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State v. McFarland

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

May 24, 2018


          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-16-604052-B

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Mark Stanton Cuyahoga County Pubic Defender BY: Jeffrey Gamso Paul Kuzmins Cuyahoga County Public Defenders

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga County Prosecutor BY: Anna M. Faraglia Assistant County Prosecutor

          BEFORE: Jones, J., Stewart, P.J., and Blackmon, J.


          LARRY A. JONES, SR., J.

         {¶1} In this appeal, defendant-appellant Sheila McFarland ("McFarland") challenges her convictions, which were rendered after a jury trial, for several crimes that stemmed from the murder of Robert Williams. McFarland also challenges her sentence of life without the possibility of parole. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the convictions, but remand for merger of the kidnapping count with the aggravated murder count and resentencing after the state makes its election on which count to proceed.

         I. Procedural and Factual History

         General Background

         {¶2} The victim, Robert Williams ("Williams"), lived in the Indian Hills Apartments in Euclid, Ohio, with his girlfriend Korri Henderson ("Henderson").

         {¶3} During the relevant time period, the Euclid police department received numerous complaints about drug activity in and around the apartment complex. In September 2015, the police conducted a series of controlled buys from Williams in the complex's parking lots. Thereafter, the police obtained a search warrant for Williams's apartment unit. Upon execution of the warrant, the police discovered crack cocaine in Williams's apartment, and Williams and Henderson were arrested.

         {¶4} After their arrest, Williams and Henderson informed the police that their supplier was codefendant Eddie Brownlee ("Brownlee"), a.k.a., "Man, " and his girlfriend, appellant. Williams and Henderson agreed to become confidential informants to help the police arrest Brownlee and appellant. The police set up electronic surveillance in Williams's and Henderson's apartment, and used Williams to engage in controlled buys from Brownlee. On October 22, 2015, Brownlee and appellant were arrested during one of the controlled buys. Appellant was released from jail October 23, 2015; Brownlee remained in jail.

         {¶5} While in jail, Brownlee made calls to appellant, that were recorded. During one of the calls, appellant was with Brownlee's friend, codefendant Ryan Motley ("Motley"), a.k.a., "Chop." It was undisputed that Motley was the person who fired the deadly shots at Williams. During the call, Brownlee told appellant and Motley that he suspected Williams had "snitched" on him to the police and set up the controlled buy that led to Brownlee's arrest.

         {¶6} After the call, Motley and appellant went to a hotel room where appellant and Brownlee had been staying to clear out the drugs so that they would avoid further charges. Motley also recovered Brownlee's pistol from under a mattress. Motley informed both appellant and Brownlee that he had the pistol; Brownlee told Motley to "get Rob. Get those motherf***ers, " and told him "I need you to handle this." Appellant told Brownlee that she and Motley were "about to do that one thing now." According to Motley, who testified at appellant's trial, the reference to what they were about to do was to look into retaining a lawyer for Brownlee.

         {¶7} Thereafter, appellant convinced Motley that they needed to sell drugs so that they could get money to post Brownlee's bail. They raised the funds, and on November 10, 2015, appellant posted Brownlee's bail and he was released from jail.

         {¶8} After his release from jail, Brownlee continued to express his belief that Williams was a snitch. To that end, Brownlee instructed Motley to physically hurt Williams. Brownlee also called Williams and told him that he (Williams) and Henderson were going to "see their graves."

         Another Drug Dealer at Indian Hills Complex

         {¶9} In addition to Williams and Henderson, the Euclid police were also interested in the activities of Dwayne Jackson ("Jackson"), who was engaging in drug transactions in and around Indian Hills. Brownlee was also Jackson's supplier. According to Jackson, who testified at trial, when he needed drugs he would call Brownlee's number and either Brownlee or appellant would answer. On November 12, 2015, appellant and Brownlee dropped crack cocaine off to him at his house. Jackson testified that appellant told him that "Rob" was snitching and to watch out for him.

         Henderson Calls Police

         {¶10} On November 13, 2015, the evening following appellant and Brownlee's interaction with Jackson, Henderson called the Euclid police to report that she and Williams had been receiving threatening phone calls stating that Brownlee "was coming for them." She testified that she also saw a truck drive onto the parking lot in front of their building and the occupants of the truck watched her and Williams's apartment unit.

         {¶11} The responding officer testified that Henderson was nervous and told him that the threats came from "Man, " which, as mentioned, was Brownlee's nickname. After telling the officer that she and Williams were informants for the Euclid police department, the officer recommended that she and Williams stay some place other than their apartment for the evening. The two left the apartment for a period of time, but eventually returned that evening or the following morning.

