Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Ashtabula
Appeal from the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas, Case
No. 2015 CR 00487.
Nicholas A. Iarocci, Ashtabula County Prosecutor, and Shelley
M. Pratt, Assistant Prosecutor, Ashtabula County Courthouse,
Rein, 820 West Superior Avenue, (For Defendant-Appellant).
V. GRENDELL, J.
Defendant-appellant, Kyle W. M. Starkey, appeals his
convictions and sentence for Murder, Felonious Assault,
Tampering with Evidence, and Domestic Violence, following a
jury trial in the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas. The
issues to be determined by this court are whether convictions
for Assault and Murder are supported by the weight and
sufficiency of the evidence when there is witness testimony
that the defendant hit the victim until she died; whether
consecutive sentences are properly ordered when the
sentencing judgment does not state the exact language of the
required statutory findings; whether a motion to change venue
is properly denied when the court dismisses for cause any
jurors who stated they could not be fair in light of pretrial
publicity; whether a trial court errs by excluding testimony
about a witness' general untruthfulness on a matter
unrelated to the crimes at issue; and whether a court must
make a finding that a defendant has an ability to pay court
costs. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of
the court below.
On September 2, 2015, the Ashtabula County Grand Jury issued
an Indictment, charging Starkey with Murder (Count One), an
unclassified felony, in violation of R.C. 2903.02(A); Murder
(Count Two), an unclassified felony, in violation of R.C.
2903.02(B); Felonious Assault (Count Three), a felony of the
second degree, in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1); Tampering
with Evidence (Count Four), a felony of the third degree, in
violation of R.C. 2921.12(A)(1); Gross Abuse of a Corpse
(Count Five), a felony of the fifth degree, in violation of
R.C. 2927.01(B); and Domestic Violence (Count Six), a
misdemeanor of the first degree, in violation of R.C.
Prior to trial, Starkey moved for a change of venue, which
was denied. A trial was held before a jury on March 20-29,
2017. The following pertinent testimony and evidence were
Glenna Patton, a friend and coworker of the victim, Mandy
Gottschalk, testified that on August 14, 2015, she arrived at
Gottschalk's house on Washington Avenue, in Ashtabula to
go out for the night. Gottschalk shared the home with
Starkey, who was her boyfriend. When Patton arrived at the
home, Gottschalk, Starkey, and a friend, Ryan McBride,
entered her vehicle. McBride and Starkey had a bookbag full
of beer. Patton drove to Geneva on the Lake, where she
dropped off McBride and Starkey at a park.
Patton and Gottschalk proceeded to several bars in the area.
Later that evening, they saw Starkey and McBride at a bar
with two females. Patton observed Starkey
"flirting" with the girls. Patton indicated that
Gottschalk became jealous and angry and had a conversation
with Starkey, which she did not hear. The two eventually
ended the discussion and kissed. Patton and Gottschalk left
the bar, and at around 1 a.m. drove back to Ashtabula. Patton
dropped Gottschalk off at her house around 1:30 or 2 a.m.
Regarding Starkey and Gottschalk's relationship, Patton
described that Starkey called Gottschalk derogatory names and
had once pulled her breasts out of her shirt in front of
friends. She also described an incident during a "dark
humor game when Starkey indicated that "if he ever
killed somebody he had a blue tarp and would wrap them up in
plastic and bury them close until he had a chance to move
them." She also testified that a few weeks before
Gottschalk's death, Starkey had been looking for an
apartment and had said he was "tired" of
Patton learned Gottschalk was missing on August 16 and went
with Starkey to report her missing a few days later.
Afterward, he requested that Patton drive him to various
locations, saying he wanted "to make sure that her body
wasn't there." The night before Gottschalk's
body was discovered, Starkey came to Patton's apartment
and was anxious, shaking, and sweating.
Patton indicated that the police had towed her car "just
to see if anything was committed in the car." She
conceded that she had not told police about Starkey's
statements regarding the tarp or insults to Gottschalk.
Ryan McBride, Starkey's friend and coworker, testified
that he was with Starkey on the night of August 14 into the
early morning of August 15, after being dropped off in Geneva
on the Lake by Patton and Gottschalk. The men met two women
that night and later ran into Patton and Gottschalk at a bar.
Gottschalk "looked upset" because Starkey was with
another woman. Later, the two men took a taxi back to Starkey
and Gottschalk's home, arriving around 3:00 or 3:30 a.m.
According to McBride's testimony, he knocked on the front
door, which Gottschalk did not immediately answer. Starkey
then began kicking the door and kicked it open. Gottschalk
was standing near the door, trying to open it. McBride
testified that Starkey entered and began punching Gottschalk
with his fist until she fell onto the couch. He continued to
punch her and when McBride tried to intervene, he threatened
him with a switchblade knife. Starkey threw Gottschalk to the
floor and called her a bitch, continued to hit her head and
kicked her in the stomach. Starkey said, "she does this
all the time" and "she knows what she's
done." When Starkey stopped attacking Gottschalk,
McBride could tell she was dead. Starkey began crying and
said, "I can't believe this happened" and
"I don't know what I did."
According to McBride, Starkey told him to help clean the
house. Starkey used bleach to clean up blood in the living
room where the attack occurred and the two wore latex gloves.
Starkey dragged Gottschalk to the bathroom, put her in a
closet, and padlocked the door.
