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Eacholes v. Warden, Southeastern Correctional Institution

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

May 29, 2018

JERRY J. EACHOLES, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, SOUTHEASTERN CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION, Respondent.

          Black, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          J. Gregory Wehrman, United States Magistrate Judge

         Petitioner, an inmate in state custody at the Southeastern Correctional Institution, through counsel, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This matter is before the Court on the petition, respondent's return of writ, and petitioner's reply. (Docs. 1, 5, 13). For the reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends that the petition be denied.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         State Trial Proceedings

         On December 6, 2012, the Butler County, Ohio grand jury returned an eight-count indictment charging petitioner with one count each of murder, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and having weapon under disability. (Doc. 5, Ex. 1). The murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery all contained firearm specifications.

         Petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the firearm specifications, arguing that he could not be found guilty of the specifications on a theory of complicity. (Doc. 5, Ex. 2). On July 24, 2013, the trial court denied petitioner's motion. (Doc. 5, Ex. 3).

         The case proceeded to trial. Petitioner filed a Rule 29 motion for acquittal, which was denied by the trial court. (See Doc. 5, Ex. 10, ¶12). Petitioner was subsequently found guilty of murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery. (Doc. 5, Ex. 6). The jury found petitioner not guilty on the firearm specifications and the charge of having weapons while under disability. On October 21, 2013, petitioner was sentenced to prison terms of fifteen years to life for the murder conviction and ten years for the aggravated burglary conviction, to be served consecutively. (See id.). The trial court merged the aggravated robbery conviction for the purpose of sentencing upon finding that it was an allied offense of similar import to murder, resulting in a total aggregate prison sentence of twenty-five years to life in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

         Direct Appeal

         Petitioner, through counsel, filed a timely notice of appeal to the Ohio Court of Appeals. (Doc. 5, Ex. 7). Petitioner raised the following two assignments of error in his appellate brief:

1. The trial court erred to the prejudice of appellant by permitting the introduction of co-conspirator hearsay statements without the State presenting independent proof of the conspiracy.
2. The State's evidence was constitutionally insufficient to support convictions for murder, aggravated burglary, and aggravated robbery.

(Doc. 5, Ex. 8). On September 15, 2014, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. (Doc. 5, Ex. 10).

         On December 17, 2014, petitioner filed a “notice of pro-se appearance, ” indicating that petitioner would represent himself in all future pleadings. (Doc. 5, Ex. 11). Petitioner also requested that the appeals court grant him an extension of time to file an application to reopen his appeal pursuant to Ohio App. R. 26(B) and to order his appellate counsel to provide him with transcripts. (See Doc. 5, Ex. 12). The court denied petitioner's motions on December 29, 2014. (Doc. 5, Ex. 15).

         Ohio Supreme Court

         Meanwhile on October 28, 2014, petitioner, through counsel, filed a timely notice of appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. (Doc. 5, Ex. 16). In his memorandum in support of jurisdiction, petitioner raised the following two propositions of law:

I. Co-conspirator statements are inadmissible under Evid.R. 801(D)(2)(e), and violate a Defendant's Constitutional Rights to Due Process, Confrontation and a Fair Trial.
II. The bare testimony of a convicted felon that a defendant conspired with her and others to commit those felonies is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of those felonies in the complete absence of any evidence that he planned, participated in, or assisted the others in any manner.

(Doc. 5, Ex. 17). On March 11, 2015, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to accept jurisdiction of the appeal. (Doc. 5, Ex. 21).

         Federal Habeas Corpus

         Petitioner, through counsel, filed the instant federal habeas corpus action. (Doc. 1).

         Petitioner raises one ground for relief in the petition:

GROUND ONE: The State elicited insufficient evidence to convict Eacholes of complicity to murder, complicity to burglary, and complicity to aggravated robbery. Specifically, there was insufficient evidence to show that Eacholes acted to purposely facilitate the murder, burglary, and aggravated robbery. There was insufficient evidence to show that Eacholes knew that his co-defendants possessed guns for use in the offenses. And there was insufficient evidence to show that Eacholes had foreknowledge of the guns used by co-defendants in the offenses.

(Doc. 1 at PageID 2).

         Respondent has filed a return of writ in opposition to the petition. (Doc. 5). According to respondent, petitioner's sole ground for relief is without merit.

         On August 4, 2016, petitioner filed a traverse and motion to submit a state-law question to the Ohio Supreme Court.[1] (Doc. 12). The Court denied the motion on March 29, 2017. (Doc. 15).

         III. THE PETITION SHOULD BE DENIED

         In this federal habeas case, the applicable standard of review governing the adjudication of constitutional issues raised by petitioner to the state courts is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Under that provision, a writ of habeas corpus may not issue with respect to any ...


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