Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Harris

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

May 25, 2017


         Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case Nos. CR-15-598240-A and CR-15-599227-A

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Thomas A. Rein.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor By: Jeffrey Schnatter Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.

          BEFORE: S. Gallagher, J., McCormack, P.J., and Boyle, J.



         {¶1} Michael Harris appeals his convictions from Cuyahoga C.P. Nos. CR-15-599227-A and CR-15-598240-A involving murder, domestic violence, and criminal trespass. We affirm.

         {¶2} Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-15-598240-A ("the murder case") involves the death of a four-year-old. Harris was involved with the child's mother, but he did not live with the family. The two had a relationship for about a year before the child's death but had known each other much longer. The mother had five other children. On the day of the child's death, the mother was taking a shower. The child was at the bathroom door crying. Mother asked Harris to watch the child, something mother routinely did if needed when Harris was around. On her way out of the bathroom door, she saw the child sitting upright on the couch with his siblings. Mother then went in the bedroom and left the children on the couch. At a later undetermined time, she went to get three of the children ready to leave and found the victim unresponsive and not breathing while sitting upright on the couch. She called 911 and attempted to revive him. Emergency medical services responded and transported the child to the emergency room to no avail. Importantly, when the investigating police officers interviewed both mother and Harris, there were no discrepancies in that time line.

         {¶3} Eventually Children and Family Services removed all the children because of neglect allegations. Evidently, mother is under investigation for having weapons and selling drugs from the home. Further, there is evidence indicative of past abuse that the child victim had suffered that could not be explained at trial.

         {¶4} The child's death was ruled a homicide by the coroner. It was determined that he had died as a result of blunt force impact to the trunk with skeletal, visceral, and soft tissue injuries. The autopsy revealed several freshly broken ribs, causing internal hemorrhaging, along with evidence of healed fractures, which demonstrated the potential for past abuse. The child's spleen and liver were lacerated, causing bleeding in the abdominal cavity. The blunt force impact could have been from a fist, a foot, or another blunt object. The injuries occurred immediately before the child's death, and according to the state's expert, CPR could be ruled out as to whether the rib fractures were caused by mother's attempt to resuscitate the child. The rib fractures occurred as a result of trauma to the back. Further, from the nature of the injuries, the coroner concluded that the child would have been incapacitated within minutes of sustaining the severe injuries.

         {¶5} After the bench trial, Harris was found guilty of murder and sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment for 15 years to life and subject to postrelease control. The remaining counts merged into the murder conviction and are otherwise irrelevant to the appeal.

         {¶6} As it relates to case No. CR-15-599227-A ("the assault case"), Harris has not presented any appellate arguments challenging the finding of guilt or sentence in that case. His sole argument is that the trial court should not have joined the second abuse case with the murder one. As such, we must affirm the conviction and sentence in the assault case and will only address the arguments in the context of the murder case. The assault case arose from unrelated events that occurred several months later than the events underlying the murder case. The assault case involved Harris's physical attack on another girlfriend's teenaged son, different persons from those in the murder case. The two cases were based on crimes that were separate and distinct. The 18-month aggregate sentence imposed on the criminal trespassing and domestic violence charges were imposed concurrently to the indefinite sentence imposed in the murder case.

         {¶7} In this appeal, Harris claims that (1) the trial court erred by joining the two cases for the bench trial because that permitted the trier of fact to rely on other acts evidence in finding Harris guilty of murder; and (2) the murder conviction was against the sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence. We find no merit to the assigned errors.

         {¶8} Crim.R. 13 provides that a trial court may order two or more indictments to be tried together "if the offenses or the defendants could have been joined in a single indictment or information" under Crim.R. 8(A). "'[J]oinder and the avoidance of multiple trials is favored for many reasons, among which are conserving time and expense, diminishing the inconvenience to witnesses and minimizing the possibility of incongruous results in successive trials before different juries.'" State v. Anderson, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 104460, 2017-Ohio-931, ¶ 23, quoting State v. Torres, 66 Ohio St.2d 340, 421 N.E.2d 1288 (1981). See also State v. Schiebel, 55 Ohio St.3d 71, 86-87, 564 N.E.2d 54 (1990); State v. Schaim, 65 Ohio St.3d 51, 58, 1992-Ohio-31, 600 N.E.2d 661. Generally joinder is disfavored where the jury could potentially confuse the issues and the facts essential to the elements of the distinct crimes. "To succeed on a motion to sever, a defendant 'must furnish the trial court with sufficient information so that it can weigh the considerations favoring joinder against the defendant's right to a fair trial.'" State v. Lytle, 10th Dist. Franklin Nos. 15AP-748 and 15AP-754, 2016-Ohio-3532, ¶ 64, quoting State v. Lott, 51 Ohio St.3d 160, 163, 555 N.E.2d 293 (1990); Torres at syllabus. The operative distinction is that these trials occurred before a jury. In a bench trial, the defendant's burden becomes steeper.

         {¶9} In this case, Harris waived his right to a trial by jury in both cases. His sole claim, as to the deprivation of a fair trial by the joinder, was because the trial court was permitted knowledge of the distinct crimes and the court could have imputed criminal liability in the murder case, not for the facts pertinent to the individual crimes, but because Harris was charged with another abuse case. Harris ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.