Later that day, August 15, the men spent time with the two
women from the prior night. The next day, Gottschalk's
mom and the police came to the home looking for her, but did
not enter the house. On August 17, Starkey told McBride they
needed to bury Gottschalk. Starkey removed her clothing and
wrapped her in a tarp, which he had just removed from the
package, while McBride put duct tape over her legs. She was
placed in a trash can and the two took her across the street
by abandoned buildings in a wooded area. Starkey dug a grave,
removed her from the tarp, placed her inside, filled the
grave and put branches over it. He placed the tarp in the
trash can, returned it to the home, and put the shovels used
to dig the grave under the porch. McBride identified items
presented as evidence that were used, including gloves, the
tarp, and duct tape.
McBride testified that he had reached a plea deal in relation
to his participation in the crime, agreeing to a five-year
prison sentence. He admitted that when first interviewed by
police he was dishonest because he was scared and admitted
that he did not provide all of the details of the incident
Trisha Furman, Gottschalk's coworker and friend,
testified that the couple would sometimes get in "heated
arguments." On August 17, Furman was filling out
paperwork with Starkey at their place of employment. When
listing beneficiaries, Starkey indicated that he didn't
have anyone. When Furman inquired about Gottschalk, he said
"fuck that bitch" and did not mention she was
missing. The company's human resources assistant,
Michelle Childs, also testified that Starkey made that
Regenea Brazil, Gottschalk and Starkey's coworker, also
testified that Starkey said while playing a game with friends
that he "had a tarp big enough to hide a body if he
needed to." She went to the Washington Avenue house a
few days after Gottschalk went missing but did not notice or
smell anything unusual.
Stacie Vencill, Gottschalk's friend, went to her house on
August 19 after learning she was missing, and described
Starkey's demeanor as cold and lacking emotion. During a
search conducted on August 21, Vencill observed Starkey
briefly enter a wooded area near his house, close to where
the body was ultimately discovered. When she saw Starkey
again on August 23, he was agitated and at one point asked
"they can't get a search warrant without
circumstantial evidence, right?"
On August 19, Sergeant Brian Cumberledge went to Starkey and
Gottschalk's residence. He noticed gnats inside the home,
as well as Gottschalk's purse, identification, and
Two detectives, Lieutenant Dennis Dibble and Lieutenant
Joseph Cellitti, investigated further on August 20. They went
to the abandoned Zehrco Plastics property across from Starkey
and Gottschalk's home but did not find anything. They
also entered the house but did not notice anything abnormal.
On August 21, Karen Allison, who lives on Riverside Drive in
Ashtabula, described finding a backpack near her yard
outside, which contained items such as a tarp and gloves.
While looking at the backpack, Starkey, whose stepmother
lived next door, asked what she was doing. After she went
inside, she saw Starkey looking inside the backpack. Allison
called the police and while waiting, Starkey mentioned his
girlfriend was missing, that he saw her bra in the backpack,
and said "he thinks he was being set up." Starkey
offered to the police to throw the items away.
Patrolman Donald Martin of the City of Ashtabula Police
Department responded to Allison's call. As he approached
the backpack, he could smell a "rancid odor similar to a
dead carcass and saw maggots crawling inside of the bag. The
bag contained a tarp, pieces of duct tape, a bandana, a black
bra, ear plugs, a utility knife, and rubber gloves.
Stacey Weatherbee, Starkey's stepmother, went to pick up
Gottschalk for work on August 17, at which time Starkey
indicated that he did not know where she was, that they had
gotten into an argument and she was gone when he got home on
Friday. On the date the backpack was discovered, Starkey came
inside and said "he was gonna go to prison" because
they found the backpack and that "somebody's trying
to set me up." Weatherbee said she recognized the
backpack as Starkey's "work bag." She
identified some of the items inside as his, including the
Sergeant Brian Cumberledge testified that he decided to
search the abandoned Zehrco Plastics area across from
Starkey's home after speaking with Patton. On August 24,
Deputy Evan Wolff observed a mound of dirt covered with
branches. He noticed a piece of duct tape nearby and then
observed two toes protruding through the dirt. Detective Sean
Ward excavated the body, which was ultimately found to be
Justin Soroka, a special agent with the Ohio Bureau of
Criminal Investigation (BCI) testified that he and other
agents investigated the crime scene at the Washington Avenue
home on August 25. A search revealed various items, including
two shovels under the porch, a trash can in the rear of the
residence, and an empty box of vinyl gloves under the sink.
Items found in the trash can outside included a towel,
cleaner, gloves, and a wrapper for a tarp. Soroka observed
reddish brown stains consistent with blood on various items
inside the house, including work boots, an office chair,
carpet near the bathroom, and on the walls and shoe rack near
the front door. He also testified that it looked as though
the front door had been damaged. A piece of duct tape on the
floor near the master bedroom was collected.
Brenda Butler, a former BCI special agent, performed a blood
stain pattern analysis at the Washington Avenue home. She
identified various areas of blood spatter in the living room,
near the front door, and diluted blood spatter near the
bathroom sink. An application of luminol indicated that there
was a "blood shedding event" in the doorway area of
the living room. She also determined that there was an
attempt to clean up blood in areas near the front door and
the bathroom. Butler did not see an indication of bleach
being used to clean.
Kylie Graham, a BCI forensic scientist, testified that blood
on the walls of the home was tested and belonged to
Gottschalk. Many other items Graham tested for DNA were
"not sufficient for comparison, " but Starkey's
DNA was on ...