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State v. Mincey

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

February 23, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
MICHELLE MINCEY, Defendant-Appellee.

         Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO. B-1406170B

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, Ronald Springman and Sean Donovan, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Michaela M. Stagnaro, for Defendant-Appellee.


          Miller, Judge.

         {¶1} After her first trial ended in a mistrial, and following a second trial, a jury found Michelle Mincey guilty of felonious assault for being complicit in throwing sulfuric acid on Shailah Robinson's face and body. The trial court sentenced Mincey to the maximum term of eight years in prison. We affirm.

         The State's Case

         {¶2} Mincey's teenage daughters, Deajah and Shay, were embroiled in an on-going dispute with Robinson's sister, Tynia Jones, and others culminating in a large street fight. Roughly an hour before this melee, Deajah fought with one of Tynia's friends, Tonya Miller. Tynia witnessed the earlier fight, and cell phone video of the fight was admitted at trial.

         {¶3} The street fight initially involved Robinson, Tynia, Deajah, Shay and a few other women and girls. Mincey, along with her sister Denna and their cousin, Latressa Conley, ran out of Mincey's home and joined in. Mincey carried a stun gun, Conley a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol, and Denna a glass jar of a concentrated sulfuric acid solution. According to Robinson, in the midst of the fight, Mincey pointed at Robinson and said, "It's that bitch right there, " prompting Denna to throw acid onto Robinson's face. As Robinson tried to wipe the acid from her face, Denna threw the remainder of the jar's contents onto Robinson's body.

         {¶4} Tynia corroborated Robinson's testimony, and added that Denna's first throw was underhanded, and the second, overhanded. Robinson testified that the acid made her feel like her body was "on fire, " and that her pain level on a scale of 1-to-10 was "over 10." She was hospitalized for two-and-a-half weeks and still experiences pain daily.

          {¶5} Officer Kurtz responded to the scene. Mincey gave him permission to search her house. Kurtz encountered Denna on the second floor as she exited from the bathroom, appearing to have just showered. The officer found a bottle of "Liquid Fire" drain cleaner in Mincey's home. It was later discovered that there were burns on Denna's hand and back.

         {¶6} Dana Greely, a crime lab technician, tested the Liquid Fire and remnants of acid collected from the scene. Greely testified that Liquid Fire is a sulfuric acid solution, and that the liquid from the crime scene was also a sulfuric acid solution. She concluded that Denna's shirt and Robinson's clothing had been burned with sulfuric acid. Greely could not say whether the acid thrown on Robinson was the Liquid Fire found in Mincey's home.

         Mincey's Defense

         {¶7} In her first trial, Mincey had had expert witness Larry Dehus appointed at her request to test the evidence found at the scene and the Liquid Fire. Dehus's report contained conclusions very similar to Greely's. She did not call Dehus as a witness in either trial. Prior to her second trial, Mincey moved the trial court to appoint a second expert witness, who Mincey claimed would possibly be able to testify that the Liquid Fire from her home was not the acid thrown on Robinson. Her motion was denied.

         {¶8} Mincey's defense centered on casting doubt on the identity of Denna as the acid-thrower, and Mincey as the one who told Denna to throw the acid on Robinson. The defense argued that Denna could not have carried a jar of acid to the fight because an eye-witness testified that Denna had been physically fighting before the acid was thrown. Denna admitted that there were burns on her hands and back, but explained that the burn on her hand was from an oven and that the burn on her back occurred when someone behind her at the fight threw the acid at Robinson.


         {¶9} Admission of the cell phone video. In her first assignment of error, Mincey contends that the trial court erred when it admitted into evidence the cell phone video of the earlier fight between Mincey's daughters and Tonya Miller. Mincey raises three arguments: the video (1) was not properly authenticated; (2) was irrelevant and/or unduly prejudicial; and (3) constituted impermissible "other acts" evidence. None of these arguments is meritorious.

         {¶10} We review the trial court's admission of the video for an abuse of discretion. See State v. Sage, 31 Ohio St.3d 173, 510 N.E.2d 343 (1987), paragraph two of the syllabus. An abuse of discretion is more than a mere error in judgment; it suggests that the court acted in an unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable manner. State v. Adams, 62 Ohio St.2d 151, 157-158, 404 N.E.2d 144 (1980).

