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State v. Murray

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

March 16, 2017

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
John R. Murray, Jr., Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (C.P.C. No. 14CR-6044)

          On brief: Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Seth L. Gilbert, for appellee. Argued: Seth L. Gilbert.

          On brief: Barnhart Law Office, LLC, and Robert B. Barnhart, for appellant. Argued: Robert B. Barnhart.


          LUPER SCHUSTER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, John R. Murray, Jr., appeals from a judgment entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas finding him guilty of three counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs and one count of aggravated possession of drugs. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} By indictment filed November 14, 2014, plaintiff-appellee, State of Ohio, charged Murray with four counts of aggravated trafficking of oxycodone in violation of R.C. 2925.03. Counts 1, 2, and 3 alleged violations under R.C. 2925.03(A)(1), selling or offering to sell the controlled substance, and the amount of oxycodone involved equaled or exceeded 5 times the bulk amount but was less than 50 times the bulk amount. Count 4 alleged a violation under R.C. 2925.03(A)(2), preparing for shipment, and that the amount involved equaled or exceeded the bulk amount but was less than 5 times the bulk amount. Additionally, Counts 2, 3, and 4 contained a specification, pursuant to R.C. 2925.01, that the offenses were committed in the vicinity of a juvenile. Murray entered a plea of not guilty.

         {¶ 3} At a jury trial commencing October 26, 2015, the state presented evidence that Murray participated in three controlled buys of narcotics with C.B., a confidential informant working with law enforcement after police caught C.B.'s wife purchasing drugs for C.B. C.B. agreed to work as a confidential informant in exchange for law enforcement not pursuing criminal charges against his wife. C.B. testified that prior to the time he began working as a confidential informant, he had purchased drugs multiple times through a man named Bobby Guy who would obtain the drugs from Murray's house, though C.B. did not know Murray personally prior to his work as a confidential informant.

         {¶ 4} The three controlled buys correlate to Counts 1 through 3 of the indictment. C.B. testified that Guy served as a "middleman" between C.B. and Murray to arrange the first two buys. (Tr. at 300.) The first buy, correlating to Count 1 of the indictment, occurred on January 17, 2014. C.B. called Guy to arrange for a buy of oxycodone and Guy then arranged for Murray to sell the pills to C.B. Guy took C.B. to Murray's sister's house to complete the transaction, but C.B. testified that Murray was not present because he had to go to the hospital. However, Murray arranged for his son to deliver the pills to C.B., so the individuals present at the first controlled buy were C.B., Guy, Murray's son, and another individual named Carl Osgood, whom C.B. knew to be Guy's supplier. C.B. bought 98 pills of 30-milligram oxycodone during this transaction.

         {¶ 5} The second buy, correlating to Count 2 of the indictment, occurred on February 7, 2014. Once again, Guy acted as the middleman arranging the buy and this time the transaction occurred at Murray's home. C.B. testified Murray was present for the second buy and that Murray entered his bedroom and returned with the pills. During this transaction, C.B. bought 83 pills of 30-milligram oxycodone. C.B. testified that a young child came into the kitchen to ask for a glass of water while C.B. was in Murray's home to purchase the pills.

         {¶ 6} The third buy, correlating to Count 3 of the indictment, occurred on March 7, 2014. Guy was not involved in the third buy; instead, Murray called C.B. directly to arrange the buy while C.B. was working with police on an investigation into another individual, and law enforcement decided to pursue the opportunity for another controlled buy. When C.B. went to Murray's home, C.B. said there were "teenage kids in the kitchen, " so he and Murray went into the bedroom to complete the transaction. (Tr. at 443.) C.B. said Murray retrieved the pills from a dresser in the bedroom. During this transaction, C.B. bought 100 pills of 30-milligram oxycodone.

         {¶ 7} Additionally, law enforcement attempted to arrange a fourth buy with Murray but that transaction never occurred despite C.B. "fronting" Murray $100 for the pills. (Tr. at 188.) C.B. lied to police about giving money to Murray resulting in the Hilliard Police Department deactivating C.B. as a confidential informant for violating the terms of his agreement.

         {¶ 8} Count 4 of the indictment relates to the execution of a search warrant on Murray's home. During the search of Murray's home, police discovered three firearms and a pill bottle in Murray's dresser. The pill bottle contained 114 pills of 5-milligram oxycodone.

         {¶ 9} C.B. provided extensive testimony regarding each of the controlled buys. During his testimony, the state introduced several audio recordings, including audio recordings of the telephone conversations between C.B. and Guy arranging the first two buys and audio recordings of the actual controlled buys obtained from the wire C.B. wore during the transactions. The trial court admitted these recordings over defense counsel's objections.

         {¶ 10} Several witnesses testified in Murray's defense. Stacie Murray, a home healthcare worker and Murray's ex-wife, testified that Murray became distraught after the death of his mother and began drinking heavily and acting irrationally. She also testified that the pills police found in Murray's home belonged to one of her patients and that she kept the pills in her possession at the patient's request.

         {¶ 11} Murray's sister, Vicki Murray, testified she took Murray to the hospital on January 17, 2014 for a mental health evaluation because Murray had been drinking so heavily and was so distraught after their mother's death that Vicki worried he may hurt himself.

         {¶ 12} Finally, Darla Dalton, Murray's fiancée, testified that Murray was "very sad" and "irrational" in January 2014 following his mother's death. (Tr. at 1084.) Eventually, the state objected to the line of questioning regarding Murray's state of mind after defense counsel asked if Murray was "mentally challenged" during the time in question. (Tr. at 1096.) The state argued defense counsel was attempting to present an insanity defense through lay testimony, and defense counsel responded that the questioning related to the element of "knowingly." (Tr. at 1097-1104.) The trial court ultimately sustained the objection, noting none of Murray's character witnesses was present during any of the transactions and that even if they were, their lay testimony about his mental state nonetheless created "an issue." (Tr. at 1104.)

         {¶ 13} At the agreement of the state, the trial court granted Murray's Crim.R. 29 motion for acquittal as it related to the juvenile specification in Count 4 of the indictment. The trial court denied the Crim.R. 29 motion with respect to all other charges.

         {¶ 14} Following deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts on Counts 1, 2, and 3, as well as a guilty verdict on the lesser-included offense of aggravated possession of drugs on Count 4. At the conclusion of a December 10, 2015 sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Murray to an aggregate term of imprisonment of eight years and imposed a fine of $32, 500. The trial court journalized Murray's convictions and sentence in a December 18, 2015 judgment entry. Murray timely appeals.

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶ 15} Murray assigns the following ...

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