Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Mahoning
Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Mahoning County,
Ohio Case No. 13 CR 492
Plaintiff-Appellee: Atty. Paul J. Gains Mahoning County
Prosecutor Atty. Ralph M. Rivera Assistant Prosecuting
Defendant-Appellant: Atty. Rhys Cartwright-Jones
JUDGES: Hon. Carol Ann Robb, Hon. Gene Donofrio, Hon. Mary
Defendant-Appellant Larry Dawson appeals from his conviction
and sentence entered in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court
for felony murder, a violation of R.C. 2903.02(B). Appellant
asserts four arguments for why his conviction should be
overturned. First, he argues the use of child endangering as
the predicate offense to felony murder violated his due
process rights. Second, he argues there is insufficient
evidence Appellant abused the victim and proximately caused
the death. Third, he asserts the conviction is against the
manifest weight of the evidence. Lastly, he contends there
were multiple instances of harmless error during the trial
which resulted in cumulative error requiring a new trial. For
the reasons expressed below, none of these arguments have
merit. Thus, the conviction and sentence are affirmed.
of the Facts and Case
Appellant and Rhea Stewart had one child, RayVon; the child
was born September 8, 2011. Tr. 259. Although Appellant and
Steward were not together, Appellant spent time with the
child. Tr. 266, 271. On Saturday, December 8, 2012 Stewart
took the 15 month old toddler to stay with Appellant for a
couple days; the toddler was scheduled to stay at
Appellant's house on 3031 Oregon Street, Youngstown, Ohio
from Saturday December 8, 2012 through Thursday, December 13,
2012. 12/13/12 Interview State's Exhibit 8. Appellant
lived with his girlfriend, Ashlee Artist, and her son, who
was a couple months older than RayVon.
Stewart described RayVon as a typical 15 month old who was
walking and learning to talk. Both Appellant and Artist
confirmed the toddler was walking. The child's
pediatrician also testified the toddler was developmentally a
normal 15 month old.
During the visit, Appellant was the child's primary
caregiver. At approximately 3:00 pm on Wednesday, Artist
called 911 requesting an ambulance because Appellant had
found RayVon unresponsive in the crib and white foam was
coming out of his nose and mouth. The 911 operator instructed
them how to administer CPR and told them an ambulance was on
Officer Assad Chaibi of the Youngstown Police Department
arrived on the scene prior to the ambulance. When he arrived,
Appellant and Artist were outside the home. Tr. 312. The
officer described Appellant's demeanor as very odd for a
father; he stated Appellant was not emotional and did not
seem concerned. Tr. 315. The officer found the toddler lying
on a couch with a liquid substance coming out of his mouth
and nose. Tr. 132. The officer began administering CPR. Tr.
Once the ambulance arrived, the paramedic, Kimberly Nosek,
administered CPR. Tr. 339. Upon asking Appellant questions
about the toddler, she noted Appellant seemed unattached to
the situation. Tr. 343. She avowed she asked Appellant if the
child had experienced any accidents, falls, or hit his head.
Tr. 344. Appellant responded no. Tr. 344.
The child was taken to St. Elizabeth's Health Center in
Youngstown and then was flown to Akron Children's
Hospital in Akron, Ohio. Dr. Vivek Malhotra, a pediatric
intensivist at Akron Children's Hospital, testified when
RayVon arrived at the hospital there was no evidence of
clinical brain function. Tr. 400. In examining his eyes, the
doctor observed bilateral retinal hemorrhages, which is often
found in shaken or abused children. Tr. 402-403. The doctor
testified the injuries RayVon had are typically seen in
"very high impact injuries, " such as high speed
motor vehicle accidents or a child falling from a second
story building onto concrete. Tr. 413. RayVon died at the
hospital on the morning of Thursday, December 13, 2012.
That afternoon, Appellant and Artist were interviewed by
Detective Sergeant Patton. The detective specifically asked,
"Has the baby fallen lately, hit his head?"
12/13/12 Interview State's Exhibit 8. Appellant responded
saying RayVon might have hit his head on the wall Monday.
12/13/12 Interview State's Exhibit 8. He described it as
bumping his head on the drywall by sitting back real hard.
12/13/12 Interview State's Exhibit 8. Appellant stated
the toddler laughed after bumping his head. 12/13/12
Interview State's Exhibit 8.
Artist told the detective Appellant informed her RayVon fell
down a few steps on Monday. She testified she did not see the
fall; she was at work.
An autopsy was performed by the Summit County Coroner's
Office. Following the examination, the Chief Medical Examiner
Dr. George Sterbenz determined the cause of death was
craniocerebral blunt force trauma, and the manner of death
was homicide. State's Exhibit 21. He testified there were
multiple impacts to the back of the head causing a skull
fracture and brain injury. Tr. 473, 490, 495, 505. He avowed
this type of injury would result in immediate disability and
quick death. Tr. 499.
Thereafter, Detective Patton asked the medical examiner if a
fall down a couple of stairs could cause the injuries. He was
told no, it could not happen from a fall. Tr. 385, 777.
Appellant was indicted on May 9, 2013 for felony murder in
violation of R.C. 2903.02(B)(D), an unclassified felony;
child endangering in violation of R.C.
2919.22(B)(1)(E)(2)(d), a second-degree felony; and child
endangering in violation of R.C. 2919.22(A)(E)(2)(c), a
third-degree felony. Appellant pled not guilty.
The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found Appellant
guilty of all indicted charges. 6/29/15 Jury Verdict Forms;
7/7/15 J.E. For purposes of sentencing, the child endangering
convictions were found to be allied offenses of similar
import, and accordingly, merged with the felony murder
conviction. 7/10/15 J.E. The trial court imposed the
mandatory 15 years to life sentence for the felony murder
conviction. 7/10/15 J.E.
Appellant appeals from his conviction and sentence. First
Assignment of Error: Due Process
Appellant's first assignment of error contends:
child endangerment as a predicate offense for felony murder
violates the due process clause of the U.S.
Appellant acknowledges that under the plain text of the
felony murder statute, child endangering may serve as a
predicate offense for felony murder. However, he contends
allowing it to serve as a predicate offense violates due
process because it relieves the state of proving the culpable
mental state. In asserting his argument, ...