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State v. Morgan

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

September 8, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MELISSA MORGAN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Trial Nos. B-1405991 B-1506927

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Philip R. Cummings, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Michael J. Trapp, for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          Myers, Judge.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant Melissa Morgan has appealed the judgment of the trial court convicting her, following a jury trial, of the murder of Maurice Mundy. Morgan raises six assignments of error for our review. Finding no merit to her arguments, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedure

         {¶2} Mundy was Morgan's drug dealer. On October 20, 2014, Morgan bought drugs from Mundy and spent the night at his house. The following morning, after Morgan had left, Mundy discovered that he was missing approximately $250. Mundy believed that Morgan had taken his money, and he spent much of the day driving around with Amanda Powers looking for Morgan at various locations, including her grandmother's home. Through Morgan's friend Christine Gregory, Mundy was able to set up a meeting with Morgan at Hunter Park in Norwood that afternoon.

         {¶3} Morgan and Gregory were already at Hunter Park when Mundy arrived with Powers. Morgan and Mundy immediately confronted each other. During their argument, Mundy hit Morgan in the face, and Morgan then stabbed Mundy in the neck with a knife.

         {¶4} This confrontation was witnessed by numerous people. These witnesses collectively heard Mundy demand his money and heard Morgan deny having taken it. They witnessed Mundy hit Morgan, heard Morgan threaten to stab Mundy, and then saw her actually stab him.

         {¶5} Morgan was initially indicted for the offense of felonious assault. But after Mundy died from his injuries approximately one year later, Morgan was indicted for the offense of murder under R.C. 2903.02(B).

         {¶6} Her case proceeded to a jury trial, where Morgan argued that she had stabbed Mundy in self-defense. The jury rejected Morgan's claim of self-defense and found her guilty of murder. The trial court sentenced Morgan to a term of 15 years to life imprisonment.

         Character Evidence

         {¶7} In her first assignment of error, Morgan argues that the trial court erred by admitting character evidence of her propensity for violence.

         {¶8} We review the trial court's admission of evidence for an abuse of discretion. State v. Brand, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-150590, 2016-Ohio-7456, ¶ 27, citing State v. Noling, 98 Ohio St.3d 44, 2002-Ohio-7044, 781 N.E.2d 88, ¶ 43. An abuse of discretion "connotes more than an error of law or of judgment; it implies an unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable attitude on the part of the court." Pembaur v. Leis, 1 Ohio St.3d 89, 91, 437 N.E.2d 1199 (1982).

         {¶9} Pursuant to Evid.R. 404(A), character evidence is generally not admissible to prove action in conformity therewith. But, "[e]vidence of a pertinent trait of character offered by an accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same is admissible." Evid.R. 404(A)(1). When a defendant presents evidence of a specific character trait, the door is opened for the prosecution to rebut that evidence. State v. Garcia, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 102546, 2016-Ohio-585, ¶ 68; State v. Mitchell, 1st Dist. Hamilton Nos. C-050416 and C-050417, 2006-Ohio-5073, ¶ 73.

         {¶10} The prosecutor began her cross-examination of Morgan by asking Morgan, "What about the fights that you have had throughout your life?" Defense counsel immediately raised an objection that was overruled by the trial court. Referring to discussions that must have taken place off the record, the trial court stated that the parties had talked about this issue a number of times, and it ...


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