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State v. Trussell

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

May 10, 2018


          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-15-601904-A

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Britta M. Barthol

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Maxwell Martin Assistant County Prosecutor

          BEFORE: Kilbane, P.J., Celebrezze, J., and Jones, J.



         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Christopher Trussell ("Trussell"), appeals from his jury convictions for rape, kidnapping, and domestic violence. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         {¶2} In January 2016, Trussell was charged in an eight-count indictment arising out of allegations by his girlfriend, T.R., that Trussell kidnapped her and sexually and physically assaulted her. The indictment charged Trussell with two counts of rape, one count of kidnapping, one count of domestic violence, two counts of endangering children, one count of disrupting public service, and one count of having weapons while under disability. Each of the two counts of rape carried a notice of prior conviction specification, a repeat violent offender specification, as well as one- and three-year firearm specifications. The kidnapping count included the same specifications, and additionally included a sexual motivation specification.

         {¶3} In March 2017, this matter proceeded to a jury trial, at which the following evidence was adduced.

         {¶4} T.R. testified she was in an intimate relationship with Trussell in 2015. He moved in with her and her two young sons in July 2015. She explained that she met Trussell when she was in high school and has known him for about 20 years.

         {¶5} In December 2015, Trussell was driving T.R. home from work when the two got into an argument over T.R.'s relationship with a woman whom she calls "Niecy, " and Niecy's son, Jay. T.R. explained she considers Niecy as a mother figure, and Jay is like a brother to her.

         {¶6} T.R. testified that after she and Trussell arrived home, Trussell was "in a bad mood" and "had an attitude." He cancelled their plans to go to a Cavaliers basketball game, and they both went to bed for the night. She explained that she woke up at 3:00 a.m. and went to sleep on the couch in another room. Approximately a half hour later, Trussell also woke up, and came to find her. Trussell brought T.R. a blanket and then went outside. T.R. testified she heard him start her car up.

         {¶7} Around 4 a.m., Trussell returned inside and began to complain to T.R. that her sons had not yet followed his instruction to clean up the yard. He proceeded to wake up T.R.'s ten and eleven-year-old sons and ordered them outside to clean the yard. T.R. testified her thumb was injured when Trussell threw her against a wall when she tried to prevent Trussell from lunging at her eldest son.

         {¶8} While the boys were outside cleaning the yard, Jay sent T.R. a message on Facebook. Trussell noticed T.R. was using the Facebook application on her cell phone and demanded to know with whom she was messaging. Trussell accused T.R. of cheating on him with Jay, took her phone, and began to send messages to Jay.

         {¶9} T.R. explained that after Trussell threw her against the wall, she told him she was ending their relationship, and she asked him to leave the home. Trussell then threatened to kill Niecy and Jay as well as any witnesses to their murders. Trussell told T.R. to get dressed so they could leave the house. He told T.R. that he wanted her to take him to Niecy and Jay's house. T.R. refused, explaining to Trussell that she had to go to work in a few hours. T.R. testified she had tried to leave the house, but Trussell blocked the door and would not allow her to leave. Trussell destroyed her cell phone by smashing it on the floor until it fell apart.

         {¶10} A few hours later, T.R. ultimately complied with Trussell's order to get dressed and leave the house with him since he claimed to have a gun in a backpack he had brought in the house from the garage. T.R. explained that Trussell allowed her to contact her employer to call off of work and also allowed her to leave her father's and older daughter's telephone numbers for her sons. Before leaving with Trussell, T.R. told her sons to go to a neighbor's house and call her father or daughter.

         {¶11} Trussell forced T.R. into her car with him and again demanded to know where Niecy and Jay lived. T.R. gave him vague directions. At one point while in the car, Trussell hit T.R. in the face. T.R. tried to jump out of the moving car, but Trussell yanked her back in and threatened to shut her in the trunk. Trussell momentarily stopped the car in the parking lot of an RTA bus and train station. She attempted to get out of the car a second time, but Trussell yanked her back in. Before Trussell drove the car out of the parking lot, he forced T.R. to perform oral sex on him by yanking her by the neck, pulling her head down toward his lap. Trussell then drove home.

         {¶12} When Trussell and T.R. arrived home, T.R.'s sons were no longer there. Trussell would not let T.R. leave the house and again forced her to perform oral sex on him. T.R. testified that she pleaded with Trussell "please don't make me do this, I don't want to do this." He threatened to use the gun he claimed to have in the backpack to force T.R. to remove her clothes. Trussell proceeded to vaginally rape her. He ejaculated on her face, chest, and stomach.

         {¶13} T.R. explained that she was unable to call the police because Trussell had destroyed her only phone - her cell phone - earlier that morning. Eventually, T.R.'s father arrived at the home and Trussell went outside to talk to him. After talking with T.R.'s father, Trussell left the house. T.R. showed her father her injuries and the police arrived.

         {¶14} After the incident, Trussell sent T.R. a letter apologizing for what happened. He told her he loved her, but also attempted to dissuade her from testifying against him.

         {¶15} The responding Cleveland police officer and the nurse who performed a rape kit on T.R. testified as to T.R.'s demeanor and injuries. A forensic DNA analyst testified to the results of the rape kit. The forensic analyst concluded to a "reasonable degree of scientific certainty" that Trussell's DNA matched the seminal fluid recovered from T.R.'s face, abdomen, and chest. T.R.'s adult daughter also testified.

         {¶16} At the conclusion of the state's case, the defense made a Crim.R. 29 motion for judgment of acquittal. The trial court denied this motion and Trussell's renewed motion made after the defense rested without calling any witnesses.

         {¶17} The jury found Trussell guilty of rape as charged in Count 1, kidnapping as charged in Count 3, and domestic violence as charged in Count 4. The jury found him not guilty of the gun specifications as charged in Counts 1 ...

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