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State v. Feltha

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

November 22, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MACEO FELTHA, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO. B-1503624(A)

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Judith Anton Lapp, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Bryan R. Perkins, for Defendant-Appellant.


          Mock, Presiding Judge.

         {¶1} Shaundelle Graham was angry with Leroy Brewster because Brewster had destroyed cocaine owned by Graham that had been given to Brewster to convert into crack. Graham demanded that Brewster repay him for the destroyed drugs, but Brewster refused. Graham later instructed a group of men to go and harass Brewster. While this group was harassing Brewster, another individual approached, fired multiple shots, and fled. Brewster fled from the scene, but had been shot during the encounter. After running a short distance, Brewster collapsed and died. Portions of the events were captured by various security cameras, including the actual shooting and the aftermath.

         {¶2} During the course of the investigation, detectives learned that defendant-appellant Maceo Feltha may have been the shooter. Feltha was questioned over the course of five hours, and admitted to shooting Brewster. Feltha was indicted for one count of murder with specifications in violation of R.C. 2903.02(A), two counts of murder with specifications in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B), one count of felonious assault with specifications in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(2), one count of having a weapon while under a disability in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(2), and one count of kidnapping in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(2). Prior to trial, one of the RC. 2903.02(B) murder counts and the kidnapping count were dismissed at the request of the state.

         {¶3} The theory of the case presented by Feltha at the beginning of the trial was that his confession was false. The reason that he confessed was a combination of pressure he felt from law enforcement and the fact that he feared Graham. Counsel claimed that Feltha had an alibi witness that would place him elsewhere at the time of the shooting. Counsel also indicated that Feltha would testify at trial. During the state's case, several people testified that they saw Feltha at the scene and that he shot Brewster. The jury was shown the video evidence, as well as a note that Feltha had passed to another individual charged in the matter. The note detailed a strategy to coordinate false accounts of the events in order to secure acquittals for the several individuals involved in the incident. The jury also received evidence of three prior juvenile adjudications for Feltha to support the weapons-under-disability charge.

         {¶4} When the time came for the defense to present its case, Feltha chose not to take the stand. Additionally, the only witness he presented testified that Feltha had been seen somewhere else, but not at the time of the shooting. Because of these developments, counsel argued during closing arguments that Feltha had not intended to shoot Brewster, but that he was running and the gun went off. The jury found Feltha guilty on all counts. After mergers, Feltha was convicted of one count of murder with specifications, and one count of having a weapon while under a disability. He was sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder count and 36 months in prison for the weapons-under-disability count, with the terms to be served consecutively. Feltha now appeals raising five assignments of error.

         Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         {¶5} In his first assignment of error, Feltha claims that his trial counsel was ineffective. To prevail on an ineffective-assistance claim, an appellant must demonstrate that his counsel's performance was deficient, and that in the absence of counsel's errors there is a reasonable probability that the result of the trial would have been different. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); State v. Bradley, 42 Ohio St.3d 136, 141-142, 538 N.E.2d 373 (1989). "A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Strickland at 694. Our review of counsel's performance must be "highly deferential." Id. at 689.

         Prior Adjudications

         {¶6} Feltha claims that counsel was ineffective for stipulating to three prior juvenile adjudications that supported the weapons-under-disability count. He first argues that counsel should have tried to sever the charge and have it tried separately. But Feltha was not prejudiced by the fact that the charges were tried together because the proof for each offense was "simple and direct, so that [the] jury [was] capable of segregating the proof required for each offense." See State v. Norman, 137 Ohio App.3d 184, 197, 738 N.E.2d 403 (1st Dist.1999). With the video evidence, the testimony of everyone else involved, and Feltha's confession, we cannot say that he was convicted because the weapons-under-disability charge was tried with the other charges.

         {¶7} He next argues that trial counsel should have sought to waive the jury trial on that count and try the weapons-under-disability count to the bench. But the decision on whether to waive a jury trial is a matter of trial strategy. See State v. Boyde, 10th Dist. Franklin No. 12AP-981, 2013-Ohio-3795, ¶ 19. Feltha further argues that counsel was ineffective for failing to convince him to plead guilty to the charge so that the evidence of the prior adjudications would not be admitted. But there is no evidence in this record that Feltha would have been willing to enter such a plea.

         {¶8} Feltha also argues that counsel was ineffective for stipulating to three separate adjudications, rather than just one. He also argues that allowing the admission of the documents detailing the adjudications, rather than simply stipulating to the fact of a prior adjudication, constituted deficient performance. The Ohio Supreme Court has held that a trial court abuses its discretion when it refuses to accept the offer of defense counsel to stipulate to the fact of a prior conviction for the purpose of establishing the element of an offense that requires proof of a prior conviction. State v. Creech,150 Ohio St.3d 540, 2016-Ohio-8440, ___ N.E.3d ___. Thus, if counsel had offered to stipulate to a prior adjudication without the admission of documents detailing the facts underlying the offenses, the trial court would have been required to accept the stipulation. But the evidence of Feltha's guilt was overwhelming. Thus, while counsel's performance was deficient in that regard, there is no reasonable probability that the outcome would have been ...

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