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State v. Buckner

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Richland

January 23, 2018

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
LINDA BUCKNER Defendant-Appellant

         Criminal Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2016 CR 0479


          For Defendant-Appellant RANDALL E. FRY

          JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. John W. Wise, J. Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J.


          Wise, J.

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant Linda Buckner appeals her conviction, in the Court of Common Pleas, Richland County, for aggravated murder, murder, and other felony counts. Appellee is the State of Ohio. The relevant facts leading to this appeal are as follows.

         {¶2} In the summer of 2015, appellant and her boyfriend, Walter Renz, were the next-door neighbors of Patsy Hudson, who lived alone at 284 Spring Street in Mansfield, Ohio. Hudson, then in her early sixties and on disability, was known to rescue and take care of a large number of cats in or around her house. Her adult son, Lonnie Clevenger, drove trucks for a living, but he periodically stopped at the house to visit. According to Lonnie, Hudson sometimes demonstrated reclusive behaviors, refusing to answer the door or the telephone if she was busy watching television or was simply having a bad day.

         {¶3} Appellant and Renz became acquainted with Hudson, and occasionally drove her on local errands.

         {¶4} On June 25, 2015, appellant, using the alias "Cara Longtail, " went to the emergency room in Shelby, complaining of pain. Tr. at 400. She was prescribed Flexeril and Atenolol at that time by Dr. Charles Marti, who was on duty in the E.R. Tr. at 408. Dr. Marti later testified he wrote appellant the prescription for Atenolol because appellant told hospital personnel she been prescribed that medication, but she did not have any left. Tr. at 409. Both Dr. Marti and a second physician testifying for the State opined that a high enough dose of Atenolol could be fatal. Tr. at 416, 634-636.

         {¶5} At about this time, appellant was speaking to neighbors about taking Hudson on a trip to Florida, although at one point she also stated that she was angry about Renz spending time at Hudson's house. One of the neighbors, Walter Liggett, specifically recalled that appellant and Renz, in late June 2015, "[s]aid they was [sic] going to head back down south and take Patsy [Hudson] with them to her sister in Florida." Tr. at 352.

         {¶6} Appellant and Renz also told this neighbor that they were helping Hudson get rid of her cats. Despite this claim, Hudson was worried someone was trying to poison her cats, and told her son, Lonnie Clevenger, about this concern when he visited her in early July 2015. At one point, Hudson also informed police of the situation. Also, she continued to take some of the cats in for veterinarian appointments in early July. One appointment was scheduled for July 22, 2015, but Hudson did not show up at the veterinarian clinic.

         {¶7} Shortly before July 4, 2015, another neighbor, Mark Clever, overheard an outdoor "yelling and screaming" argument involving the appellant, Renz and Hudson. Within a couple of weeks, he began to notice Hudson's mail piling up.

         {¶8} Nicholas Miller, owner of a local lawn service, was contacted by Hudson in early July 2015. Hudson told him that "her neighbors" had been helping her with yard work, but she was concerned that they had "poisoned her cat or something, " so she didn't want them taking further care of her lawn. Tr. at 398. On July 10, 2015, Miller mowed Hudson's grass and received payment for his work. This was the last day Hudson was seen alive in the neighborhood.

         {¶9} On July 10, 2015, Karissa Gibson, a resident of Shelby, Ohio, was on her lunch break when she drove past an older-model blue van, similar to one owned by Renz, pulled over on the side of a country road. She noticed a "creepy looking" man in the process of dumping something. Tr. at 279, 292, 300. The next day, she went by again and found a number of cats in the area where the van had been sitting. Tr. at 287. Some of them had collars. Tr. at 289. She returned to that spot and eventually, with the help of a neighbor, took in over twenty cats found in the general location. Tr. at 290. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, a heavy rain flooded the spot, which is near a creek. Id.

         {¶10} Sometime between late July and early August 2015, appellant and Renz vacated and abandoned the premises at 290 Spring Street, where they had been living. When the landlord, Dwight Wallen, went through the property, he found a ring washer in the basement that was not there when he first rented the house to them. A ring washer was later found to be missing from Hudson's house. Investigators also found a seven-day pill container, with six days' worth of various medications, in Hudson's house. Tr. at 487.[1]

         {¶11} On August 3, 2015, another neighbor, Steve Au, called the police after noticing Hudson's mail accumulating, her grass being quite overgrown, and the cats having "vanished." Tr. at 332. When Hudson's son, Lonnie, next went to see her in August 2015, there was no one home. Tr. at 178. However, both of Hudson's vehicles were still at the house. Tr. at 178. He attempted to call the number he had for his mother, but another female voice answered. Tr. at 182. Lonnie later observed that his mother's jewelry boxes and two guns were missing from her house. Tr. at 201.

         {¶12} Between July 2015 and January 2016, Hudson's debit card was used in various locations throughout the United States. Tr. at 453-459. It was used in Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Id.

         {¶13} On December 22, 2015, officers from the Mansfield Police Department commenced a missing person investigation. The officers learned, among other things, that appellant and Renz had been using appellant's debit and credit cards. Upon questioning by detectives, Renz finally led police to various locations where parts of Hudson's dismembered body had been hidden.

         {¶14} Investigators also found a nightgown, with numerous bloodstains, in the Spring Street residence where appellant and Renz had been living at the time of Hudson's disappearance. Tr. at 506. Two of the stains were matched to appellant; a third stain also contained appellant's blood, along with an unknown human contributor, described as a "minor DNA profile." Tr. at 833.

         {¶15} In addition, as further discussed infra, appellant later made admissions about her involvement in an Ohio killing to a woman she met in Mississippi.

         {¶16} On July 1, 2016, appellant was indicted by the Richland ...

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