Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
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
BEFORE: S. Gallagher, J., McCormack, P.J., and Boyle, J.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
C. GALLAGHER, JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 ...