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State v. Adams

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

March 31, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Appellee
v.
TOVE ADAMS Appellant

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 13CR087425

          KREIG BRUSNAHAN, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and NATASHA RUIZ GUERRIERI, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          JULIE A. SCHAFER, Judge.

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Tove Adams, appeals his convictions in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. This Court affirms.

         I.

         {¶2} Anthony Coats asked S.C. to attend his son's high school graduation with him. At the time, Adams and S.C. were in a relationship. S.C. had been friends with Anthony Coats for many years, but Adams believed S.C. and Mr. Coats were having an affair. When Mr. Coats dropped S.C. off at home, Adams exited the house, said "[i]s that that motherf * * * r?" as he walked passed S.C, and continued toward Mr. Coats' vehicle with his gun. As Adams approached Mr. Coats' automobile, he fired several shots. Mr. Coats attempted to drive away, but Adams chased after him and fired additional shots at the vehicle, striking Mr. Coats. Adams fled the scene and Mr. Coats died of a gunshot wound.

         {¶3} The Lorain County Grand Jury indicted Adams on the following eight counts in reference to the shooting death of Anthony Coats: (I) aggravated murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.01(A), with a firearm specification and a repeat violent offender specification; (II) murder in violation of R.C. 2903.02(A), with a firearm specification and a repeat violent offender specification; (III) murder in violation of R.C 2903.02(B), with a firearm specification and a repeat violent offender specification; (IV) felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1), a felony of the second degree, with a firearm specification and a repeat violent offender specification; (V) felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(2), a felony of the second degree, with a firearm specification and a repeat violent offender specification; (VI) tampering with evidence in violation of R.C. 2921.12(A)(1), a felony of the third degree with a firearm specification; (VII) having weapons while under disability in violation R.C. 2923.13(A)(2), a felony of the third degree; and (VIII) having weapons while under disability in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(3), a felony of the third degree. Adams pleaded not guilty to all of the charges in the indictment and the matter proceeded through the pretrial process.

         {¶4} Prior to trial, the trial court granted Adams' motion to have the repeat violent offender specifications bifurcated. The matter subsequently proceeded to a jury trial, with the exception of the specifications that were tried separately to the court. At the conclusion of its presentation of evidence, the State dismissed Count VIII, the charge for having weapons while under disability in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(3). After deliberations, the jury returned a not guilty verdict as to the aggravated murder charge, but guilty verdicts as to the remaining charges and the associated specifications. The trial court then found Adams guilty on all the repeat violent offender specifications. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court determined that counts two through five were allied offenses. The trial court subsequently sentenced Adams to 37 years-to-life in prison.

         {¶5} Adams filed this timely appeal, raising seven assignments of error for our review. As assignments of error I and II raise similar issues, we elect to consider them together.

         II.

         Assignment of Error I

         [ ] Adams was deprived his constitutional right to a fair trial before an unbiased jury by the introduction of improper other acts evidence by the State in violation of U.S. Constitution Amendments V, VI, and XIV; Ohio Constitution Article I Sections 10 and 5; and Evidence Rule 404.

         Assignment of Error II

         [ ] Adams was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial before an unbiased jury when the court failed to instruct the jury on the limited purpose for which the court admitted 404(B) evidence in violation of U.S. Constitution Amendments V, VI, and XIV; Ohio Constitution Article I Sections 10 and 5; and Evidence Rule 404.

         {¶6} In his first assignment of error, Adams contends that the trial court erred when it allowed testimony regarding his prior bad acts in violation of Evid.R. 404(B). In his second assignment of error, Adams contends that if the trial court did not err in allowing the testimony of other bad acts, then the trial court erred when it failed to give the jury an instruction limiting the purpose for which that testimony could be considered. We disagree on both points.

