from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (C.P.C. No.
O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Laura R. Swisher, for
& Long, LLC, and Charles A. Koenig, for appellant.
Charles A. Koenig.
1} Defendant-appellant, Michael A. Long, appeals
from a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas
convicting him of aggravated burglary, in violation of R.C.
2911.11, kidnapping, in violation of R.C. 2905.01, aggravated
robbery, in violation of R.C. 2911.01, two counts of
felonious assault, in violation of R.C. 2903.11, murder, in
violation of R.C. 2903.02, attempted grand theft when the
property is a firearm or dangerous ordinance, in violation of
R.C. 2923.02 as it relates to R.C. 2913.02, and having
weapons while under disability, in violation of R.C. 2923.13.
For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for a new
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2} The events that gave rise to this appeal occurred
in the early morning hours of July 17, 2015,
involving appellant and his friend Clement "Poncho"
Cooper. The theory of plaintiff-appellee, State of Ohio, is
that appellant and Poncho broke into a home occupied by
several members of the Bowles family located at 3831 Scales
Drive, Columbus, Ohio. According to witnesses, appellant and
Poncho broke into the home to steal guns while the Bowles
family members were away at work. When the Bowles family
returned to their home, Jill Bowles found her son Timmy
laying on the basement floor tied up with an extension cord.
Other members of the Bowles family found appellant and Poncho
in the home. A melee ensued during which Shawn Bowles
received numerous stab wounds from Poncho about the head and
neck as he held Poncho in a choke hold. When the police
arrived, they found Poncho dead from asphyxia. Jill received
a gunshot wound during the incident.
3} The defense theory of the case was that the
entire incident and Poncho's death were the tragic result
of a love triangle between Timmy, his ex-girlfriend Elaine,
who resided in the Scales Drive address with Timmy's
parents, Jill and Tim Bowles, Sr., and Poncho, who was
reportedly dating Elaine. According to the defense, Elaine
had argued with Poncho the evening prior to the incident, and
Poncho had ended up with Elaine's cell phone. The defense
claims Elaine invited Poncho and appellant to the Scales
Drive residence so she could recover her cell phone. When
Timmy found Poncho in the home, the two began fighting.
Appellant maintains that he did not break into the
Bowles' home to steal guns. Appellant further maintains
that he was invited into the home and that Poncho's death
was the result of Timmy's jealousy over Elaine, not the
result of appellant's attempt to commit a theft offense.
4} On July 22, 2015, a Franklin County Grand Jury
indicted appellant on the following charges: aggravated
burglary, in violation of R.C. 2911.11, a felony of the first
degree; kidnapping, in violation of R.C. 2905.01, a felony of
the first degree; aggravated robbery, in violation of R.C.
2911.01, a felony of the first degree; two counts of
felonious assault, in violation of R.C. 2903.11, a felony of
the second degree; murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.02, an
unclassified felony; and attempted grand theft when the
property is a firearm or dangerous ordinance with firearm
specification, in violation of R.C. 2923.02 as it relates to
R.C. 2913.02, a felony of the fourth degree. Each of the
above listed charges included a firearm specification.
Appellant was also indicted for having weapons while under
disability, in violation of R.C. 2923.13.
5} On August 1, 2016, the jury trial commenced. At
the opening of court, the trial judge made the following
announcement in the presence of the jury:
THE COURT: * * * I just wanted to let everyone know in the
courtroom that we are here to resolve this case, right? And
so you need to be very careful about what you say and do, who
you talk to and the like, so that there is no mistrial or
anything that causes a disturbance to the trial. Because if
there is anything that I think is going to distract the
jurors, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the
courtroom; and then, if there are other things that happen
that [appellant's trial counsel] can talk to you about,
like talking to witnesses or anything like that, it would
cause us to start all over again and you wouldn't get the
resolution that we're here today to start.
(Tr. Vol. 1 at 5-6.)
6} On August 2, 2016, appellee presented the
testimony of several witnesses, including police officers and
detectives who were involved in the case. On August 3, 2016,
appellee produced testimony from a forensic expert, several
members of the Bowles family, and a family friend who was in
the home on July 17, 2015.
7} On August 4, 2016, prior to continuing with the
trial, the court and counsel examined juror number 4, outside
the presence of the other jury members, regarding efforts
allegedly made by someone associated with appellant to relay
a message to juror number 4 through the juror's
son-in-law. The transcript of the trial court's
examination of juror number 4 reveals that some unidentified
person contacted the son-in-law because he wanted someone to
"get with" the juror. Juror number 4 told the court,
after speaking with his son-in-law, he realized that he might
know appellant. According to juror number 4, he and appellant
are part of the same "motorcycle set, " meaning
they are both members of local motorcycle clubs. (Tr. Vol. 3
at 464.) Juror number 4 told the court that he did not
realize he knew appellant at the start of the trial because
he knew appellant by the nickname he used in the motorcycle
club and therefore did not know appellant's real name.
Juror number 4 told the court he had not spoken to any of the
other jurors regarding this issue.
8} Following the examination of juror number 4, the
court made the following ruling:
THE COURT: * * * I think you probably understand why we have
to thank you for answering your jury summons and being fair
and attentive up until this point. But based on the attempted
messages to you as well as the fact that you even have any
kind of connection at all to the defendant, we are going to
excuse you from your service.
JUROR NO. 4: Mm-hmm. I have no problem with that.
(Tr. Vol. 3 at 468.)
9} Following this ruling, and before the state
called its next witness, the trial court decided, sua sponte,
to close the courtroom to the public. The trial court
announced its ruling on the record as follows:
At the beginning of the trial, there was an altercation in
the hallway between -- I'm not sure who but someone in
the Bowles family. After that occurred, the court stated to
everyone that was in the courtroom that what -- they had to
be careful what they said or did, because their actions could
cause them to be asked to leave the courtroom or for them -or
for us to have to start this trial over.
It has come the court's attention that someone associated
with the defendant -- I don't know who, but someone
associated with the defendant did try and contact one of the
jurors, which is very concerning, because the goal here is to
have a fair trial unimpeded by outside influences. So for
those reasons and in this context I am going to shut the
The goal of shutting the courtroom down is -- well, first of
all, I'm going to excuse that juror, and I swore in all
of the jurors as regular jurors anyway. So one of the
alternates, Alternate No. 1, will replace that juror.
However, that doesn't completely solve the problem,
because I don't know who it was that called the juror who
is going to be excused. So for that reason and in order to
preserve the integrity of this trial, I am going to shut the
courtroom down, so that no one else has an opportunity to see
or hear what's going on in this courtroom. Again, it is
to make sure we have a fair and impartial trial that is not
influenced by any outside sources.
(Tr. Vol. 3 at 470-71.)
10} Neither party objected to the trial court's
ruling. The courtroom remained closed to the public for the
remainder of the trial including the testimony of the deputy
coroner, Timmy Bowles, and Shawn Bowles. Appellant rested his
case without calling any witnesses. Prior to sending the case
to the jury, the trial court clarified that "we * * *
close[d] the courtroom to everyone except the media. * * *
[O]nce the jury comes up with a verdict, the concern about
contacting jurors is gone. So the courtroom will be open back
up to everyone if and when we get a
verdict." (Tr. Vol. 4 at 599.)
11} The jury subsequently found appellant guilty of
all charges in the indictment. The trial court found
appellant guilty of the offense of having weapons while under
disability. After merging several counts in the indictment
for purposes of conviction and sentence, and ordering
appellant to serve several of the ...