Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Rick L. Ferrara Rick L. Ferrara, Esq.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga
County Prosecutor Anna M. Faraglia Assistant County
Prosecutor Justice Center
BEFORE: Stewart, P.J., Blackmon, J., and Jones, J.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
J. STEWART, PRESIDING JUDGE.
When defendant-appellant Eddie Brownlee, discovered that the
64 year-old victim (one of his drug customers) had become an
informant for the state and participated in a controlled drug
buy that led to Brownlee's arrest, he ordered three of
his associates to "f*** him up." The associates
went to the victim's apartment and, using Brownlee's
gun, shot and killed the victim. The associates made plea
deals with the state, and testified against Brownlee. A jury
found Brownlee guilty of aggravated murder, murder, felonious
assault, aggravated burglary, and kidnapping. The court
ordered Brownlee to serve a 33-year sentence prior to a
sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Because it is potentially dispositive, we begin with
Brownlee's seventh assignment of error and his claim that
there was insufficient evidence to prove aggravated murder,
murder, or conspiracy to commit murder. He argues that he
only ordered his associates to beat up the victim, not kill
him, so the victim's murder was not a foreseeable
consequence of his actions. He also argues that his order to
beat up the victim meant that he did not have the requisite
mental state to purposely cause the victim's death.
We determine whether the evidence is legally sufficient to
sustain a conviction by viewing the evidence in a light most
favorable to the prosecution, and deciding whether any
rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
State v. Monroe, 105 Ohio St.3d 384, 2005-Ohio-2282,
827 N.E.2d 285, ¶ 47.
The evidence showed that after receiving complaints about
drug-dealing, the police made three controlled drug buys from
the victim. The victim was arrested and agreed to cooperate
in a buy-bust operation against Brownlee, his drug supplier.
The victim and his girlfriend made three controlled drug buys
from Brownlee and Brownlee's girlfriend, codefendant
Sheila McFarland. The police arrested Brownlee and McFarland
after the third controlled drug buy.
In a phone call he made while being held in jail, Brownlee
told one of his associates, Ryan Motley, that he suspected
that the victim had betrayed him. He said that he would be
released from jail shortly and, with respect to the victim,
that "we gonna handle it." Motley then went to a
hotel room where Brownlee had been staying and took a gun
belonging to Brownlee. In another telephone conversation,
Brownlee told Motley to "[g]et those motherf***ers"
and to "handle it." After Brownlee had been
released from jail, he and Motley met at Brownlee's hotel
room. Motley testified that Brownlee wanted him to "f***
up" the victim. At some earlier point in time, Motley
had given the gun he took from Brownlee's hotel room to
Brownlee's brother, but after meeting with Brownlee at
the hotel room, Motley retrieved the gun from Brownlee's
The victim's girlfriend said that on the night before the
victim's murder, she overheard a call Brownlee made to
the victim. Brownlee said that both the victim and the
girlfriend "are gonna see our graves." She
testified that not long after that call ended, the victim
told her that a black truck with four men pulled up in front
of their apartment. The men, one of whom was Brownlee, exited
the truck and pointedly stood by the truck watching their
apartment. When the victim told the men that he was calling
the police, they left. The police arrived quickly and advised
the victim and the girlfriend to stay somewhere else that
night. They left the apartment, but they decided to return
just a few hours later.
More threatening calls followed. Motley testified that he
recruited two others and drove to the victim's apartment
building. Armed with Brownlee's gun and wearing a mask
and gloves, Motley and his associates waited in a stairwell
for the victim to leave his apartment. When the victim left
the apartment, Motley pulled out the gun and
"bum-rushed" the victim. According to Motley, the
victim started "running towards me." Motley
testified that he "squeezed the gun to make sure [the
victim] doesn't take it from me and it went off."
From inside the apartment, the girlfriend heard the victim
say, "somebody help me" and then heard a gunshot.
The victim had been shot in the chest.
Motley and his companions fled the building. He called
Brownlee and said, "it's done." On orders from
Brownlee, he threw the gun into an abandoned car. Later that
evening, Motley went to Brownlee's hotel room and told
him that "I made a mistake and shot him." Brownlee
replied, "it's gonna be all right. And hate to see
him go like that, but what's done is done." Brownlee
gave Motley cocaine with a street value of $2, 800 in drugs
Brownlee first argues that the evidence showed only that he
asked Motley to beat the victim, not kill him. He claims that
Motley's independent decision to carry a gun to the
victim's apartment broke the chain of causation necessary
to show that Brownlee conspired to commit murder.
To prove that Brownlee was part of a conspiracy, the state
had to show that he acted with purpose to commit or promote
or facilitate an aggravated murder and planned or aided in
the commission of the offense or agreed with Motley that one
or more of them would engage in conduct that facilitates the
offense. See R.C. 2923.01(A).
The evidence showed that Brownlee told Motley that he would
"get those motherf***ers" and that he wanted Motley
to "f*** up" the victim in retaliation for
cooperating with the police. These conversations set into
motion a chain of events that caused Motley to retrieve
Brownlee's gun and then use it to kill the victim. These
events all naturally flowed from Brownlee's own threat
that the victim would see his "grave" as a result
of cooperating with the police - a clear allusion to the
victim's death. A rational trier of fact could have found
that the state established the elements of a conspiracy.
The same evidence refutes Brownlee's argument that he did
not act with purpose to kill the victim, but only with an
intent to injure. One conspirator is criminally liable for
the acts of a coconspirators done in furtherance of the
conspiracy and reasonably foreseeable as a necessary or
natural consequence of the conspiracy. State v.
Robinson, 98 Ohio App.3d 560, 574, 649 N.E.2d 18 (8th
Dist.1994); State v. Chambers, 53 Ohio App.2d 266,
272, 373 N.E.2d 393 (9th Dist.1977). On this basis alone, the
murder was a natural consequence of the conspiracy that
sought, by Brownlee's own threat, to put the victim in
And even if the evidence did not so strongly indicate that
the object of the conspiracy was to kill the victim,
Motley's testimony that he "accidentally" fired
the gun did not absolve Brownlee. Motley testified that he
pleaded guilty to "purposeful murder" for his part
in the conspiracy. That was an admission that he acted
purposely to kill the victim; it was evidence that the jury
could view as establishing the true intent of the conspiracy.
The firing of the gun was an act of a co-conspirator that did
not constitute an independent intervening cause that freed
Brownlee of responsibility for the victim's death.
State v. Jefferson, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 15828,
1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 887, 22 (Mar. 14, 1997).
Brownlee argues that the court failed to instruct the jury
that testimony by Motley and his two associates should be
considered with grave suspicion in light of their guilty
pleas. He concedes that defense counsel did not request the
instruction, but maintains that the court's failure to
give the instruction amounted to plain error.
If an alleged accomplice of the defendant testifies against
the defendant in a case where the defendant is charged with
complicity in committing an offense, the court must give
substantially the following instruction:
The testimony of an accomplice does not become inadmissible
because of his complicity, moral turpitude, or self-interest,
but the admitted or claimed complicity of a witness may
affect his credibility and make his testimony subject to
grave suspicion, and require that it be weighed with great
It is for you, as jurors, in the light of all the facts
presented to you from the witness stand, to evaluate such
testimony and to determine its quality and worth ...