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State v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula

December 28, 2017

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
MARQUE DAQUAN BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Criminal Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas. Case No. 2014 CR 00361.

          Nicholas A. Iarocci, Ashtabula County Prosecutor, Shelley M. Pratt, Assistant Prosecutor, West Jefferson Street, Jefferson, (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          Thomas Rein, (For Defendant-Appellant).


          TIMOTHY P. CANNON, J.

         {¶1} Appellant, Marque Daquan Brown, appeals from the entry of sentence issued by the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas on February 26, 2016, sentencing appellant to 22 years in prison on two counts of involuntary manslaughter. The trial court's judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part for the reasons stated below.

         Statement of Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} This case stems from an altercation that occurred between appellant and his girlfriend, Taisha Ramirez, on or about May 25, 2014. On that date, appellant and Taisha were 20 and 17 years old, respectively. Taisha was approximately seven or eight months pregnant with appellant's son. They resided together at the home of Taisha's mother, Marilyn Cedeno; Taisha's brothers, Jose Luis Ramirez, Andre Luiz Ramirez, Ismal Ruiz, and Kenny Gonzalez; and Taisha's 13-year old sister, J.R.

         {¶3} The following is a summary of the testimony presented at trial.

         {¶4} Taisha and J.R. went to bed in the same room around 10:00 p.m.; appellant was not home at the time. Around 3:00 a.m., the sisters were awoken by appellant knocking on the door; Taisha let him in the house. Appellant and Taisha went upstairs to the room they shared on the third floor; J.R. followed and remained on the stairs where she could see them. The couple then went to the mother's bedroom on the second floor; J.R. followed and stood in the doorway while the couple argued for about 20 minutes. The couple moved to the bathroom and closed the door for about 10 minutes.

         {¶5} J.R. opened the bathroom door when she heard Taisha screaming and crying. J.R. heard Taisha tell appellant not to punch her and observed Taisha on the ground, bleeding from her nose. J.R. saw appellant punch Taisha in the face with a closed fist three or four times. J.R. unsuccessfully attempted to get appellant away from Taisha. J.R. observed blood on the floor of the bathroom, and Taisha's nose appeared to be broken and her lips were cut.

         {¶6} Ismal and Kenny heard their mother and J.R. screaming, and they entered the bathroom. Kenny and Ismal observed Taisha sitting on the floor, bleeding from her nose, and crying; her nose and mouth were swollen. Kenny observed blood on the floor, in the sink, and on the toilet. Ismal observed blood on the carpet, walls, floor, and toilet, in addition to the towels Taisha was holding to her nose to stop the bleeding. Ismal testified Taisha's nose and lips were swollen. Photographs of the blood in the bathroom and on the towels, and of the injuries to Taisha's face, were submitted as exhibits to the jury.

         {¶7} Kenny took appellant to the shower and punched him in the face; Ismal also hit appellant with his fist. The brothers took appellant downstairs; appellant was yelling that he was sorry and asking Taisha to forgive him. Ismal called the police. A recording of the call was played for the jury. J.R. testified she had to help Taisha downstairs because she was unable to walk on her own. By the time they made it downstairs, the police had arrived.

         {¶8} Officer Daniel Gillespie, of the Ashtabula City Police Department, reported to the scene with another patrolman, at which time he heard yelling and screaming from inside the residence. Upon entering the residence, he observed multiple occupants focusing their anger at appellant, who was backing up towards the door with his hands up. Officer Gillespie placed appellant in his patrol car and went back inside to investigate. He then observed Taisha crying and bleeding heavily from her nose, which was disfigured and swollen; the towel she was holding to her face was soaked with blood. He testified that Taisha was initially reluctant to remove the towel from her face and talk to him, but that she eventually told him appellant had hit her while they were arguing.

         {¶9} Officer Gillespie testified that, on the way to the station, appellant indicated he wanted to tell the officer what happened; therefore, Officer Gillespie advised appellant of his Miranda rights. Officer Gillespie testified that appellant reported arguing with Taisha, which involved a lot of yelling and screaming, and then he left. Appellant would not answer Officer Gillespie's question of how Taisha became injured. Appellant was booked on a charge of domestic violence.

         {¶10} J.R. stayed at Taisha's side until an ambulance arrived. Kenny rode in the ambulance with Taisha. J.R. and Kenny remained with Taisha at the hospital. Kenny and J.R. testified they were only there for about half an hour, no tests were performed, and the only treatment Taisha received was Tylenol. Kenny indicated Taisha did not appear to be "healthy or feeling fine" when she was discharged.

         {¶11} Dr. Imrann Haniff was the emergency room physician on duty when Taisha arrived at Ashtabula County Medical Center ("ACMC") around 6:30 a.m. Dr. Haniff testified that Taisha reported she had been assaulted and hit in the face. He stated Taisha told him she was slapped in the face one time; he did not observe anything that contradicted Taisha's report of what happened. Dr. Haniff observed that Taisha's lip was swollen, she had blood coming from both nostrils, and she was pregnant. The nurse was able to detect a fetal heart tone at that time, which indicated the fetus was alive. Dr. Haniff did not find any fractures during his examination of Taisha, and he gave her an ice pack. He testified Taisha was in good condition when she was discharged around 7:30 a.m.

