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State v. Ladson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

April 5, 2018


          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-15-601492-C

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Rick L. Ferrara

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor BY: Hannah Smith Assistant County Prosecutor

          BEFORE: Boyle, P.J., S. Gallagher, J., and Laster Mays, J.



         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Shawn Ladson, appeals his convictions and sentence. He raises the following assignments of error for our review:

1. The manifest weight of the evidence did not support conviction.
2. The trial court erred in failing to declare a mistrial on the state's comment that infringed on Appellant's constitutional right to remain silent at trial.
3. The trial court committed plain error in failing to merge underlying offenses as part of the same act with the same animus; and failing to merge firearm specifications as part of the same criminal transaction.

         {¶2} Finding no merit to his assignments of error, we affirm.

         I. Procedural History and Factual Background

         {¶3} In December 2015, a Cuyahoga County Grand Jury indicted Ladson and his two codefendants, Michael Townsend, Jr. and Roscoe Simmons III, for two counts of aggravated murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.01(A) and (B); one count of murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B); two counts of aggravated burglary, in violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(1) and (2); three counts of aggravated robbery, in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(1) and (3); four counts of felonious assault, in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1) and (2); five counts of kidnapping, in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(3); and one count of tampering with evidence, in violation of R.C. 2921.12(A)(1). Ladson was indicted for an additional count of having weapons while under disability, in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(3). With the exception of the count for tampering with evidence, all of the counts carried one- and three-year firearm specifications. Additionally, the counts for aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, and kidnapping carried notices of prior conviction and repeat violent offender specifications. The charges arose out of the fatal shooting of Joshua Freeman, which occurred when three men broke into Freeman's apartment on July 21, 2015.

         {¶4} Ladson waived his right to a trial by jury for the notice of prior conviction and repeat violent offender specifications as well as for the having weapons while under disability count. The case proceeded to a jury trial, where the state presented 13 witnesses, including 5 eyewitnesses, each of who offered slightly varied accounts as to who shot Freeman. We summarize the following pertinent facts from the evidence presented at trial.[1]

         {¶5} On July 19, 2015, Freeman and Darren Briscoe attended a car show with some friends. Freeman recently had come into a large sum of cash and, earlier that day, had posted a video on Instagram of himself with the cash. Briscoe testified that he was not sure of the amount of the money or exactly how Freeman got the money, but believed it was related to an insurance settlement.

         {¶6} At the car show, Freeman gambled and ultimately lost all of his money. As a result, Freeman and Briscoe decided to leave the car show around 7:30 p.m. and went back to the two-bedroom apartment they shared on Wheelock Avenue in Cleveland. Latia Stradford, Briscoe's girlfriend, met the men at their apartment, and she and Briscoe eventually went to his room and fell asleep. Lateasa Byrd, Freeman's girlfriend and mother of his child, also came over to the apartment with their daughter and spent the night.

         {¶7} Around 2:00 a.m., Byrd and Freeman awoke to the sound of commotion coming from inside the apartment. When Freeman opened the bedroom door to investigate the noise, a man stood in the doorway pointing a gun at Freeman. The man, who was eventually identified as Townsend, entered the room. Townsend began arguing with Freeman and demanded to know where the cash was that Freeman showed on Instagram earlier in the day. After Freeman denied having the money, Townsend threatened to kill the couple's daughter if Freeman did not give him the money.

         {¶8} At the same time, both Briscoe and Stradford, who were asleep in the other bedroom, woke up when two men kicked in Briscoe's bedroom door and ordered Briscoe to get on the ground. The men demanded to know where the money was and threatened him with a gun and a crowbar. At one point, one of the men reached over and grabbed two of Briscoe's designer belts, which Briscoe estimated to be worth over a few hundred dollars a piece. After Briscoe told the men that there was no money in the apartment, both left the bedroom for a moment. One of the men then returned and ordered Briscoe to crawl to Freeman's bedroom.

         {¶9} When the two men and Briscoe entered Freeman's bedroom, the men continued threatening Freeman. At some point during the argument, one of the men shot Freeman. After the shot went off, all three men ran from the apartment.

         {¶10} Byrd immediately called 911, while Briscoe attempted to help Freeman. Soon after, police arrived on the scene. Upon arrival, officers secured the area and began interviewing Briscoe and Stradford. Paramedics tended to Freeman and took him to Metro Hospital. Byrd accompanied Freeman to the hospital and was interviewed by police there. Freeman eventually died of a single gunshot wound to his lower abdomen after suffering extreme blood loss and organ failure.

         {¶11} Police collected evidence, swabbing doorknobs and other objects in the apartment for DNA, taking pictures of the apartment, both inside and outside, and collecting evidence, such as a single cartridge case and bloodied clothing from Freeman's bedroom. Police also took pictures of the damage to the apartment's outside door, which showed signs of a forcible entry.

         {¶12} Later that day, police interviewed Briscoe and Stradford again at police headquarters, who described the events of that night as well as the men who entered the apartment. Based on that information, police obtained a warrant for Townsend.

         {¶13} On the evening of July 20, 2015, Roscoe Simmons turned himself into police, confessing that he was one of the men who broke into Freeman's apartment. The next day, Townsend also turned himself into police. During their initial interviews with police, neither Townsend nor Simmons identified the third suspect.

         {¶14} Police eventually received information identifying Ladson as the third suspect and obtained a warrant for him on July 29, 2015. Ladson, however, was not apprehended and arrested until November 20, 2015.

         {¶15} After the state rested its case, Ladson moved for a Crim.R. 29 dismissal, which the court denied. The defense then presented no witnesses and rested its case. Ladson renewed his Crim.R. 29 motion, which the court denied. Ladson additionally moved for a mistrial based on comments made during the state's closing argument, but the court denied the motion.

         {¶16} On April 28, 2017, the jury found Ladson guilty of one count of aggravated murder; one count of murder; two counts of aggravated burglary; three counts of aggravated robbery; five counts of kidnapping, all of which carried one- and three-year firearm specifications. The court found Ladson guilty of the notice of prior conviction and repeat violent offender specifications for the counts of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and kidnapping. Additionally, the jury found Ladson guilty of one count of tampering with evidence.

         {¶17} At sentencing, the trial court found that the aggravated murder count merged with the counts for murder and one count for kidnapping; the counts for aggravated burglary merged; and the remaining four counts for kidnapping merged with the aggravated robbery counts. The state elected to sentence Ladson for the count for aggravated murder and aggravated burglary and two counts of aggravated robbery.

         {¶18} The trial court sentenced Ladson as follows: 25 years to life for aggravated murder with one- and three-year firearm specifications from the merged count for murder; 11 years for aggravated burglary with one- and three-year firearm specifications; and 11 years for the aggravated-robbery counts with one- and three-year firearm specifications. ...

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