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State v. Wright

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Fayette

May 21, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DONNIE E. WRIGHT, Defendant-Appellant.


          Jess C. Weade, Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney, for plaintiff-appellee.

          Steven H. Eckstein, for defendant-appellant.


          M. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Donnie Wright, appeals his conviction and sentence in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

         {¶ 2} In early December 2016, appellant began dating a woman ("Mother"). Within days, appellant moved into Mother's house. Mother has a daughter ("the victim") who also resided with her. Later that month, appellant began having sexual intercourse with the victim. The victim was 14 years old; appellant turned 49 years old on December 30, 2016. Between December 2016 and late February 2017, as appellant's relationship with Mother continued, appellant engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim multiple times a day in his car or in Mother's home. The sexual abuse ended on March 1, 2017, after the victim confessed to a family friend ("Family Friend") who informed Mother. The police were notified on March 3, 2017; four days later, Detective Thomas Queen of the Washington Court House Police Department began an investigation. During the investigation, the detective interviewed the victim. He also interviewed Mike Ratliff, a former lifelong friend of appellant. In April 2017, the victim had a forensic interview at the Child Protection Center of Ross County which included a medical examination by Dr. Amy Luckeydoo, a pediatrician.

         {¶ 3} Appellant was indicted in May 2017 on five counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. Each count included the specification that appellant was ten or more years older than the victim. A jury trial was held on October 14, 2017.[1] The victim, Dr. Luckeydoo, Detective Queen, Family Friend, and Ratliff testified on behalf of the state Appellant did not testify or present witnesses on his behalf.

         {¶ 4} Dr. Luckeydoo testified that during the medical examination, the victim stated that she and appellant had vaginal intercourse on several occasions and that it ended in March 2017. The victim further told the physician that appellant had bought her a ring which she refused to wear, and that he had told her she should not tell anybody about their relationship.

         {¶ 5} Family Friend became suspicious of a sexual relationship between appellant and the victim when she observed the two holding hands for long periods of time and kissing on the lips in a nonplatonic manner on several occasions. Family Friend testified that when she accompanied the victim to a hospital one day, she observed the victim receiving several text messages from appellant. In particular, one of the text messages stated, "What if you are pregnant, it would be mine?" On cross-examination, Family Friend admitted she did not personally see appellant's name or phone number on those text messages. Rather, the victim told her that the text messages were from appellant.

         {¶ 6} Family Friend further testified that on one occasion, appellant and the victim stayed at home while Family Friend and Mother went somewhere. When Family Friend came back to the house, the victim, who was "a little bit worked up or excited, " told her that appellant "had just fucked her on a * * * table." Family Friend eventually confronted the victim and the latter admitted she was having a sexual relationship with appellant. Family Friend told Mother. The two women confronted appellant who packed his belongings and left Mother's home.

         {¶ 7} Ratliff testified that while he and appellant were having a beer one day, appellant told him that he and the victim "were having sex." Ratliff stated that appellant told him about the sexual relationship on about four separate occasions. Ratliff did not tell anyone until August 2017 when Detective Queen came to his home to interview him. Ratliff explained he was no longer talking to appellant as the two recently had a falling out on an unrelated matter.

         {¶ 8} Detective Queen provided appellant's date of birth and testified that appellant was 49 years old. The detective testified he interviewed Ratliff on August 24, 2017. By then, Ratliff and appellant were no longer speaking to one another. During her interview with the detective, the victim admitted that she and appellant had engaged in sexual intercourse over several months, three to four times a day. The victim, however, denied having sex on the kitchen table because "it would break if she did." The detective testified he retrieved the victim's cellphone. However, only a handful of text messages was recovered as the victim had deleted her text and Facebook messages. The detective further testified that he did not request a rape kit and that there was no DNA or other forensic evidence to be collected due to the passage of time and the fact appellant was living in Mother's home and dating Mother at the same time he was having sexual intercourse with the victim.

         {¶ 9} The victim testified that she and appellant started to have sexual intercourse the same month appellant began dating Mother and moved into Mother's home. The victim was 14 years old and was never married to appellant. Although the victim indicated she wanted the relationship, appellant was the one who sought out the relationship. Appellant further asked her if she "could have his kids." While appellant never bought her a ring or anything else, he promised her he would buy her a ring, "a house and just basically everything."

         {¶ 10} The victim testified she and appellant had intercourse several times a day, in his car or in Mother's home. The victim admitted having sex on the kitchen table. They stopped having sex on February 20, 2017, because she was constipated and menstruating. The victim testified the relationship ended when she told Family Friend about it and Family Friend told Mother.

         {¶ 11} The victim admitted she lied to several persons regarding her relationship with appellant. Specifically, she lied to Mother when she told her she was not in a relationship with appellant. She lied to Detective Queen when she denied having sex with appellant on the kitchen table. The victim explained she lied to the detective because she was scared and having sex on a kitchen table is "disgusting." The victim lied to Dr. Luckeydoo when she told her appellant had given her a ring. The victim could not explain why she had lied "about something so small" when she had admitted to Dr. Luckeydoo that she was in a sexual relationship with appellant.

         {¶ 12} After the state rested its case-in-chief, Counts 1 and 5, which respectively covered the time period of November 2016 and March 2017, were dismissed at the state's request. Appellant moved for a Crim.R. 29(A) acquittal, which was overruled by the trial court. After the jury retired to deliberate, appellant advised the trial court that as the jury was exiting the courtroom and passing by the victim, he heard the victim utter the word "guilty." Appellant moved for a mistrial, arguing that the victim's improper communication with the jury raised concerns about the jury's ability to be unbiased.

         {¶ 13} The trial court first asked the prosecutor and defense counsel whether they had heard anything. They had not. At the trial court's directive, the prosecutor questioned the victim's advocate who was seated near the victim when the jury retired to deliberate. The victim's advocate testified she did not hear either the victim or Mother utter the word "guilty" as the jury retired. The trial court next sent a written question to the jurors, asking them, "Did any juror hear any remark from anyone in the audience as you were exiting the courtroom?" The jury foreperson reported to the trial court that all jurors answered "No." The trial court then allowed appellant to proffer "what he believes took place, " namely, that as the jury walked by the victim, he heard either the victim or Mother say "guilty" twice.

         {¶ 14} After the jury reached a verdict but before the verdict was read, the trial court personally asked the jurors whether "any of the 12 of you that deliberated this case, as you were exiting the jury box and on your way into the jury room[, ] hear any remark or comment from anyone in the audience?" Once again, the jurors replied "No." Consequently, the trial court found that "the record reflects that unanimously no one heard any remark from anyone in the audience ...

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