and ordered the clerk to give him the money in the cash register. Todd Schill was a customer in the store who was on his way home from working as a security guard and was still dressed in his uniform and armed with a gun. Schill reached for his gun, but the masked man pointed his gun directly at Schill's head and warned, "Don't do it, cop." Schill complied with the gunman's order to lie down on the floor, where the gunman removed his gun and handcuffs. The gunman ordered a female customer to handcuff Schill, which she did. The gunman then took the female customer's money and successfully fled the area.
(¶4} Witness statements and surveillance video from Chapman's depicted the gunman as approximately five foot nine to five foot eleven inches tall, of slender build, and wearing baggy clothes. He wore tan cargo shorts, a gray hoodie, dark fabric over his face up to his eyes, white work gloves, and black shoes. While lying on the ground next to the gunman, Schill had also observed that he had a tattoo with a swirl design on his left calf Because Schill was familiar with guns, he was also able to describe the gunman's weapon as a stainless steel semiautomatic gun with a black handle.
June 21 - Jack and Diane's
(¶5} On June 21, 2007, a masked gunman entered Jack and Diane's Lounge in Lorain, and demanded money, which he stuffed into the front of his hoodie. He also stole a black purse that was sitting on the counter of the bar. During the robbery, a woman who was working at the bar that night grabbed a pole and hit the gunman from behind and knocked him to the ground. As the gunman got back up to his feet, Jason Reichert, a patron at the bar, charged him and the two struggled. During the struggle, the gun went off, striking Reichert in the abdomen. The gunman again fled the scene and was not apprehended. Witnesses and surveillance video depicted the gunman as being of average height and dressed entirely in dark clothing, including jeans, a hoodie, gloves, shoes, and a mask over his face.
June 23 - Granny D's
(¶6} On June 23, 2007, a masked gunman came into Granny D's Pizza in Lorain and jumped over the counter near the cash register. In addition to taking money from the cash register, the gunman pointed his gun at the head of the man who was working behind the counter. Two women who were standing nearby saw the gunman fatally shoot the man and flee the scene, but they lost sight of him after he ran out of the building. Although the witnesses were unable to describe the gunman's clothes in much detail, they agreed that he was completely covered except his eyes. One witness recalled that he wore a sweater-type material over his face and something white on his hands.
(¶7} Because the three incidents had been committed within the same week in the city of Lorain and had been committed in a similar manner, the police believed that the same man had committed each crime and their investigation focused on identifying the gunman. Information from various sources eventually implicated Simpson as the gunman who had been aided in one or more of the incidents by three acquaintances: Scotty Parker, Richar Perry, and Chuckie Leonard. Initially, none of the men admitted any involvement in the incidents, but Leonard and Parker later implicated Simpson as the gunman in each incident and themselves and Perry as accomplices in one or more of the incidents.
Evidence Implicating Simpson
(¶8} Parker and Leonard told the police that, prior to the Chapman's robbery, Simpson drove them and Perry in his maroon or "reddish" minivan and parked at an abandoned building near Chapman's. Simpson was wearing cargo shorts, put on gloves and a mask, and went into Chapman's while the other three waited in the minivan. After Simpson ran back from Chapman's, the four men fled the scene in Simpson's minivan. Leonard told the police that, although he did not see Simpson with a gun that night, he knew that Simpson had a gun that was chrome and black.
(¶9} Several witnesses told the police that all four men went to Timber's Bar in Amherst after the Chapman's robbery, where they bought shots of expensive liquor. While there, Simpson was observed with a gun sticking out of his pants and was asked to take it out of the bar, which he did. A patron who had been at Timber's that night told police that she had seen all four men in the bar and also saw them standing in the parking lot near a maroon minivan. She also recalled that Simpson had been wearing tan/brown cargo shorts and a black tank top and that he had a silver and black gun. When she spoke to him briefly, he showed her the tattoos on his upper arm, which included a picture of a swastika and the words "White Power." Police later confirmed that Simpson had tattoos with a swastika and "White Power" on his upper arm and that he also had a swirl-patterned tattoo on his left calf, as had been observed by Todd Schill during the Chapman's robbery. None of Simpson's three friends had similar tattoos.
(¶10} Lorain Police later learned that, during the early morning hours after the Chapman's robbery, Simpson had been involved in an automobile collision in Amherst. The police cruiser's dash cam video depicted Simpson's red minivan and Simpson wearing a black tank top, tan cargo shorts, and black shoes. The police officer who responded to the accident explained that, although he noticed the smell of alcoholic beverage and Simpson admitted that he had been drinking earlier, Simpson passed field sobriety and breathalyzer tests and was not charged with an alcohol-related offense.
(¶11} Because Simpson's red minivan was damaged extensively, it had to be towed from the scene, so the police officer searched the vehicle before it was towed. Although he found no weapon in Simpson's vehicle, the officer did find a light-colored sweatshirt and white gloves. Simpson was also carrying a folded wad of paper money that was approximately one inch thick. Because the officer had no reason to believe at that time that the items in Simpson's possession were connected to criminal activity, he did not take Simpson into custody and cited him only for a traffic offense for causing the collision. After receiving an alert about the Chapman's robbery suspect, however, Amherst police contacted the Lorain Police Department.
(¶12} The evidence identifying Simpson as the gunman at Jack and Diane's came primarily from Simpson's accomplices and acquaintances. Parker told police that, during the Jack and Diane's robbery, he and Perry again waited nearby in Simpson's vehicle while Simpson went into the bar masked and armed. Simpson drove a different vehicle that day, which was a white Nissan that he rented after he crashed his red minivan. Although Parker and Perry initially drove away from the scene without Simpson when they heard sirens, they picked him up a few blocks away after they connected via cell phone. Although Leonard was not with the three men that evening, he told police that Simpson later bragged to him about committing the Jack and Diane's robbery and shooting someone in the stomach.
(¶13} Police later recovered physical evidence connected to the Jack and Diane's robbery hidden in a trash can at the home where Parker was living at the time. Those items included the purse taken from Jack and Diane's, dark jeans, and dark gloves. The jeans and gloves both tested positive for gunshot residue. The police had received an anonymous tip that Simpson, Parker, and Perry had hidden items in that trash can, but Parker later told them that it was Simpson who put the items there.
(¶14} Days after the Granny D's incident, Simpson was implicated as the gunman by one of the witnesses to the shooting. One of the women standing near the victim told Lorain police officers that she believed the gunman was Simpson, a man she had known for many years because they grew up in the same neighborhood in Lorain. She explained that she recognized the man's distinctive "kind of ghetto limp" because the only person she had ever seen walk that way was Simpson. She also recalled that the gunman was of the same height and build as Simpson. Moreover, she explained that she had recently rejected Simpson's invitation to "hook up" with him and that the man who was killed at Granny D's was her boyfriend.
(¶15} The police also received information about the location of the black and silver gun that allegedly had been used in all three incidents. Several sources stated that Simpson had hidden the gun at the home of an acquaintance who lived on Root Road. Parker told them that he had again waited in Simpson's white rental car during the Granny D's incident, although he had believed at the time that Simpson had gone into the establishment to buy drugs, not to take money or hurt anyone. When Simpson returned to the car, he told ...