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State v. Cordoba

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Fulton

November 22, 2017

State of Ohio Appellee
v.
Romauldo M. Cordoba, Jr. Appellant

         Trial Court No. 15CR000048

          Scott A. Haselman, Fulton County Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Laurel A. Kendall, for appellant.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT

          PIETRYKOWSKI, J.

         {¶ 1} This is an appeal from the judgment of the Fulton County Court of Common Pleas, following a jury trial, convicting appellant of one count of domestic violence in violation of R.C. 2919.25, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree, and one count of involuntary manslaughter in violation of R.C. 2903.04(A), a felony of the first degree, with an attendant gun specification. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         {¶ 2} The testimony from the trial reveals that in the early morning hours of April 25, 2015, appellant confronted his estranged wife in the parking lot of DB Billiards in Wauseon, Ohio. As appellant's wife exited the pool hall and entered her vehicle, appellant drove up behind her and blocked her vehicle with his car. Appellant than exited his vehicle and banged on his wife's driver's-side window; first with his fist, then with a gun.

         {¶ 3} The victim, Josh McJilton, saw this altercation and intervened. Security footage from the pool hall shows that the victim approached appellant and the two stood close together face to face. Appellant fired a warning shot in the air, but the victim did not move back. Appellant then began backing away and fired shots towards the ground near appellant's feet. One of the shots hit the victim in the left leg. The victim then either fell or lunged forward. Appellant fired another shot, which hit the victim in the right chest, and because of the shallow angle, passed through the victim's body, perforating the victim's lung and heart. The victim died as a result of this gunshot wound.

         {¶ 4} Appellant was indicted on charges of domestic violence and murder. He entered a plea of not guilty, and the matter proceeded to a jury trial. Prior to the start of trial, appellant filed a motion for a change of venue, arguing that due to the extensive pre-trial publicity, appellant could not receive a fair trial in Fulton County. The trial court held this motion in abeyance until after voir dire. At voir dire, most of the potential jurors indicated that they had some familiarity with the case, either through news reports, social media, or word of mouth. Those jurors who indicated that they could not set their prior knowledge aside and reach a verdict solely on the facts presented at trial were immediately excused. A large number of the remaining jurors stated that they could decide the case based on the facts presented at trial, and acknowledged that news reports can contain errors, or may not present all of the facts. After the challenges for cause, and the use of all of the peremptory challenges, the jury consisted of nine individuals who had admitted to some level of pre-trial exposure to the facts of the case. However, all of the jurors reported that they could be fair and impartial. Upon the seating of the jury, the trial judge denied appellant's motion for a change of venue, stating that he was confident that appellant could receive a fair trial.

         {¶ 5} Following the presentation of the evidence, the trial court instructed the jury on the charges of domestic violence and murder. The court also instructed the jury on the lesser included offenses of involuntary manslaughter in violation of R.C. 2903.04(A), with the underlying predicate offense being a felony, and reckless homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.041. Notably, the court denied appellant's request to alternatively instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter, with the underlying predicate offense being a misdemeanor, in violation of R.C. 2903.04(B).

         {¶ 6} The jury returned with a verdict finding appellant guilty of domestic violence and involuntary manslaughter with the gun specification. At sentencing, the trial court imposed a total prison sentence of 14 years.

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶ 7} Appellant has timely appealed his judgment of conviction, and now asserts two assignments of error for our review:

I. The trial court abused its discretion and denied Mr. Cordoba his right to a fair and impartial jury when it overruled his motion for a change of venue, in violation of Mr. Cordoba's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States ...

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