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State v. Wallace

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

December 22, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
PIANTE WALLACE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County TRIAL NO. B-1403591C Court of Common Pleas

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

          The Farrish Law Firm and Michaela M. Stagnaro, for Defendant-Appellant.


          DETERS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant Piante Wallace and two codefendants, Tristian Herron and Clevester Steele, were originally indicted for aggravated murder, murder, and aggravated robbery, with accompanying firearm specifications, for the death of Markeith Peek. Following a jury trial, Wallace was convicted of murder under R.C. 2903.02(B), with an accompanying firearm specification. We find no merit in his six assignments of error, and we affirm his conviction.

         I. Factual Background

         A. The Murder

         {¶2} The record shows that on June 18, 2014, Eugene Amison, who was acquainted with both Steele and Herron, was spending time on Neave Street in lower Price Hill. Amison was sitting next to Steele, when he overheard Steele tell someone on the phone, "I got a lick for you." After a pause, Steele said, "[T]his Markeith dude." Unbeknownst to Steele, Amison and Peek had been friends since childhood. Amison knew that that conversation meant that Steele and another person were planning to rob Peek.

         {¶3} Amison called Peek to warn him. Peek said that he was not worried, but told Amison, "You better go get the ham, " meaning a gun. Amison arranged to give Peek his 9 mm pistol. They met up and walked to Neave and Storrs Streets. Peek liked to wear flashy clothes, and stood out with his yellow pants and multicolored gym shoes.

         {¶4} At approximately 7:00 p.m., Amison and Peek went to sit on a wall on Neave Street. Peek told Amison, "I ain't letting these dudes chase me off." Amison tried to convince Peek to "walk off and let it die down like." Peek refused. Just then, a man that Amison later identified as Wallace walked toward them.

         {¶5} Amison testified that Peek was standing in the intersection of Neave and Storrs Streets when Wallace walked up Neave Street toward Peek with his gun drawn. Peek tried to draw his own gun, but Wallace shot first. Peek returned fire, but he had already been shot. Peek was "just too slow and too late." After Peek had been shot, Wallace ran down Neave Street.

         {¶6} Peek tried to cross the street, but he was limping. He fell in the middle of the street. While he was down, Herron walked up and attempted to grab Peek's cell phone and gun. But Peek held onto his gun and shot at Herron four or five times. Herron managed to take the cell phone, a white Samsung model, and fled down Storrs Street.

         {¶7} People in the area began to panic. Peek's friends gathered around him as he lay in the street. Someone took the gun and another took a baggie of heroin that Peek had been carrying. The gun was returned to Amison the next day.

         B. Witnesses at the Scene

         {¶8} That same evening, Tyra Williams and Virginetta Bess sat outside in front of their duplex at 646 Neave Street, across from Henry's Market. Both women knew Peek from the neighborhood. Earlier that day, Peek had stopped at Williams's apartment and asked if she would charge his cell phone. She agreed, and he left it with her. Bess also had a conversation with Peek about 30 minutes before the murder.

         {¶9} Subsequently, both women saw Wallace walk by on his way to Henry's Market. Bess said that Wallace stood out because he very tall and thin, and he was dressed all in black. He was so tall that Williams asked him what basketball team he played for. He replied that he had played for Taft High School.

         {¶10} Wallace went in Henry's Market. When he came out, Williams saw him turn right and walk toward Storrs Street. Wallace stopped between a corner store that had been closed and a former restaurant with a covered entranceway. Williams stated that it looked to her like Wallace was "hiding in that little spot * * * just standing there hiding."

         {¶11} A short time later, Peek returned to pick up his cell phone from Williams. When he left, he walked up Storrs Street. As Peek was walking up the street, Williams heard shots. She saw Wallace come from the area of the closed corner store. Peek was running, and she saw him fall. She said that the "[d]ude in black" shot Peek and fled down St. Michael Street. She also saw Herron standing on Storrs Street when the shots were fired. He ran toward Peek after the shots were fired.

         {¶12} Williams ran up to Peek, and she and others tried to stop the bleeding that was coming from a hole in his back. She said that Peek was in pain and kept repeating that he could not feel his legs. He was eventually taken to the hospital, where he died.

         {¶13} Bess heard the same gunshots, but a parked vehicle blocked her view of the shooting. She looked down the street and saw Peek lying on the ground. As she called 911, she saw Wallace run down Neave Street and turn left on St. Michael Street.

         C. Actions the Day of the Murder

         {¶14} Ryan Irwin is Steele's cousin. On the day of the murder, Irvin had asked Steele for a ride to a relative's house. Steele drove a gold Hyundai Sonata, which was owned by Raven Herron, Herron's sister, with whom Steele had a child. Steele picked up Irwin, who sat in the front passenger seat. They drove to Raven's home for a brief visit and then picked up Herron. Then, Steele drove to the Fay Apartments and picked up Wallace, whom Irvin did not know.

         {¶15} As Steele drove to lower Price Hill, Herron and Wallace sat in the back seat. Wallace had a gun in his lap. To Irvin's knowledge, no one else had a gun. Wallace said that he needed money, and Steele and Herron echoed that sentiment. Irvin heard Herron and Wallace say that they wanted "to rob somebody." Irvin became uncomfortable, but no further discussion occurred.

         {¶16} When they reached State Street, Herron got out of the car. Steele drove around the block a few times and eventually parked on a side street behind a school. Irvin became frustrated that he was not getting to his destination, but Steele told him, "Just hold on, be cool, bruh, I got you." Wallace got out of the car, walked up the street, and turned the corner. Steele also got out and began talking on his phone while pacing back and forth. Irvin heard Steele say something about "what he had on."

         {¶17} A short time later, Irvin heard two gunshots, followed seconds later by five more. Irvin wanted Steele to leave, but Steele had jumped in the back of another car driven by an unknown driver. Steele returned within five minutes. He then drove with Irvin back to State Street and picked up Herron. Steele then drove to a McDonald's some distance away and picked up Wallace. Wallace stated that someone had drawn a gun on him, and Wallace "had to get him." Steele then stopped at a market, and Steele, Wallace, and Herron went in without Irvin. They got back in the car. Steele dropped off Wallace at the Fay Apartments, and then took Irvin and Herron to Raven's house. Raven eventually took Irvin home.

         {¶18} Raven testified that she had lent her car to Steele the day of the murder. She said Steele and Herron returned later that night. At trial, she denied knowing Irvin and that Irvin had returned in the car with Steele and Herron. She later admitted that she had told a police detective that Irvin had been with them. The following day, Raven bought a white Samsung phone from Herron. The phone was "empty, " meaning it had no pictures, videos, or anything else on it and no SIM card. She put her own SIM card in the phone, and began using it. She stated that she did not know that the phone had belonged to Peek. A few days after the murder, her car was vandalized. She reported the car stolen, but later admitted to police she had lied. Amison later admitted to police that he and his friends had retaliated for the shooting by assaulting Herron and damaging Raven's car.

         D. The Investigation

         {¶19} Detective Bill Hilbert responded to the murder scene. He spoke with witnesses and obtained descriptions of three suspects, who were later identified as Steele, Herron and Wallace. Police also obtained video surveillance tapes from Henry's Market that showed Wallace walk into the store at about 6:53 p.m. and walk out about 6:55. Similar surveillance videos taken at a residence on Neave ...

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