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State v. Stanifer

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Geauga

May 8, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MINDIE MOCK STANIFER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2015 C 000194.

          James R. Flaiz, Geauga County Prosecutor, and Christopher J. Joyce, For Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Anna Markovich, For Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          COLLEEN MARY OTOOLE, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Mindie Mock Stanifer, appeals from the July 11, 2016 judgment of the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas, sentencing her to a total of 18 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping, and obstruction of justice, following a guilty plea. On appeal, appellant takes issue with her sentence. Finding no error, we affirm.

          {¶2} Two victims, Daniel Ott and Mary Anne Ricker, were awoken in the early morning hours by Chad South who had broken into their Geauga County home in 2006. Mr. South bound both victims with duct tape. Mr. Ott managed to break his bonds and chased after Mr. South. Mr. South shot Mr. Ott in his chest. Mr. Ott later died. Mr. South immediately left the residence and jumped into the getaway car, where appellant was waiting.

         {¶3} While in prison on an unrelated crime, Mr. South indicated he had been hired by Joseph Rosebrook to kill "Dan Ott." Mr. South commented, however, that he had killed the wrong "Dan Ott." Mr. South expressed worry over the murder for hire and worry about "the girl in the car, " i.e., appellant. Detectives ultimately found appellant in Florida in 2014.

         {¶4} Appellant initially denied any involvement in the murder for hire plot and claimed she did not know Mr. South. However, appellant later confessed that she was in the vehicle when Mr. South committed the murder and that she saw him come back to the car covered in blood. Appellant claimed she was on drugs at the time and that she accompanied Mr. South to what she believed was a burglary in order to maintain her drug habit.

         {¶5} On December 8, 2015, appellant was indicted by the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas on nine counts: count one, conspiracy, a felony of the first degree, in violation of R.C. 2923.01(A); count two, aggravated murder, an unclassified felony, in violation of R.C. 2903.01(A), with a firearm specification; count three, aggravated murder, an unclassified felony, in violation of R.C. 2903.01(B), with a firearm specification; counts four and five, kidnapping, felonies of the first degree, in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(2), with firearm specifications; and counts six through nine, obstruction of justice, felonies of the third degree, in violation of R.C. 2921.32(A)(6). Appellant was represented by counsel and entered a not guilty plea at her arraignment.

         {¶6} Thereafter, on May 9, 2016, appellant changed her plea and entered an oral and written plea of guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree; kidnapping, a felony of the second degree; and two counts of obstruction of justice, felonies of the third degree. The trial court accepted appellant's guilty plea and dismissed the remaining charges.

         {¶7} On July 11, 2016, the trial court sentenced appellant to the following: for involuntary manslaughter, a felony of the first degree, in violation of R.C. 2903.04(A), and being a stipulated lesser included offense of the offense as charged in count two of the indictment, a prison term of eight years, with five years of post-release control; for kidnapping, a felony of the second degree, in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(2), as charged in count four of the indictment, a prison term of six years in prison, with three years of post-release control; for obstruction of justice, a felony of the third degree, in violation of R.C. 2921.32(A)(6), as charged in count six of the indictment, 18 months in prison, with up to three years of post-release control; and obstruction of justice, a felony of the third degree, in violation of R.C. 2921.32(A)(6), as charged in count nine of the indictment, a prison term of 30 months in prison, with up to three years of post-release control. The trial court ordered the foregoing periods of incarceration to be served consecutively for a total of 18 years in prison, with 322 days of credit for time served. Appellant filed a timely appeal and asserts the following two assignments of error:

          {¶8} "[1.] Appellant's sentences are contrary to law because the trial court's findings under R.C. 2929.14(C)(4), R.C. 2929.11 and 2929.12 are not clearly and convincingly supported by the record.

         {¶9} "[2.] The trial court erred by convicting and sentencing appellant to consecutive sentencing on allied offences of similar import."

         {¶10} In her first assignment of error, appellant argues her sentences are contrary to law because the trial court's findings under R.C. 2929.14(C)(4), 2929.11 and 2929.12 are not clearly and convincingly supported by the record.

