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State v. Durgan

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

June 15, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DONALD DAWSON DURGAN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court NO. B-1602627 of Common Pleas

          Philip R. Cummings, Assistant Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Timothy J. McKenna, for Defendant-Appellant.


          DETERS, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Following a jury trial, defendant-appellant Donald Dawson Durgan was convicted of aggravated murder under R.C. 2903.01(B), aggravated robbery under R.C. 2911.01(A)(1), both with accompanying firearm specifications, and having weapons while under a disability under R.C. 2923.13(A)(2). He has filed a timely appeal. We find no merit in his five assignments of error, and we affirm his convictions.

         I. Factual Background

         {¶2} The record shows that on May 4, 2016, Anant Singh's wife returned home from working the night shift as a nurse to find her husband dead on the floor of the garage. He had been shot in the torso. Immediately after she found him, Durgan pulled into their driveway in a white pickup truck.

         {¶3} Singh was a successful mechanical engineer. He and his daughter also operated a business leasing rental property. Singh had hired Durgan to help maintain and manage the properties. Singh was a kind-hearted man. Several witnesses testified that Singh considered Durgan to be like a son to him, and Durgan would often eat dinner at Singh's residence with his family. As a result of this close relationship, Durgan knew the daily schedules of both Singh and his wife. Singh trusted Durgan and had lent him money in the past.

         {¶4} When police arrived at the scene of the murder, Durgan appeared eager to help. He told them that he had become concerned when Singh had not appeared for a planned business meeting early that morning. He also told them that Singh had been receiving threatening messages recently, and that they should check Singh's cell phone. Because Durgan's truck was part of the crime scene, the police took Durgan to the police station to be interviewed. He discussed various tenants he believed had reason to threaten Singh and allowed the police to download information from his phone.

         {¶5} Singh's neighbors testified that the evening before the murder, they had seen a lone African-American man that they did not know walking around the neighborhood wearing a hooded sweatshirt. One witness, who lived in the apartment complex directly behind the Singhs' street, got up to walk at 4:15 a.m. on the morning of the murder. He heard what sounded like a gunshot, and, a few minutes later, he saw an African-American man walking toward him with a backpack. A few weeks later, the witness heard about Singh's murder and saw a photograph of Durgan. He called police and told him that he had seen that person during his walk.

         {¶6} Police investigated the threatening texts on Singh's phone. They discovered that the texts came from a "burner phone" purchased by Briana Hightower, an acquaintance of Durgan, at a Family Dollar Store. Surveillance video showed Hightower purchasing the phone while Durgan's white pickup truck was parked outside the store.

         {¶7} Hightower, a resident of Lexington, Kentucky, would come to Cincinnati to gamble at Jack Casino, formerly known as Horseshoe Casino. She would sometimes meet Durgan there. She told police that on May 2, 2016, two days before the murder, she met Durgan at the casino. He asked her to buy a phone for him for $20 at the Family Dollar Store. She went in and purchased it while he waited outside the store. After she gave it to him, she saw him text someone.

         {¶8} Durgan had lost substantial amounts of money gambling, and he also owed large sums of money to drug dealers. Singh's daughter, who ran the business with Singh, discovered numerous financial irregularities involving Durgan. She testified that Durgan had been taking rent money from tenants, even though she had told him not to do so, and had not been turning the money over to her or Singh. She further stated that she knew Durgan as "Don Dawson, " that she had never heard the name "Durgan, " and that the family was unaware of Durgan's criminal record.

         {¶9} Singh was supposed to leave town on the day of the murder. He had planned to meet with Durgan at 6:00 a.m. that morning at a nearby day-care center. But video surveillance cameras did not show Durgan at the day-care center until later that morning, even though he claimed that he had become concerned because Singh had not appeared as planned.

         {¶10} On May 10, 2016, the police conducted a follow-up interview with Durgan to obtain any additional information Durgan could give them. They mostly asked Durgan about tenants who may have had a grudge against Singh. Nevertheless, the police did have concerns about Durgan at that time. They had obtained a search warrant to install a GPS device on his car. They installed the GPS during the interview without Durgan's knowledge.

         {¶11} On May 13, 2016, the police again interviewed Durgan. By that time, he was considered a suspect. He was read his rights, and the police conducted a lengthy interrogation. During that interrogation, Durgan's story changed a number of times. He eventually acknowledged that Singh had previously loaned him a substantial amount of money, but that Singh had refused to give him any more. He admitted to sending the threatening text messages to Singh, but he claimed that he just wanted to get Singh out of town for Singh's own protection. He also admitted to setting up a robbery, but he claimed that an unknown drug dealer had arrived at the scene and had killed Singh.

         II. Statements to the Police

         {¶12} In his first assignment of error, Durgan argues that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress his statements to the police. He argues that the first two times he talked to the police, he was not informed of his rights in violation of Miranda v. Arizona,384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). He further argues that the third ...

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