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State v. Goodwin

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

May 8, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
JACOB GOODWIN, Defendant-Appellant.


          Neal D. Schuett, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for plaintiff-appellee.

          Scott N. Blauvelt, for defendant-appellant.


          HENDRICKSON, P.J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Jacob Goodwin, appeals from his conviction and sentence in the Hamilton Municipal Court for cruelty to animals.

         {¶ 2} Following an investigation into a dead dog found inside a cage in a dumpster at an apartment complex in Hamilton, Butler County, Ohio, Goodwin was charged by complaint with one count of cruelty to animals in violation of R.C. 959.131(B), a misdemeanor of the first degree. Goodwin entered a not guilty plea to the charge and a bench trial commenced on May 11, 2016.

         {¶ 3} At trial, the state presented testimony from Deputy Kurt Merbs, a supervisor dog warden for the Butler County Sheriffs Office. Merbs testified that on February 5, 2016, he was dispatched to an apartment complex in Hamilton, Ohio after a dead dog was found in a dumpster. Merbs found an erect cage with a sheet covering it sitting inside a dumpster. Inside the cage, on top of a wet and moldy blanket, was a dead black and brown, mixed breed dog. Inside the cage with the dog was some moldy dog food. The dog was very thin and had open wounds on its hind end and hip area. After removing the dog and cage from the dumpster, Merbs found a tag with Sarah Schmuck's phone number on the dog's collar.

         {¶ 4} Merbs called Schmuck, who informed him that she had given the dog away to some unidentified people she met at a Speedway. A few days later, Merbs followed up his phone call with Schmuck by visiting her at her apartment, which was located near the apartment complex where the dead dog was found. At this time, Schmuck repeated her story about having given the dog away.

         {¶ 5} On February 10, 2016, Schmuck reported to the dog warden's office with Goodwin. Both Schmuck and Goodwin gave a statement to Merbs. Schmuck informed Merbs she went to stay with her mother for a week while Goodwin looked after her dog. During this time, the dog died. She also informed Merbs that the dog had stopped eating about two weeks prior to that, but she had not taken the dog to a veterinarian.

         {¶ 6} Goodwin told Merbs that while Schmuck was visiting her mother, he went to Schmuck's apartment "maybe two or three times" in a "week's time" to care for the dog. When Merbs asked Goodwin what caring for the dog entailed, Goodwin stated he would "just open the cage, the dog would go into the bathroom of the apartment and use the restroom on the floor, and then he would put it back in the cage and throw it some dog food and head back out."[1]On one of the occasions when he stopped by Schmuck's apartment, Goodwin found the dog dead. Goodwin told Merbs he took the cage containing the dog, walked it to a nearby dumpster, and "pitched it in the dumpster" before covering it with a sheet. After admitting his involvement in the incident, Goodwin asked Merbs whether the offense he committed was a first-degree or second-degree misdemeanor, if he would have to cut his hair while in jail, and whether his conviction would "screw up him getting a CCW permit."

         {¶ 7} On cross-examination, Merbs admitted he did not know how long the dog had been in the dumpster before it was discovered. He also admitted that the first time Schmuck had mentioned Goodwin's name in connection with the dog was on February 10, 2016, five days after the dog had been discovered.

         {¶ 8} Following Merbs' testimony, the state rested its case-in-chief. The trial court accepted into evidence photographs Merbs had taken of the dog when it was first removed from the dumpster. Goodwin then moved for acquittal pursuant to Crim.R. 29, but his motion was denied by the trial court. Thereafter, Goodwin and Schmuck testified on behalf of Goodwin's defense.

         {¶ 9} Schmuck testified the dog found in the dumpster was her dog, Charlie, and that she had been the dog's owner for about two years.[2] Schmuck stated she was the one who put the dog in the dumpster. She explained the dog "got sick and died and I came home from work one day and found him and it was late at night so I kind of freaked out and didn't really know what to do so I took him to the dumpster." According to Schmuck, the dog had been ill around the time of his death. She stated that "about a month before he passed he was sick and he would throw the food back up so I reduced his food some and kept feeding him and he started to eat some but then he just passed away and I don't know why."

         {¶ 10} Schmuck acknowledged that she had not been truthful when talking to Deputy Merbs. When she originally told him she gave the dog away to someone at Speedway, she did so because she was "freaking out" and "didn't know what to say." At the time of the dog's death, she had been staying at her mother's home, which was about 30 minutes away from her apartment. However, she was stopping back at her apartment "regularly" as she was "still going back and forth between the apartment for work." On the day the dog died, Schmuck came home from work and found him "laying there motionless." She stated she "got the cage and * * an old sheet and put it over the cage, put it in my car and drove to a different apartment and put him in the dumpster."

         {¶ 11} According to Schmuck, Goodwin had nothing to do with the dog's death or the dog's placement in the dumpster. She had not asked Goodwin to care for the dog and he only knew of the dog's death and placement in the dumpster because she told him about it. Schmuck testified she was being truthful in court and was testifying on Goodwin's behalf "[b]ecause I don't believe that it's right that somebody else gets in trouble for something that I did."

         {¶ 12} Goodwin testified his February 10, 2016 statement to Merbs was false, as he had not been asked to care for the dog and he had not put the dog in the dumpster. He first learned about the dog dying and being placed in the dumpster when Schmuck, his former girlfriend, contacted him to tell him about Merbs' investigation. As he was concerned that Schmuck might face jail time for her actions, and he "felt bad for her" and "didn't want her to go through [it] alone, " Goodwin accompanied Schmuck to the dog warden's office and claimed responsibility. He testified, "It was just kind of not really a spur of the moment thing but like I had it in the back of my head that I was going to do it but when I seen her crying and stuff I was like, 'I did it.'"

         {¶ 13} After considering the foregoing testimony and evidence, the trial court found Goodwin guilty as charged. In finding Goodwin guilty, the court discounted Schmuck's testimony, stating:

I can't think of any person that I've ever really seen testify that has as little credibility as Ms. Schmuck had here today. * * * [W]hen a person basically comes in and says that "I'm lying all the time. I'm lying all the time, but now I'm telling the truth, " well, she has no credibility at all. Her testimony was worth nothing except that it does make me think that the only reason she was here to testify today was to try to help Mr. Goodwin get out of trouble for his acts with regard to this dog.

         {¶ 14} The court sentenced Goodwin to 180 days in jail, with 60 days stayed, and to a two-year term of community control. The court also imposed a $400 fine and ordered Goodwin to pay costs.

         {¶ 15} Goodwin appealed, raising three assignments of error. Prior to addressing the merits of his assigned errors, this court will first consider Goodwin's December 27, 2016 motion to strike documents attached to the state's appellate brief.

         Motion to Strike

         {¶ 16} The state filed its appellate brief on December 12, 2016, and attached to its brief four documents: (1) a screen capture of Goodwin's supervision fees, (2) a screen capture of Goodwin's indigent fees, (3) Goodwin's General Conditions of Supervised Community Control, and (4) a Court Order regarding the total fines Goodwin was ordered to pay. ...

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