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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Richland

November 17, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
AUSTIN JONES Defendant-Appellant

         Criminal Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2015 CR 0970


          For Defendant-Appellant WILLIAM T. CRAMER.

          Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, P. J. Hon. William B. Hoffman, J. Hon. John W. Wise, J. Judges.


          WISE, J.

         {¶1} Appellant Austin Jones appeals his conviction, in the Court of Common Pleas, Richland County, for murder, attempted murder, and other offenses. Appellee is the State of Ohio. The relevant facts leading to this appeal are as follows.

         {¶2} On November 3, 2015, Cedric Daniels and Appellant Jones (aka "Julio") went to the American Legion on Harmon Avenue in Mansfield for "dollar shot night." Brianna Daniels eventually joined them. Brianna is Cedric's sister and was at that time appellant's girlfriend. Appellant often stayed overnight at Brianna's residence, but he did not reside there. According to Brianna, appellant made money by selling drugs and "getting checks." Tr. at 231. Brianna was also a customer in appellant's alleged drug sale activities. On the date in question, Brianna and appellant had already been consuming alcohol and cocaine, or as Brianna described it, "*** all throughout the night, and through the day, drinking and kicking it." Tr. at 233.

         {¶3} Kelsey Leonhard, an acquaintance who occasionally provided transportation services in exchange for cash or drugs, gave everyone rides that night and functioned as the designated driver.

         {¶4} Rena Daniels, Brianna and Cedric's maternal aunt, was the bar and kitchen manager at the American Legion. She observed that appellant was "drinking pretty fast that night." Tr. at 184. She testified that she was a former user of cocaine, and that she thought his rapid drinking was a result of him being high on something. At some point in the evening, someone informed her that appellant and Brianna were arguing out on the dance floor; however, they eventually left the bar.

         {¶5} The aforesaid argument, apparently caused by appellant buying a drink for a female customer, carried over into the gravel parking lot. According to Brianna, appellant felt he had been disrespected, so he choked her and "slammed" her to the ground, causing abrasion injuries to her hand and knee. Tr. at 237-240.

         {¶6} Brianna's cousin, Travis "Terrell" Daniels, happened to be in the area. He saw something was wrong and ran over to see what was happening. It looked to him like appellant was trying to get Brianna back into the car, but he did not see appellant trying to choke her or throw her down. Appellant, not realizing who Travis was, then angrily went to the car the group was using that night and retrieved a pistol. Appellant then stumbled and fell to the ground, but got back on his feet. Travis then jumped for cover into a friend's van. After Travis got in the van, appellant pointed what appeared to him to be a gun at the vehicle. The van was then driven from the scene.

         {¶7} Brianna and Cedric managed to get appellant temporarily calmed down. Appellant began crying and apologizing. Brianna decided to leave the area with appellant, as she believed that it would help to keep things peaceable. Appellant, Brianna, Cedric, and Kelsey then left together to go to Brianna's house on Cleveland Avenue.

         {¶8} The arguing resumed during the trip home. At some point, Brianna got out of the car and threatened to walk the rest of the way, but she got back in and the trip continued.

         {¶9} When appellant, Brianna, Cedric, and Kelsey arrived at the residence, Brianna's two children and her mother were there. Also present were Tyrique Nettles and Qadree Gray, two adult relatives of Brianna's children. When Brianna got out of the car, she observed her cousin Lacey and a friend sitting in another vehicle parked near the house. An argument briefly resulted between Lacey and appellant, so Lacey and her friend left the premises. Brianna entered the house, got into another argument with her mother, and then went outside to cool off. After Cedric spoke with his mother and told her he would handle the situation, appellant's mother left for the evening.

         {¶10} When Brianna re-entered the house, she went upstairs, the layout of which consisted of a bathroom, Brianna's bedroom, Cedric's bedroom (which included an older-model television set), and the bedroom for Brianna's two children. One of the children was already trying to go to sleep, while the other was with Qadree and Tyrique, watching a basketball game in Cedric's room. Meanwhile, the arguing between Brianna and appellant resumed upstairs in her bedroom. After Brianna closed the door, appellant started demanding money from her. He also punched her several times, leaving a lump on her face. According to Brianna, appellant then retrieved a gun from his orange and black book bag. Appellant also began cussing at Brianna, so she commenced running out of the bedroom, toward the children's bedroom. As she ran, appellant opened fire and struck her with a bullet that entered her back, causing a lung contusion. As the fracas spilled into the hallway, appellant continued firing, hitting Cedric with two rounds to the chest.