         Tape Over Peephole

         {¶12} The following morning, November 14, 2015, a neighbor of Williams's and Henderson's discovered from a visitor to her apartment that masking tape had been placed over the peephole on the front door of her apartment unit. The visitor took the tape off and left it in his friend's apartment. The police recovered the tape and a latent fingerprint was recovered from it. The DNA profile recovered from it was a match to codefendant Raymond Motley, codefendant Ryan Motley's brother.

         The Murder: November 14, 2015

         {¶13} Williams was murdered the same morning as the neighbor found out there was masking tape over her peephole, November 14, 2015. On that morning Motley, his brother Raymond Motley, and a friend, Rahkee Young, drove to Indian Hills. Motley wore a "hoodie" with a mask and gloves.

         {¶14} Upon arriving at the complex, all three entered the building and waited in the second-floor stairwell. When they heard Williams leave his apartment, Motley ran towards him; Williams turned around. Motley then pulled out a pistol and Williams began to approach him. Motley fired, hitting Williams in his chest. Motley, his brother and their friend fled the scene. Motley disposed of the gun.

         {¶15} Henderson, who heard the gunshot, called the police. Euclid police responded to the scene. Henderson told the police "they killed him, they killed him." She explained to the police that she and Williams had been receiving threats from "Man and Sheila" and she knew appellant because Williams bought cocaine from Brownlee.

         {¶16} The police obtained cell phone records for Motley's cell phone and learned that a call had been placed from the phone a few minutes before the murder and a few minutes after the murder. Law enforcement also analyzed records of Brownlee's cell phone. They discovered that a call had been made from Brownlee's number to Williams's number in the very early morning hours of the day of the murder, and that Brownlee's number was blocked so that Williams could not see the caller. The call was made in the general vicinity of the Indian Hills complex. Law enforcement also determined that the calls made from Motley's cell phone just before and after the murder were made in the general vicinity of the Indian Hills complex.

         Indictment and State's Theory of the Case

         {¶17} In March 2016, the state indicted Ryan Motley, Eddie Brownlee, Raymond Motley, Rahkee Young, and appellant Sheila McFarland. They were charged as follows: Counts 1 and 2, aggravated murder; Count 3, conspiracy; Counts 4 and 5, murder; Counts 6 and 7, felonious assault; Counts 8 and 9, aggravated burglary; and Count 10, kidnapping. All counts contained one- and three-year firearm specifications.

         {¶18} It was undisputed that Ryan Motley fired the fatal shot at Williams. It was also undisputed that appellant was not present when the shooting occurred. The state's theory of the case was that appellant was a member of a conspiracy, who was involved in Brownlee's drug dealings and conspired with Brownlee to cause physical harm to Williams.

         {¶19} Ryan Motley, Raymond Motley, and Rahkee Young accepted plea agreements and testified against Brownlee at trial. Ryan Motley testified for the state at appellant's trial.

         Verdict and Sentence

         {¶20} After its deliberations, the jury found appellant guilty on all counts and specifications. The trial court merged Counts 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7 (aggravated murder, murder, and felonious assault) for the purpose of sentencing. The state elected to proceed on Count 1, aggravated murder, and the trial court sentenced appellant to life without the possibility of parole, with three years for the firearm specification.

         {¶21} The trial court sentenced appellant to 11 years on Count 3, conspiracy. The court merged Counts 8 and 9 (aggravated burglary), and sentenced appellant to 11 years. The trial court further sentenced appellant to 11 years on Count 10, kidnapping. The court ordered the sentences on the counts to be served concurrent.[1]

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶22} Appellant now appeals, raising the following assignments of error for our review:[2]

I. The trial court committed prejudicial error and denied Ms. McFarland her right to a fair trial, to present a defense, to confront witnesses against her, and to due process of law when it improperly refused to allow Dwayne Jackson to answer a question about whether his testimony was directed by the prosecution and then, sua sponte, disparaged defense counsel and implicitly indicated to the jury not only that the question was improper but that unlike defense counsel the prosecutor's behavior was above reproach.
II. The evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdicts.
III. The guilty verdicts were not supported by the manifest weight of the evidence.
IV. The trial court committed error when it convicted Ms. McFarland of aggravated murder, conspiracy, aggravated burglary, and kidnapping when they are all allied offenses of similar import.
V. The trial court imposed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole not because it was the appropriate sentence for Ms. McFarland's crimes but to punish her for her obstreperous behavior at the sentencing hearing.
VI. The trial court committed error when it did not instruct the jury that the testimony of Ryan Motley and Dwayne Jackson was "subject to grave suspicion" and should be "weighed with ...

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