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State v. Houston

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 8, 2017

STATE OF OHIO PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
ANTONIO J. HOUSTON DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

         Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case Nos. CR-15-597529-A, CR-15-597826-A, and CR-15-599941-A

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT David L. Doughten David L. Doughten Co. L.P.A.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor BY: Ryan J. Bokoch Assistant County Prosecutor.

          BEFORE: Jones, J., McCormack, P.J., and Blackmon, J.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          LARRY A. JONES, SR., J.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Antonio Houston, appeals his conviction on multiple counts. We affirm.

         I. Procedural History and Facts

         {¶2} In 2015, Houston was indicted in three separate but related cases. In Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-15-597826-A, Houston was charged in the July 6, 2015 shooting involving Maurice Bradford and Larry Bradford. In Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-15-599941-A, Houston was charged in the July 8, 2015 shooting involving Brad Bradford. In Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-15-597529-A, Houston was charged in the subsequent recovery of the firearm used in the July 8, 2015 incident.

         {¶3} The state moved to consolidate the three cases. The trial court granted the state's motion and the case proceeded to a jury trial at which the following pertinent evidence was presented.

         {¶4} In the summer of 2015, the Fleet and Broadway divisions of the Heartless Felons gang in the city of Cleveland were at war. Previously, members of the two sects got along; they grew up together and attended the same schools. But a division occurred sometime in the spring of 2015. On May 4, 2015, Pedro "Dro" Barnes, a member of Broadway, was shot and killed, allegedly by a Fleet member. Antwoine "Ballzy" Palmer was shot at the same time, but survived. On June 20, 2015, Fleet member Arthur "Archie" Davis was shot and killed, allegedly by a Broadway member.

         {¶5} Houston, a.k.a. "Papa, " was part of the Broadway sect. People also knew Houston by the last name Curry, perhaps because he had a brother with that last name. Houston had dated the same girl as Fleet member Brad Bradford. Brad had four brothers: Lawrence Black and Maurice, Larry, and Nolando Bradford.

         {¶6} Maurice, Larry, and Nolando lived with their mother in an up/down house on East 85th Street in Cleveland. The upstairs was their apartment, and the downstairs was an informal bar run by their mother. On July 6, 2015, Maurice and Larry were sitting outside. Larry is a paraplegic from a previous shooting and was sitting either in his wheelchair or in a chair next to his wheelchair.

         {¶7} At some point, Maurice called 911 and reported that "Antonio Curry" had just driven by and shot at him and Larry. Maurice's six-year-old daughter was also present, and Larry fell out of his chair to cover and protect her from the gunfire. The brothers thought they heard six gunshots, but no one was hit and a single bullet hole was found in the garage.

         {¶8} Cleveland police officers Theresa Crews and Cynthia Cuba responded to the scene. When the police arrived, Maurice told Patrolwoman Crews that "Antonio Curry" had shot at him while driving by in a black SUV. Larry told Patrolwoman Cuba that the SUV drove by and a man shot at him from the driver's side rear window using a chrome handgun. Through investigation, the Cleveland police learned that "Antonio Curry, " was really Antonio Houston.

         {¶9} Two days later, on July 8, 2015, Brad Bradford was in the alley behind his house when another drive-by shooting occurred. Cleveland police officer Antonio Andiano responded to the call. When Patrolman Andiano arrived, he saw 30 to 40 cartridge casings lying in the street. He spoke with Brad, who did not want to give him any details of the shooting. Brad did, however, tell his girlfriend, Rodnesha, about the shooting. Rodnesha testified that Brad told her Papa was riding in a black Kia truck with two women. They drove by him and "shot up" Rodnesha's Hyundai Sonata that Brad was driving. Rodnesha was not in the car at the time of the shooting. When Rodnesha got her car out of impound she counted 13 bullet holes in her car.

         {¶10} On July 13, 2015, Cleveland Heights police officer Michael Mathis was flagged down by a scared female who reported that she was stopped at a traffic light when a man in the backseat of the car next to her pointed a gun at her and motioned her to pull over. While the female was talking to Patrolman Mathis, the subject car drove by and the woman pointed the car out to the officer. Patrolman Mathis pulled the car over without incident. Patrolman Mathis arrested the man in the backseat, Antonio Houston, who the victim positively identified as the man who had just pointed the gun at her.

         {¶11} Patrolman Mathis found two loaded guns, a 9 mm Ruger and a Kel-Tec 9 mm, in a purse on the front passenger seat floor. Keyonna Anderson, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat, testified that the guns inside the purse were hers. She claimed she bought them on the street for protection. She testified that she could not remember when she bought the guns or describe what they looked like. She further claimed that after she bought the guns, she put them in her purse and put her purse up on a shelf. It was not until the day they were pulled over that she had pulled her purse down off the shelf; she simply forgot there were two loaded guns in her purse.

         {¶12} Kristen Koeth, a scientific examiner with the Cleveland Police Department's forensic laboratory, testified that six cartridge casings located at the scene of the July 8, 2015 shooting came from gun recovered during Houston's July 13, 2015 arrest.

