Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
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
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Michael C. O'Malley Cuyahoga
County Prosecutor BY: Anna M. Faraglia Assistant County
BEFORE: Jones, J., Stewart, P.J., and Blackmon, J.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
A. JONES, SR., J.
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.
Procedural and Factual History
The victim, Robert Williams ("Williams"), lived in
the Indian Hills Apartments in Euclid, Ohio, with his
girlfriend Korri Henderson ("Henderson").
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Drug Dealer at Indian Hills Complex
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.
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.
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
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
Murder: November 14, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
and State's Theory of the Case
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Assignments of Error
Appellant now appeals, raising the following assignments of
error for our review:
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
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
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 ...