         {¶11} "The requirement of authentication or identification as a condition precedent to admissibility is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims." Evid.R. 901(A); Great Seneca Fin. v. Felty, 170 Ohio App.3d 737, 2006-Ohio-6618, 869 N.E.2d 30, ¶ 9 (1st Dist.). Tynia witnessed the earlier fight. She testified that the video was a fair and accurate depiction of the fight. This was sufficient foundation to admit the video. Midland Steel Prods. Co. v. U.A.W. Local 486, 61 Ohio St.3d 121, 129, 573 N.E.2d 98 (1991).

         {¶12} The video was relevant. "Relevant evidence" is "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Evid.R. 401. The question of whether evidence is relevant is "one which the trial court can resolve based on common experience and logic." State v. Lyles, 42 Ohio St.3d 98, 99, 537 N.E.2d 221 (1989). Here, the trial court stated that evidence of the earlier fight provided a possible motive for the later street fight. We find no error in this determination.

         {¶13} Excluding this video was not required by Evid.R. 403(A). That rule provides, "[a]lthough relevant, evidence is not admissible if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, of confusion of the issues, or of misleading the jury." See State v. Combs, 62 Ohio St.3d 278, 284, 581 N.E.2d 1071 (1991). Mincey claims that the video was unduly prejudicial because its only purpose was to show that Mincey must have been angry at the girls involved in the earlier fight against her daughters. We fail to see how the probative value of this evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

         {¶14} Finally, Mincey contends that the video contained prohibited "other acts" evidence under Evid.R. 404(B). This objection was not raised in the trial court. Mincey has therefore forfeited all but plain error on appeal. See State v. Rogers, 143 Ohio St.3d 385, 2015-Ohio-2459, 38 N.E.3d 860, ¶ 3. Forfeited error "is not reversible error unless it affected the outcome of the proceeding and reversal is necessary to correct a manifest miscarriage of justice." Id. On appeal, Mincey has not argued, let alone demonstrated, that "but for" the alleged error the outcome of her trial would have been otherwise, or that reversal is necessary to correct a manifest miscarriage of justice. See Rogers at ¶ 3; State v. Harrison, 122 Ohio St.3d 512, 2009-Ohio-3547, 912 N.E.2d 1106, ¶ 61; State v. Long, 53 Ohio St.2d 91, 97, 372 N.E.2d 804 (1978).

         {¶15} Mincey's first assignment of error is overruled.

          {¶16} Expert Witness. In her second assignment of error, Mincey argues that the trial court violated her right to due process by overruling her motion to appoint a second expert witness.[1] According to her proffer, her requested expert, Professor Thomas Ridgway, "would possibly allow elimination" of the Liquid Fire found in her house as the source of the acid that burned Robinson.

         {¶17} This was Mincey's second request for an expert to test the acid found at the scene. In Mincey's first trial, that ended in a mistrial, the court had appointed expert witness Dehus. Dehus tested the Liquid Fire found in Mincey's home, acid residue found at the scene, and Robinson's and Michelle Mincey's clothing. Dehus's report concluded that the Liquid Fire was a concentrated sulfuric acid solution, that the acid residue was sulfuric acid residue, and that the chemical damage to Robinson's and Denna Mincey's clothing was indicative of sulfuric acid. Dehus could not determine whether the acid found at the scene and on the tested clothing was from the Liquid Fire found in Mincey's home. Dehus did not testify at either trial. The state's expert, Greely, who testified in Mincey's second trial, came to similar conclusions as Dehus after she tested the evidence from the scene. However, according to Mincey, Ridgway would be able to perform more sensitive testing than either Dehus or Greely that could possibly exclude the Liquid Fire as the agent that burned Robinson.

