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State v. Spring

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Jefferson

March 3, 2017


         Criminal Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County, Ohio Case No. 15 CR 8

          For Plaintiff-Appellee Attorney Jane Hanlin Jefferson County Prosecutor 16001 State Route 7 Steubenville, Ohio 43952

          For Defendant-Appellant Attorney Timothy Young Ohio Public Defender Attorney Allen Vender Assistant Public Defender 250 East Broad Street, Suite 1400 Columbus, Ohio 43215

          JUDGES: Hon. Mary DeGenaro Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Carol Ann Robb


          DEGENARO, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Jeffery Spring, appeals the trial court judgment convicting him of murder, a firearm specification, tampering with evidence, and sentencing him accordingly. Spring asserts trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective. As Spring's assignment of error is meritless, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} Spring called 911 to report that he had killed Stephen Boyer; he had sustained two gunshot wounds and his body was found outside of Spring's home. Spring was indicted on one count of murder, R.C. 2903.02(A), an unclassified felony, with an attached firearm specification, R.C. 2941.145; and one count of tampering with evidence, R.C. 2921.12(A)(1). Spring made numerous inconsistent statements to police about the circumstances surrounding Boyer's death, regarding which defense counsel did not file a motion to suppress.

         {¶3} The following facts were adduced during Spring's jury trial. Both Spring and the victim had been drinking alcohol on the day Boyer was killed; Spring estimated that he had consumed fifteen beers and Boyer's blood alcohol content upon his autopsy was .292. On the 911 call, Spring claimed Boyer was trying to break into his home while brandishing a knife and seemed to indicate that there was more than one person in his home when this attempted break-in occurred.

         {¶4} When police arrived, they found Spring was the only one in the home. There was no sign of forced entry at his residence and no sign of a struggle inside of his home. Police located the victim's jacket and the victim's cell phone in Spring's living room.

         {¶5} They found Boyer dead, having sustained gunshot wounds to the head and chest. His body was lying in front of Spring's front door; however, there was a bloodstain several feet away-not near the front door-that appeared to have been swept up with a broom. A bloodstained push-broom was also found outside.

         {¶6} Officers placed Spring in the back seat of a cruiser and questioned him. After being provided with Miranda warnings, Spring stated: "I shot him once, went outside and shot him again in the head to make sure he was dead."

         {¶7} Officers observed the victim had a knife in his hand, but they also noticed that the placement of the knife seemed odd given the condition of the body and the gunshot wound suffered by the victim. The knife was recovered and sent to the BCI crime lab for processing. The only DNA recovered from the handle and the blade of the knife belonged to Spring; there was no DNA from the victim on that knife.

         {¶8} Officers attempted to find the firearm used in the crime, a Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, and Spring made various claims as to where the weapon might be, first claiming it was in his bedroom, and later stating that it might have been in the couch. Officers later located the weapon during a search of the residence, inside of a concealed cabinet in the kitchen. The gun contained two spent shell casings and four live rounds.

         {¶9} An autopsy of the victim's body resulted in a bullet being recovered from the victim's abdomen. That bullet was a .38 caliber bullet and additional testing by the crime lab resulted in the conclusion that the bullet found inside Boyer's body was fired from the .38 Smith and Wesson revolver found in Spring's kitchen.

         {¶10} Approximately ten hours after he made the 911 call, Spring was interviewed by Sheriff Fred Abdalla while in sheriff's department custody; this interview was videotaped. Before questioning Spring, Abdalla provided him the Miranda warnings, and Spring indicated he understood his rights and wished to waive them.

         {¶11} Spring admitted to the sheriff that he first shot the victim in the abdomen and then shot him again in the head. He explained he inflicted the second shot because he did not want to see the victim suffer. This statement by Spring matched the conclusions of the medical examiner, who indicated that the victim was alive when the shot to the head was fired. Spring also admitted he attempted to clean up the blood outside with a broom, and that he placed the knife in the victim's hand after he shot him.

         {¶12} Spring elected to testify in his own defense at trial, claiming that he shot the victim accidentally through his closed front door. Spring testified that he believed the victim had left the premises, and therefore did not think he would hit anyone when he fired his weapon through the door. Spring claimed that prior to the shooting there were only seven bullet holes in the front door, an assertion supported by the testimony of his son. After the shooting, investigators found there were nine bullet holes in the front door.

         {¶13} Spring admitted he lied when he reported the victim broke into his house and had a knife. Spring said he and the victim had been together at his home for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, when the two began to argue. At some point, he became agitated after observing his prescription medication bottles were moved; he suspected the victim had attempted to steal from him. He then pushed the victim out of his house. Subsequently, he shot two times through the closed front door.

         {¶14} Spring said he discovered the victim's dead body outside when his dogs began to bark. Spring conceded he took the broom and was trying to sweep away the blood stains and that he also "got some disinfectant and sprayed it around" that area. Only after his attempt at cleaning up, did Spring call 911. As for the knife, Spring said he "subconsciously" planted it in the victim's hand. When asked by defense counsel whether he lied about the knife because he was afraid, Spring remarked: "I wasn't. I wasn't afraid."

         {¶15} Upon cross-examination, Spring could not explain how the bullets would have taken a 90 degree turn once going through the door, to hit the victim where the bloodstain was found outside. Spring asserted that three separate law enforcement officers must have misheard him when they reported he said he shot Boyer once and then went out and shot him again in the head to make sure that he was dead. Spring was unable to explain his recorded statement to the sheriff, wherein he admitted that he shot the victim in the head because he "didn't want to see him suffer."

         {¶16} Spring was found guilty by a jury on all counts and was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of 18-years to life.

          Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         {¶17} In his sole assignment of error, Spring asserts:

Jeffrey Spring received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to file a motion to suppress his statements to the police, when he did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights; failed to object to prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument; and failed to object to witness opinion which was not based on firsthand knowledge or expertise.

         {¶18} To prove ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant must satisfy a two-prong test; that counsel's performance has fallen below an objective standard of reasonable representation, and that he was prejudiced by counsel's performance. Strickland v. Washington,466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); State v. Bradley,42 Ohio St.3d 136, 538 N.E.2d 373 (1989), at paragraph two of the syllabus. To demonstrate prejudice, the defendant must prove that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the trial would have been different. Id., paragraph three of the syllabus. In Ohio, a properly ...

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