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State v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

January 9, 2018

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
John T. Davis, III, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas C.P.C. No. 16CR-2436

         On brief:

          Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Sheryl L. Prichard, for appellee.

         On brief:

          Yeura R. Venters, Public Defender, and John W. Keeling, for appellant.


          SADLER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, John T. Davis, III, appeals from the judgment entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas finding appellant guilty of involuntary manslaughter. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the trial court.


         {¶ 2} In May 2016, appellant was indicted on one count of involuntary manslaughter, pursuant to R.C. 2903.04, for causing the death of John D. Dawson as a proximate result of committing or attempting to commit misdemeanor assault. Appellant entered a plea of not guilty and waived his right to trial by jury electing instead for his case to be tried to the judge. Plaintiff-appellee, State of Ohio, called Kevin Stewart, a patrol officer for the Columbus Division of Police, as its first witness.

          {¶ 3} Stewart testified that on March 27, 2016, he responded to a call regarding a male who was "down and out" and unresponsive. (Tr. at 16.) When he arrived, medics were performing CPR on a man that appeared to be passed out. Stewart spoke with individuals in the area to learn what had happened. The first person Stewart spoke to was a person who identified himself by the name "Mike Davis, " who stood about five to ten feet away from the unresponsive man. (Tr. at 17.) Stewart later learned Mike Davis was actually appellant. Appellant told Stewart he did not witness the incident but was one of the first people there, and he saw an individual lying down and advised other people standing around to call police.

         {¶ 4} Appellee called Ellsworth Ragland as an eyewitness to an altercation between appellant and Dawson. Ragland noted he had recently been sentenced to two and one-half years of prison for three different felonies and had an agreement with appellee that if he testified truthfully in the case against appellant, appellee would recommend to the judge on Ragland's case that he receive judicial release from prison after he served six months in prison.

         {¶ 5} Ragland testified that he knew Dawson from "com[ing] around getting * * * high" and believed Dawson's drug of choice was crack. (Tr. at 26.) Ragland was aware of problems between Dawson and appellant, including an incident where Dawson had gone to appellant's daughter's house with a gun. Appellant told Ragland he had gone to talk with Dawson about that incident.

         {¶ 6} According to Ragland, on March 27, 2016, he was outside with his kids when he saw appellant and Dawson talking, which prompted Ragland to tell his son to go into the house. Dawson said to Ragland, "Ells, tell him I'm the truth, " which Ragland took as Dawson asking for Ragland to vouch for him to appellant. (Tr. at 30.) Ragland turned around to both of them and yelled "everything good, man" while trying to watch his son at the same time. (Tr. at 30.) At that point, he saw appellant throw one punch at Dawson and Dawson "fall back." (Tr. at 31.) He believed the punch landed on Dawson's chin because "that's how I see people get knocked out, " but the incident happened so fast that Ragland did not know for sure where the punch landed. (Tr. at 39.) He did not see Dawson doing anything prior to appellant's punch and did not see any kind of weapon. According to Ragland, no one else was outside who could have witnessed the altercation.

         {¶ 7} Ragland testified that after Dawson hit the ground, appellant tried to pour water on Dawson's head, tried to get Dawson up, and stated "don't die on me." (Tr. at 34.) Dawson woke up for a minute, asked for some water, drank some, then passed out again. At that point, "[they] called the squad, " and Ragland went back into his house. (Tr. at 36.)

         {¶ 8} On cross-examination, Ragland agreed his agreement with appellee occurred five days prior to Ragland's testimony, his prior record included one additional felony and around fifteen additional misdemeanors, and he did not look forward to going back to prison. Ragland confirmed much of his association with Dawson had to do with smoking crack together. According to Ragland, Dawson was respected in the community, and Ragland had never personally seen Dawson disrespect anybody. He heard about Dawson trying to sell a firearm, an attempt which did not go well. Ragland agreed that saying "I'm the truth" could have different meanings depending on the context and could mean "don't mess with me" depending on "how [that person] come[s] at somebody." (Tr. at 52, 54.) Ragland confirmed he saw appellant throw a punch at the point Ragland said "everything good, " and Ragland did not see exactly where the punch landed despite telling police appellant punched Dawson on the chin. (Tr. at 54.)

         {¶ 9} The parties then jointly stipulated to the admission of the Franklin County Coroner's Autopsy Report, admission of the Franklin County Coroner's Toxicology Report, and how the coroner and toxicologist would testify if called. The autopsy report identifies the cause of Dawson's death as "[b]lunt force injuries of the head" and indicates that Dawson was 53-years-old, five-foot, eleven inches tall, and weighed 142 pounds. (Coroner's Report: Findings of Fact and Verdict at 2.) The toxicology report indicates, among other things, cocaine and cocaine metabolites were present in Dawson's body at the time of his death. The parties further stipulated Dawson's medical records from Riverside Methodist Hospital identified Dawson's facial injuries as an acute fracture of the left nasal bone with no other trauma to Dawson's face indicated.

         {¶ 10} Appellant moved for acquittal, pursuant to Crim.R. 29, which the trial court denied. Appellant then testified in his own defense.

         {¶ 11} Appellant testified that, in the several weeks prior to the altercation with Dawson, he had been going back and forth between Columbus and Gary, Indiana, waiting for his house to be finished. During one visit to Columbus, his daughter told him that a man had come to her house and walked in uninvited. Appellant did not know the man. Then a second incident occurred where the same man came to his daughter's house with a gun and knocked on the door, and his daughter told the man to stay away. Appellant did not know anything more than the man's name so appellant asked around the neighborhood about him.

         {¶ 12} On March 27, 2016, appellant went to his daughter's house for Easter. According to appellant, when he went outside to look for his son, a man approached him from the side. Appellant testified that at the time he did not know who the man was. When asked about the man's manner, appellant replied "[h]e was like walking up, like-like he wanted to talk to me, honestly, and the way he was coming towards me." (Tr. at 82.) Appellant testified the man was talking loud, yelling and cussing, and was basically "[i]n a rage, like arguing" with a "[v]icious" expression. (Tr. at 82.) Appellant then testified:

A. * * * So when we got up close we having words and words. Then he's, like, I ain't trying to do anything to your daughter. I say I know. But he was already in a rage. It was, like, beyond being able to try to talk.
Q. Okay. So did he have his fists balled up or anything like that?
A. So he was, like-he was, like-he was coming in a rage. And I'm standing there be like-like I said, we having words and words. It was so intense at the time. All I know, I didn't know who this person was still, like I said. And we was arguing and I felt it like dude arguing, like, I ain't touch your daughter. Then came to me, this is must be the Dawson guy. Like I said, the time that it was happening it was so-it was like-he was in a rage. He was-the guy was in a rage.
Q. Okay. He was in a rage. Did he have his fists balled up like he was in a fighting stance or something like that?
A. If I'd had let him got close enough to, like, before I reacted, if I would have he ...

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