         {¶12} When Taisha returned home from the hospital, Ismal observed that she was dizzy and weak and could not make it up the stairs to her third-floor bedroom. He helped her out of the car and up to the second floor with the assistance of another family member. J.R. stayed with Taisha in their mother's bedroom. She testified that Taisha started to bleed again from her nose, but she did not notice any injuries on Taisha's head. At approximately 9:15 a.m., Ismal called for another ambulance because Taisha was bleeding and foaming from her nose, she could not talk or move, her nails were turning blue, and she was unresponsive. A recording of the call was played for the jury.

         {¶13} Dr. Haniff again treated Taisha in the emergency room, who arrived this second time in cardiac arrest. The staff performed CPR, and Taisha was intubated; it was difficult to obtain a fetal heart tone. They were unable to revive Taisha.

         {¶14} Taisha and her unborn son both died that morning in the emergency room.

         {¶15} Dr. Joseph Felo, Deputy Medical Examiner and Forensic Pathologist for Cuyahoga County, performed an autopsy on Taisha. He noted her pregnancy was in its third trimester and observed cuts, scrapes, and bruises caused by blunt trauma to her upper and lower lips. There were no fractures to her skull or her nose. He observed diffuse cerebral edema, i.e., swelling of the brain, and a subdural hematoma, i.e., bleeding on the surface of the brain, caused by blunt trauma to her head. He testified that one slap would not have caused the injury because there were three separate impact sights.

         {¶16} Dr. Felo did not perform a separate autopsy on the child because he was not born alive. He did not find any birth defects during his external examination, however, and opined that the unborn child would have lived had Taisha not died.

         {¶17} Dr. Pamela Lancaster, the Ashtabula County Coroner, investigated Taisha's death at ACMC, reviewed the autopsy report, and issued a death certificate. She testified that the cause of Taisha's death, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, was the subdural hematoma due to blunt impacts to the head. She ruled the manner of Taisha's death as a homicide. Because the child was not born alive, there was not a separate coroner's verdict or death certificate issued.

         {¶18} Detective William Felt, of the Ashtabula City Police Department, interviewed appellant on May 27, 2014, with Lieutenant Doug Hollis. Detective Felt testified as to his training in detecting deception, analyzing and determining whether a person is being truthful through physical and nonphysical cues, and assessing the demeanor and behavior of an interviewee. He testified that appellant did not appear bothered by his arrest and that he seemed to lack emotion. The interview was played for the jury, during which appellant appeared to be crying. Detective Felt testified that there was a lack of congruence in appellant's behavior because he did not produce tears; in other words, appellant's physical reaction did not match his verbal reaction. During the interview, appellant admitted to arguing with Taisha until he was pulled away by Ismal and Kenny. Near the end of the interview, appellant admitted he punched Taisha.

         {¶19} On June 26, 2014, appellant was indicted on two counts of murder, unclassified felonies, in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B); two counts of involuntary manslaughter, first-degree felonies, in violation of R.C. 2903.04(A); and two counts of felonious assault, second-degree felonies, in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1). Appellant pled not guilty.

         {¶20} Appellee, the state of Ohio, filed a motion in limine to preclude evidence or testimony of alleged medical negligence as an independent intervening cause, to which appellant filed a response in opposition. A hearing was held on the motion. The trial court granted the state's motion, finding the reports of appellant's expert did not establish that Taisha's medical care was an independent intervening cause of death as defined by law.

         {¶21} A jury trial commenced February 2, 2016. One count of felonious assault, as against the unborn child, was dismissed at the state's request following trial. The defense renewed its request that the jury be instructed as to intervening cause, which the trial court denied. The jury found appellant guilty of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of felonious assault; it found him not guilty of both counts of murder.

         {¶22} The trial court merged the felonious assault count into both involuntary manslaughter counts for purposes of sentencing. On February 26, 2016, the trial court sentenced appellant to 11 years in prison on each count of involuntary manslaughter, to be served consecutively, for a total term of 22 years in prison.

         {¶23} Appellant now raises eight assignments of error for our review:

[1.] The State failed to present sufficient evidence to sustain a conviction against Appellant.
[2.] Appellant's convictions are against the manifest weight of the evidence.
[3.] Appellant was denied a fair trial by the witness' improper comments while testifying.
[4.] The trial court erred by granting the state's motion in limine and by preventing Appellant to present a complete defense which would have included the alleged medical negligence.
[5.] The trial court erred and violated Appellant's right to a fair trial by permitting the State of Ohio to introduce victim impact evidence.
[6.] Appellant was deprived of his fundamental right to testify in his own defense.
[7.] The trial court erred by ordering appellant to serve a consecutive sentence without making the appropriate findings required by R.C. 2929.14 and HB 86.
[8.] The trial court erred by ordering convictions and a consecutive sentence for separate counts because the trial court failed to make a proper determination as to whether those offenses are allied offenses pursuant to R.C. 2941.25 and they are part of the same transaction under R.C. 2929.14.

         Motion ...

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