         A. Admissibility of Prior Bad Acts

         {¶7} "Trial court decisions regarding the admissibility of other-acts evidence under Evid.R. 404(B) are evidentiary determinations that rest within the sound discretion of the trial court." State v. Morris, 132 Ohio St.3d 337, 338, 2012-Ohio-2407, syllabus. As such, an appellate court will review such a decision under an abuse of discretion standard. Id. "The term 'abuse of discretion' connotes more than an error of law or judgement; it implies that the court's attitude is unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable." Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 219 (1983). "It is not sufficient for an appellate court to determine that a trial court abused its discretion simply because the appellate court might not have reached the same conclusion or is, itself, less persuaded by the trial court's reasoning process than by the countervailing arguments." Morris at 14, citing AAAA Ents., Inc. v. River Place Community Urban Redevelopment Corp., 50 Ohio St.3d 157, 161 (1990).

         {¶8} In this case, Adams contends that his ex-girlfriend's testimony constitutes inadmissible other acts evidence. Specifically, his ex-girlfriend, S.C., testified about an incident that occurred between herself and Adams a few days before the shooting death of Mr. Coats. In her testimony, SC stated that she and Adams had an argument about her relationship with Mr. Coats and that Adams had grabbed her by her head and dragged her up the stairs in front of her daughter. As a result, S.C.'s daughter ran out of the house and asked a neighbor to call 9-1-1. S.C. stated that after Adams dragged her up the stairs, "he sat me on my bed and choked me and choked me and choked me." She further stated that she eventually passed out and now has a scar on her neck from the incident.

         {¶9} Adams argues that the other acts evidence presented in S.C.'s testimony suggested that he was violent toward S.C, had violent reactions whenever Mr. Coats was mentioned, and that he was a bad person. The trial court, however, overruled Adams' objection to the above testimony, determining that the testimony was admissible both to show intent and purpose because the testimony supported the prosecution's argument that Adams acted on his anger toward Mr. Coats, as well as to show that the incident was not an accident. Specifically, the trial court determined that S.C.'s testimony showed why Adams "was out to get" Mr. Coats and "that he had strong feelings about" Mr. Coats. The trial court further determined that the probative value of this information outweighed its prejudicial nature.

         {¶10} R.C. 2945.59 states:

In any criminal case in which the defendant's motive or intent, the absence of mistake or accident on his part, or the defendant's scheme, plan, or system of doing an act is material, an acts of the defendant which tend to show his motive or intent, the absence of mistake or accident on his part or the defendant's scheme, plan, or system in doing the act in question may be proved, whether they are contemporaneous with or prior or subsequent thereto, notwithstanding that such proof may show or tend to show the commission of another crime by the defendant.

         Evid.R. 404(B) also concerns the admissibility of other acts evidence. That rule states, in pertinent part, that "[evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident." Evid.R. 404(B). "'Evid.R. 404(B) is in accord with R.C. 2945.59 in that it precludes the admission of evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts offered to prove [propensity] * * *, but it does not preclude admission of that evidence for other purposes[.]'" State v. Ross, 9th Dist. Summit No. 26694, 2014-Ohio-2867, ¶ 51, quoting State v. Williams, 134 Ohio St.3d 521, 2012-Ohio-5695, ¶ 25. The Supreme Court of Ohio has outlined a three-step analysis for considering the admissibility of other acts evidence:

The first step is to consider whether the other acts evidence is relevant to making any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Evid. R. 401. The next step is to consider whether evidence of the other crimes, wrongs, or acts is presented to prove the character of the accused in order to show activity in conformity therewith or whether the other acts evidence is presented for a legitimate purpose, such as those stated in Evid.R. 404(B). The third step is to consider whether the probative value of the other acts evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. See Evid.R. 403.

Williams at ΒΆ 20. The Supreme Court of Ohio has further stated that "relevant evidence, challenged as being outweighed by its prejudicial effects, should be viewed in a light most favorable to the proponent of the evidence maximizing its probative value and minimizing any prejudicial effect to one opposing ...


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