         {¶11} "'(T)his court utilizes R.C. 2953.08(G) as the standard of review in all felony sentencing appeals.' State v. Hettmansperger, 11th Dist. Ashtabula No. 2014-A-0006, 2014-Ohio-4306, ¶14. R.C. 2953.08(G) provides, in pertinent part:

         {¶12} "'(2) The court hearing an appeal under division (A), (B), or (C) of this section shall review the record, including the findings underlying the sentence or modification given by the sentencing court.

         {¶13} "The appellate court may increase, reduce, or otherwise modify a sentence that is appealed under this section or may vacate the sentence and remand the matter to the sentencing court for resentencing. The appellate court's standard for review is not whether the sentencing court abused its discretion. The appellate court may take any action authorized by this division if it clearly and convincingly finds either of the following:

         {¶14} "'(a) That the record does not support the sentencing court's findings under division (B) or (D) of section 2929.13, division (B)(2)(e) or (C)(4) of section 2929.14, or division (I) of section 2929.20 of the Revised Code, whichever, if any, is relevant;

         {¶15} "'(b) That the sentence is otherwise contrary to law.'

         {¶16} "R.C. 2929.14(C)(4) governs the imposition of consecutive felony sentences. It provides:

         {¶17} "'(4) If multiple prison terms are imposed on an offender for convictions of multiple offenses, the court may require the offender to serve the prison terms consecutively if the court finds that the consecutive service is necessary to protect the public from future crime or to punish the offender and that consecutive sentences are not disproportionate to the seriousness of the offender's conduct and to the danger the offender poses to the public, and if the court also finds any of the following:

         {¶18} "'(a) The offender committed one or more of the multiple offenses while the offender was awaiting trial or sentencing, was under a sanction imposed pursuant to section 2929.16, 2929.17, or 2929.18 of the Revised Code, or was under post-release control for a prior offense.

         {¶19} "'(b) At least two of the multiple offenses were committed as part of one or more courses of conduct, and the harm caused by two or more of the multiple offenses so committed was so great or unusual that no single prison term for any of the offenses committed as part of any of the courses of conduct adequately reflects the seriousness of the offender's conduct.

         {¶20} "'(c) The offender's history of criminal conduct demonstrates that consecutive sentences are necessary to protect the public from future crime by the offender.'

          {¶21} "In State v. Bonnell, 140 Ohio St.3d 209, 2014-Ohio-3177, ¶37, the court held:

         {¶22} "'In order to impose consecutive terms of imprisonment, a trial court is required to make the findings mandated by R.C. 2929.14(C)(4) at the sentencing hearing and incorporate its findings into its sentencing entry, but it has no obligation to state reasons to support its findings. Nor is it required to give a talismanic incantation of the words of the statute, provided that the necessary findings can be found in the record and are incorporated into the sentencing entry.'

         {¶23} "Failure to make the R.C. 2929.14(C)(4) findings at the sentencing hearing and incorporate them in the judgment entry of sentence renders the sentence contrary to law. See, e.g., id" State v. Purtilo, 11th Dist. Lake No. 2015-L-003, 2015-Ohio-2985, ¶5-17.

         {¶24} In this case, the trial court made the R.C. 2929.14(C)(4) findings at the sentencing hearing and incorporated them in the judgment entry of sentence.

         {¶25} At the sentencing hearing, the trial court heard from appellant who indicated she was sorry and had sympathy for the whole situation. The trial court also heard from four others that spoke on her behalf. A counselor stated that appellant attended parenting skill classes and learned a great deal. A Bible studies teacher for inmates said that appellant faithfully attended the classes, wanted to make amends, and be productive for the Lord. A jail minister and his wife believed appellant was sorry for her actions and wanted to turn her life around. In addition, appellant's brother wrote in a letter to the court that his sister was not a violent person and has a good heart. Defense counsel requested a minimum jail sentence.

          {¶26} Thereafter, the trial court stated the following at the sentencing hearing:

         {¶27} "Then the Court, for the record, wishes to recite that it has, in arriving at a sentence, considered the purposes and principals of felony sentencing generally. I have considered the recidivism and seriousness factors set forth in 2929.12, balanced those factors, ...


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