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State v. Stapleton

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Champaign

April 7, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
MICHAEL C.R. STAPLETON, Defendant-Appellant

         Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court T.C. NO. 15-CR-277.

          JANE A. NAPIER, Atty. Reg. No. 0061426, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          JENNIFER D. BRUMBY, Atty. Reg. No. 0076440, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          FROELICH, J.

         {¶ 1} Michael Stapleton pled guilty in the Champaign County Court of Common Pleas to murder, an unclassified felony, and burglary, a felony of the third degree. The trial court sentenced him to consecutive sentences totaling 18 years to life in prison and ordered him to pay restitution, court-appointed counsel fees, and court costs.

         {¶ 2} Stapleton appeals from his conviction, claiming that the trial court failed to comply with Crim.R. 11 at his plea hearing and erred in imposing maximum consecutive sentences. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         {¶ 3} In November 2015, Stapleton resided with his wife, his mother-in-law, and his mother-in-law's husband. Six children also resided in the household; Stapleton's inlaws had a combined three children from prior relationships, Stapleton had two children with his wife, and his wife had an additional child from another relationship. One child was a teenager; the others were seven years old or younger.

         {¶ 4} During the morning and afternoon hours of November 29, 2015, Stapleton was the primary caregiver for the six children while the other adults were at work. During that time, Stapleton physically abused B.J., the four-year-old son of his mother-in-law's husband. B.J. suffered severe blunt force trauma to his head and abdomen. When B.J. did not awaken from a nap that afternoon, Stapleton called family members and 911. B.J. was transported to the hospital. He died from the abuse.

         {¶ 5} On December 10, 2015, Stapleton was indicted on three counts of murder, one count of felonious assault, three counts of endangering children, one count of involuntary manslaughter, and one count of possession of criminal tools. All of the charges stemmed from the events of November 29. Stapleton initially pled not guilty to the charges. He remained in jail while the charges were pending.

         {¶ 6} While monitoring Stapleton's telephone conversations at the jail, the Champaign County Sheriff's Office became aware that Stapleton was concerned that law enforcement would learn about an unrelated offense. Through additional investigation, the sheriffs office learned that, sometime between November 1 and 4, 2015, Stapleton had broken into a family member's residence in Champaign County and had stolen money, a Hi-Point handgun, and ammunition. Stapleton had filed off the serial number on the gun and attempted to sell it. While in jail, Stapleton wrote to his father, asking for help in retrieving and disposing of the weapon.

         {¶ 7} On March 25, 2016, Stapleton entered into a plea agreement with the State, pursuant to which he pled guilty to one count of murder (Count Four: proximate result of endangering children) and to burglary (Count Ten), which was added at the plea hearing by a bill of information. In exchange for the plea, the State agreed to dismiss the remaining eight charges and to recommend a presentence investigation. A presentence investigation was conducted, and the parties filed detailed sentencing memoranda. On April 20, 2016, the trial court sentenced Stapleton to consecutive sentences of 15 years to life for the murder and 36 months for the burglary. He was also ordered to pay $350 in restitution to the victims of the burglary, court-appointed counsel fees, and court costs.

         {¶ 8} Stapleton appeals from his conviction, raising two assignments of error.

         II. Compliance with Crim.R. 11

         {¶ 9} In his first assignment of error, Stapleton asserts that the trial court failed to comply with Crim.R. 11 in accepting his guilty pleas. Specifically, he argues that "he was not properly advised that if he went to trial, he would be entitled to a presumption of innocence" and "would not have to prove or disprove any facts in the case, or call any witnesses." Stapleton asserts that, ...


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