         {¶11} As Brianna tried to get away, appellant yelled: "Bitch, you disrespect me." Tr. at 259. Appellant caught her after she got to the children's bedroom and dragged her back to her bedroom, past the spot where Cedric was lying on the ground. Id. Once they were back in the room, appellant started choking Brianna against the wall, telling her: "Bitch, you going to die tonight." Tr. at 259. Eventually, Brianna lost consciousness from the choking.

         {¶12} When the shots commenced, Qadree (the brother of the father of Brianna's children) and Tyrique (Qadree's cousin) did their best to shield Brianna's children. They thereafter saw appellant packing two bags. Appellant then exited the house with at least one bag. Qadree and Tyrique each called 911.

         {¶13} Officers from the Mansfield Police Department and other law enforcement agencies soon arrived at the house. Brianna, who had regained consciousness, came outside to the officers, yelling for help. Cedric was found lying partially in the hallway on the second floor. Two bullets and one shell casing were discovered on the second floor and submitted for testing. Brianna's bedroom was in disarray and her blood was in various parts of the room. The witnesses believed there had been four shots and thought the shooter's name was "Julio" (appellant's nickname). Tr. at 131. Brianna told police that the shooter was named Austin. Tr. at 231-232. He was described as a tall and thin black male with braids.

         {¶14} Cedric was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead as a result of two gunshot wounds to the chest. Brianna Daniels was also treated for a gunshot wound to the back. She also had a wound on the back of her arm and an abrasion on her hand.

         {¶15} Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Kohler from Summit County performed an autopsy on Cedric Daniels on November 5, 2015. There were two gunshot wounds on the right side of his chest. There were entrance and exit wounds. She determined that "we don't have any characteristics that indicate the weapon was held close to the individual at the time it was fired." Tr. at 512. Also, the wounds did not indicate that they were caused by ricocheting, and Cedric had no defensive wounds that would suggest an altercation or physical struggle prior to being shot. Tr. at 514-515.

         {¶16} The day after the shooting, police officers returned to the area to search for additional evidence. Officers found a vacant house near the scene of the shooting and proceeded to search it. Inside a closet in the vacant house, officers found appellant's orange book bag and black duffle bag, which contained his clothing.

         {¶17} When appellant had started shooting, Kelsey (the designated driver that night) jumped out of a second-floor window. While Kelsey was outside of the house after jumping, she saw appellant running down an alleyway with an orange backpack. Later, while Kelsey was at the police station, a call came in on her cell phone from appellant's number. She was too afraid to answer, but officers requested that she text appellant instead. In one of the text messages, appellant offered Kelsey $100.00 and extra gas money or drugs if she would pick him up in Columbus and drive him to Indiana. Officers then arranged for Kelsey to pick appellant up in an unmarked police vehicle. When appellant came out of the house at the Columbus location, officers arrested him. He had no observable wounds on or about his body.

         {¶18} Police officers made contact with appellant's parents and were able to ascertain a general area where the gun may have been hidden. While the police were searching alleyways near Brianna's residence, a concerned citizen told them about seeing someone run up to his house on the night of the murder. Police then examined the adjacent house and discovered some vinyl siding leaning up against a wall. They found the gun at this spot, a "45 Kahr" semi-automatic. The gun was loaded with one round in the chamber, and there were two rounds in the magazine. The maximum number of rounds the gun could hold in the magazine is six. Test fires of appellant's gun revealed that the casing found at the crime scene matched the weapon.

         {¶19} Investigators also found pictures on appellant's phone of him wearing a baseball cap similar to the one recovered with appellant's orange backpack and duffle bag, and holding a firearm similar to the one tied to the shooting.

         {¶20} On December 18, 2015, appellant was indicted by the Richland County Grand Jury for murder, attempted murder, two counts of felonious assault, and having a weapon under a disability. The matter proceeded to a jury trial conducted on June 16 through 22, 2016. The State presented twenty-three witnesses, including Brianna, Kelsey, Qadree, Tyrique, Travis, and Rena. Appellant, advancing a theory of self-defense, took the stand as the sole defense witness, as further discussed infra. The jury was given a self-defense instruction by the trial court. Tr. at 807-810. The court also permitted a jury view of the premises on Cleveland Avenue. See Tr. at 195.

         {¶21} After hearing the evidence and arguments, the jury convicted appellant of the following: (1) the murder of Cedric Daniels, R.C. 2903.02(A), an unclassified felony; (2) the attempted murder of Brianna Daniels, R.C. 2923.02(A) and R.C. 2903.02(A), a first-degree felony; (3) felonious assault with a deadly weapon against Brianna Daniels, R.C. 2903.11(A)(2), a second-degree felony; (4) felonious assault causing serious physical harm against Brianna Daniels in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1), a second-degree felony; and (5) having a weapon while under disability in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(1), a third-degree felony. Additionally, the ...

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