         {¶18} As a guarantee of due process, indigent defendants are entitled to receive the "raw materials" and the "basic tools of an adequate defense." Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 77, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), quoting Britt v. North Carolina, 404 U.S. 226, 227, 92 S.Ct. 431, 30 L.Ed.2d 400 (1971). However, due process, under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Section 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution, does not require the state to provide an expert to an indigent defendant in the absence of a particularized showing of need. State v. Mason, 82 Ohio St.3d 144, 150, 694 N.E.2d 932 (1998). A defendant must demonstrate "a reasonable probability that an expert would aid in his defense, and that denial of expert assistance would result in an unfair trial." Id., citing Little v. Armontrout, 835 F.2d 1240, 1244 (8th Cir.1997). The mere possibility of aid from an expert is not enough. Id.; see State v. Broom, 40 Ohio St.3d 277, 283, 533 N.E.2d 682 (1988). We review the trial court's decision whether to appoint an expert witness for an abuse of discretion. See State v. Jenkins, 15 Ohio St.3d 164, 473 N.E.2d 264 (1984), paragraph four of the syllabus.

         {¶19} Here, Mincey did not demonstrate more than a "mere possibility" that Ridgway would have aided in her defense. Mincey wanted Ridgway to counter the coroner's analyst's results. Her first expert was unable to do so. Both Greely and Dehus came to the same conclusions after testing-i.e. that Liquid Fire contained a concentrated sulfuric acid solution and that the evidence collected from the scene was sulfuric acid. Greely's and Dehus's results were inconclusive as to whether the Liquid Fire was the acid used in the attack. Mincey did not show how more testing would have led to a different result. Her argument in support of a second expert was speculative, raising only the "possibility, " and not a "reasonable probability" that yet more testing would yield a result favorable to Mincey. Further, Mincey had an opportunity to adequately cross-examine the coroner's analyst about the lab results, and thereby cast doubt on the analysis or the lab results themselves. And there is no indication in the record that Mincey's first expert was unavailable, had she wished to call her own expert witness.

          {¶20} Additionally, while the presence of Liquid Fire in Mincey's home was significant, the heart of the state's case was other evidence-primarily eyewitness testimony-connecting Mincey to the crime. Mincey was convicted of complicity for directing her sister to throw the acid on Robinson. Where the acid came from was less important. She therefore cannot show that the trial court abused its discretion and that the failure of the court to appoint a second expert resulted in an unfair trial. We overrule the second assignment of error.

         {¶21} Prosecutorial Misconduct. In her third assignment of error, Mincey claims that prosecutorial misconduct deprived her of a fair trial. She alleges that the assistant prosecuting attorney committed misconduct by (1) trying his case to the jury during voir dire, (2) introducing cell phone video of the fight, (3) making inaccurate statements during closing argument, and (4) misstating facts in the state's sentencing memorandum.

         {¶22} The test for prosecutorial misconduct is whether the remarks or actions were improper, and if so, whether they affected the accused's substantial rights. State v. Lott, 51 Ohio St.3d 160, 165, 555 N.E.2d 293 (1990). To constitute reversible error, the alleged misconduct must have deprived the defendant of a fair trial. State v. Diar, 120 Ohio St.3d 460, 2008-Ohio-6266, 900 N.E.2d 565, ¶ 140; State v. Neeley, 143 Ohio App.3d 606, 621, 758 N.E.2d 745 (1st Dist.2001).

         {¶23} The admission of the cell phone video was a decision made by the trial court, not the prosecuting attorney. Even if the sentencing memorandum contained inaccurate facts, it was submitted to the court after Mincey had been found guilty. It could not have had an effect on the fairness of Mincey's trial. Therefore, these allegations cannot form the basis for claims of prosecutorial misconduct.

          {¶24} Next, Mincey makes a general reference in her brief to a few instances where the trial court admonished the prosecuting attorney during voir dire for speaking about the particulars of the case. She has not demonstrated how these statements deprived her of a fair trial. And, upon a review of the record, we hold that they did not.

         {¶25} Finally, Mincey claims that the prosecuting attorney made several improper statements during closing argument. There were no objections to these statements, and Mincey has not argued or shown plain error on appeal. See Rogers, 143 Ohio St.3d 385, 2015-Ohio-2459, 38 N.E.3d 860, at ¶ 3; Long, 53 Ohio St.2d at 97, 372 N.E.2d 804.

         {¶26} Mincey's third assignment of error is overruled.

         {¶27}Jury Charge. In her fourth assignment of error, Mincey argues that the trial court left out an element of "complicity" in its charge to the jury. This presents a question of law that we review de novo. Cincinnati v. Flannery,176 Ohio App.3d 181, ...

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