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State v. Harrington

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

May 29, 2018



          NICHOLAS J. HANEK, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and LINDSEY C. POPROCKI, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.


          DONNA J. CARR, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Jeanne Harrington, appeals from her convictions in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. This Court affirms.


         {¶2} On the morning of August 16, 2011, Harrington placed a call to the Avon Lake Police Department to notify them that her husband had committed suicide. Upon arriving at the marital residence, officers found the victim lying on a couch with his head wrapped in plastic. They also found a purported suicide note that was typewritten, but signed in ink with the victim's name. The coroner ultimately determined that the victim died as a result of asphyxiation, but was unable to conclusively state whether his death was the result of a homicide or suicide. After a lengthy period of investigation, the police arrested Harrington in connection with the victim's demise.

         {¶3} A grand jury indicted Harrington for murder, felony murder, two counts of felonious assault, and tampering with evidence. A jury trial ensued, at the conclusion of which the jury found Harrington guilty on all counts. The trial court merged several of her offenses as allied offenses of similar import and sentenced her to a total of 16 years to life in prison.

         {¶4} Harrington now appeals from her convictions and raises two assignments of error for our review. For ease of analysis, we reorder the assignments of error.




         {¶5} In her second assignment of error, Harrington argues that her convictions are based on insufficient evidence. We disagree.

         {¶6} A review of the sufficiency of the State's evidence and the manifest weight of the evidence adduced at trial are separate and legally distinct determinations. State v. Gulley, 9th Dist. Summit No. 19600, 2000 Ohio App. LEXIS 969, *3 (Mar. 15, 2000). When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court must review the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether the evidence before the trial court was sufficient to sustain a conviction. State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259, 279 (1991).

An appellate court's function when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is to examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id. at paragraph two of the syllabus.

         {¶7} A person commits murder when he or she "purposely cause[s] the death of another * * *." R.C. 2903.02(A). Meanwhile, a felony murder occurs when a person "cause[s] the death of another as a proximate result of [his or her] * * * committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree * * * " R.C. 2903.02(B). Felonious assault is a second-degree felony offense of violence. R.C. 2901.01(A)(9)(a); R.C. 2903.11(D)(1)(a). Pertinent to this appeal, a person commits felonious assault by either (1) "[c]aus[ing] serious physical harm to another, " R.C. 2903.11(A)(1), or (2) "[c]aus[ing] or attempt[ing] to cause physical harm to another * * * by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance." R.C. 2903.11(A)(2). Tampering with evidence occurs when a person, "knowing that an official proceeding or investigation * * * is * * * likely to be instituted, * * * [a]lter[s], destroy[s], conceal[s], or remove[s] any record, document, or thing, with purpose to impair its value or availability as evidence in such proceeding or investigation * * *." R.C. 2921.12(A)(1).

         {¶8} Harrington does not challenge any particular element of her convictions. Instead, she argues that the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence, if believed, only showed that she and the victim "had a troubled relationship" and fought shortly before his death. She notes that no lay witnesses were able to implicate her on the night the victim died, her DNA was not found on the plastic wrap binding his head, and the coroner was unable to conclusively rule the victim's death a homicide. According to Harrington, there was insufficient evidence that she perpetrated any of the crimes with which she was charged. See State v. Johnson, 9th Dist. Lorain No. 13CA010496, 2015-Ohio-1689, ¶ 13 ("[I]dentity of the perpetrator is an essential element that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.").

         {¶9} On the morning of August 16, 2011, Harrington called the police to report that she had found her husband's body in their home. Sergeant Francis Tibbitts soon arrived, and Harrington informed him that she was making arrangements for her eleven-year-old son, who was unaware of the situation and playing on an upstairs computer. She told the sergeant that she and her son had gone shopping that morning and, when they returned home, she found the victim with his head wrapped in plastic. Harrington indicated that their house was scheduled for a sheriffs sale the following day, and the victim was meant to be fixing a plumbing issue in the basement. She stated that she last saw him around 2:00 a.m. when they argued about money and the pending sheriffs sale. After listening to Harrington tell him more about the family's debts, Sergeant Tibbitts went to look for the victim.

         {¶10} Sergeant Tibbitts testified that he initially walked upstairs because he assumed the victim's body would be in the master bedroom. He was unable to find the victim in any of the bedrooms, however, so he eventually returned to the first floor. By that time, other officers had arrived, and he and another officer had to ask Harrington where the body was. She then informed them that the victim was in the den on the first floor. There was testimony that the victim routinely stayed in the den rather than the master bedroom because he and Harrington, though still married, were essentially estranged.

         {¶11} In the den, Sergeant Tibbitts found the victim lying on a couch in a "semi-fetal position" with his head "tightly wrapped in shrink-wrap." A spool of plastic wrap lay on the floor and, on a nearby coffee table, the police found a brochure about living wills and a note that looked "as if it had been just opened out of an envelope." With the exception of the signature, the note was typewritten and read:

This is the only possible way I will be able to feed and provide for my family and keep a ...

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