         {¶13} Detective Timothy Toler testified about his investigation into the crimes. He explained that when he initially tried to contact Maurice, Larry, and Brad, the men would not talk to him. Detective Toler found Larry in a hospital getting treatment for an unrelated illness, and it was then that Larry positively identified Houston as the shooter in a photo lineup. Larry signed his name to the photo lineup and wrote "Papa" next to Houston's photo. Brad finally spoke to the detective in August 2015, after he was the victim of another shooting in which he was injured.[1] Brad did not, however, testify at trial.

         {¶14} Nolando, who was not home during the July 6th shooting, learned of it shortly after it happened and testified at trial. At first, Nolando denied recognizing Houston in the courtroom. The state was allowed to treat Nolando as a hostile witness, and upon further questioning, Nolando admitted he knew Houston as "Pops" and that his brother Maurice had told him that "Papa" had shot at him. Nolando admitted he was scared to testify because he was afraid of retaliation. Nolando stated that testifying is "snitching" and "snitches" "get, you know, shot at."

         {¶15} Larry testified at trial but only after he was brought in pursuant to a witness warrant. Larry testified that contrary to what he initially told police, he did not remember who shot him. He could not remember identifying the shooter in a photo lineup or during police interviews. But he knew who Antonio Houston was and reluctantly identified him in court. Upon further questioning, Larry remembered that when he spoke to the investigating detective about the case, he stated "Papa" was the shooter.

         {¶16} Larry admitted that he and his brother Maurice are associated with Fleet and, back in July 2015, Fleet and Broadway had a "beef." Larry conceded that he did not want to be seen as a snitch and if he came into court and testified with a "good memory, " he would be seen as a snitch.

         {¶17} Detective Alfred Johnson of the Cleveland Police Department's Gang Impact Unit testified that he obtained a search warrant for Houston's phone and found several photos and videos pertinent to the shootings. Detective Johnson identified a video shot on July 5, 2015, in which Houston and Antwoine Palmer were holding guns. Houston was holding a 9 mm Ruger, which Detective Johnson testified was the same one used in the July 8, 2015 shooting involving Brad. Detective Johnson was confident it was the same gun because of the unique markings on the handle. During the video, both Houston and Palmer can be seen throwing up "gang signs" associated with the Heartless Felons.

         {¶18} Detective Johnson identified a second video shot on July 7, 2015, in which Houston can be seen holding a gun and stating: "F[---] Archie." According to the detective, Archie was associated with Fleet and was a friend of the Bradford brothers; as previously mentioned, Archie was shot and killed in June 2015. In another video also shot on July 7, Houston stated: "F[---] Archie, f[---] the Fleet n[---] and f[---] Wayne Bang and RIP Dro." According to Detective Johnson, Pedro "Dro" Barnes was part of Broadway and was shot and killed in May 2015.

         {¶19} In a video shot July 26, 2015, after Houston's arrest and filmed in jail, Houston can be seen stating: "F[---] the Fleet n[---], LOH." "LOH, " Detective Johnson explained, stands for "Land of the Heartless, " which is a reference to the Heartless Felons gang.

         {¶20} The detective also identified a series of texts that were exchanged minutes after the July 6, 2015 shooting at Maurice and Leonard's house. "Ma, " identity unknown, texted Houston, "I heard what you did. Stop it." Houston replied, "What is you talking about." Ma responded, "TB." Detective Johnson explained that Maurice's nickname is Teddy Bear and is often abbreviated TB.

         {¶21} Detective Johnson discussed the difficulties of the investigation, including the reluctance of victims and witnesses to come forward. He explained that "snitching" when "it comes to people in a criminal life style" means that if someone were to shoot them and they were to tell the police who just shot them, it would be considered snitching and a reason for retaliation.

         {¶22} In CR-15-597529-A, the jury convicted Houston of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, carrying a concealed weapon, and aggravated menacing. The jury acquitted him of receiving stolen property and one count each of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and carrying a concealed weapon. The court found Houston guilty of having weapons while under disability and of the repeat violent offender specification as charged in the underlying indictment. The court sentenced Houston to a total of 36 months in prison on this case.

         {¶23} In CR-15-597826-A, the jury convicted Houston of two counts of felonious assault with one-, three-, and five-year firearm specifications; two counts of attempted felonious assault with one-, three-, and five-year firearm specifications; improper discharge of a firearm at or into a habitation or school with one-, three-, and five-year firearm specifications; carrying a concealed weapon; and discharging a weapon on or near a prohibited premise with one-, three-, and five-year firearm specifications. The court found Houston guilty of having weapons while under disability and of the repeat violent offender specification as charged in the underlying indictment. After merging many of the counts for the purposes of sentencing, the court sentenced Houston to a total of 44 years in this case to run consecutive to the 36-month sentence in CR-15-597529-A.

         {¶24} In CR-15-599941-A, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of felonious assault, including one-, three-, and five-year firearm specifications, discharging a weapon on or near a prohibited premises, and improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle. The court found Houston guilty of having weapons while under disability and of the repeat violent offender specification as charged in the underlying indictment. The trial ...


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