Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton
Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas
TRIAL NO. B-1505510
T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Philip
R. Cummings, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for
Michaela M. Stagnaro, for Defendant-Appellant.
Following a jury trial, defendant-appellant William Antonio
Smith appeals from his convictions for the murders of Alma
Jean Owens and MacArthur Jackson, Sr. The 27-year-old Smith
admitted killing his longtime friends in Jackson's
apartment. But he claimed that he had acted in self-defense
when Owens, age 57, and Jackson, age 72, had attacked him.
While Smith sustained substantial cuts to his hand, neck,
face, and side, he shot Owens twice in the head and once in
the right leg. He shot Jackson three times in the head, slit
his throat, and inflicted numerous other cuts on Jackson.
Smith was also convicted of having a weapon under a
disability, though that charge was tried to the bench.
Smith argues in nine assignments of error that the trial
court erred by denying his motion to suppress statements made
to police investigators, by permitting racial discrimination
in jury selection, by permitting the state to adduce improper
lay opinions and to impeach its own witness with her prior
inconsistent statements, and by permitting the prosecution to
commit misconduct. He further asserts that he was denied the
effective assistance of counsel, that his convictions were
contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and were
based upon insufficient evidence, and that the trial court
erred by imposing consecutive sentences.
Because the trial court failed to incorporate the statutory
consecutive-sentencing findings into its sentencing entry, we
sustain the ninth assignment of error, in part, and remand
the cause for the trial court to enter a nunc pro tunc order
correcting the omission. But we affirm the trial court's
judgment in all other respects.
The Murder of Owens and Jackson
In the early evening of October 1, 2015, Smith left the
Colerain apartment of his girlfriend, Kirby Wynn. He traveled
to the Evanston neighborhood of Cincinnati. He visited
Jackson at his apartment located at 3306 Fairfield Avenue.
Owens often shared Jackson's apartment. Later that
evening, Jackson's daughter entered the apartment and
found Owens' clothed, lifeless body lying on the bed. She
also found her father, dead, lying in a pool of blood halfway
in a closet near the rear of the apartment.
When Smith returned to Wynn's apartment that evening, he
was bleeding from cuts to his forehead, neck, hand, and side.
He claimed that he had been "jumped" and nearly
killed. At about the time that police responded to the
Evanston crime scene, Wynn took Smith to the emergency
department of Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment. Despite
his injuries, Smith twice left the emergency department.
Security supervisor Kevin Robbins spoke with Smith and
ultimately persuaded him to receive treatment. Smith's
wounds were stitched and he left the hospital in the early
hours of October 2. The Cincinnati police were notified of
Police investigators quickly focused on Smith as the
perpetrator of the double homicide. The day after the murders
they took Smith into custody, and two Cincinnati police
homicide detectives questioned him about the events in
Evanston the previous day. Smith initially denied any
involvement in the murders, claiming that he had been mugged
downtown by unknown assailants. He then gave multiple,
conflicting explanations for what had happened in
Jackson's apartment, including that Owens had entered
with an unknown black male who had shot the victims. After
acknowledging that he had fabricated the story of the third
man, Smith admitted killing Owens and Jackson, but only in
self-defense, after Owens had attacked him in the kitchen. He
claimed that he was afraid for his life, had shot Owens and
then Jackson, and then had fled through the rear of the
The Hamilton County Grand Jury returned a multiple-count
indictment against Smith charging him in separate counts with
the murders of Owens and Jackson, in violation of R.C.
2903.02(A), each with accompanying firearm specifications,
and one count of having a weapon under a disability. The case
was tried over a period of nine days. The prosecution
introduced dozens of exhibits and the testimony of 18
witnesses including that of the investigating officers,
crime-scene technicians, an assistant coroner, the hospital
security supervisor, and Smith's girlfriend.
The assistant coroner testified that the 5'1" tall
Owens had been shot three times, once below the right eye,
once in the right jaw, and once in the right leg below the
knee. Having found stippling, or marking from gunshot
residue, around the jaw wound, the coroner concluded that the
shot was inflicted from two feet away or less. The coroner
testified that the shot below the right eye was the fatal
wound and would have rendered Owens unconscious almost
immediately. The leg wound had shattered Owens' lower
femur. From the geometry of the wound path, the coroner
concluded that Owens had sustained the leg wound while she
was standing in front of the bed, or while she was seated on
it. Owens would not have been able to walk after sustaining
the leg wound.
The coroner further testified that Jackson stood only
5'4" inches tall. He suffered from chronic lung
disease, high blood pressure, and hardening of the coronary
arteries. He had sustained cuts on his hands that the coroner
characterized as defensive wounds caused by a sharp object.
He had also sustained multiple incised wounds-cuts made by a
sharp object-to his neck and head. His death was caused by
bleeding from a 6½-inch incised neck wound also caused
by a sharp object. The wound was so deep and long that it
could only have been inflicted by an attacker's multiple
strokes-perhaps a dozen or more. Jackson's left carotid
arteries and his airway were severed as a result of the neck
wound. He would have quickly bled to death from that wound.
But Jackson had also received three gunshot wounds to the
After the prosecution had completed its case, Smith took the
stand and testified in his own defense. After acknowledging
that he had prior felony convictions, Smith admitted that he
had lied to police detectives the day after the murders. He
now described for the jury visiting Jackson to buy a drink of
gin and cigarettes from the older man. As the two sat
talking, Smith saw through Jackson's window that Owens
and her nephew, known by the street name "Nook,"
were talking outside the apartment. Smith had been accosted
by Nook two weeks before. Smith now observed that Nook was
armed. Nook saw Smith through the window. Nook and Owens
entered the apartment building and Nook motioned for Smith to
Smith grew very apprehensive, and begged Jackson not to let
Owens into the apartment. But Jackson let her in. Smith
brandished the handgun that he carried. As Owens entered, she
ordered Smith to leave. Smith cursed her. And, he told the
jury, Owens swung at him and cut his forehead with a sharp
object. She kneed him in the groin and he fell to the floor.
Fearing for his life, he drew his weapon and fired at Owens
as he rose from the floor. He pushed her onto the bed, and at
almost the same instant, he felt a cutting wound to his neck,
presumably inflicted by Jackson. He and Jackson struggled for
several minutes. Smith recounted shooting Jackson, spraying
Jackson with a can of bug spray, and finally disarming
Jackson. As Jackson continued his attack, Smith told the jury
that he had shot him again. Smith told the jury that as a
black man he did not want to be found in a room with two
bodies. He fled, taking his gun, a box cutter, and bug spray
with him, and without summoning help for his two friends.
At Smith's request, the trial court charged the jury on
the affirmative defense of self-defense, and the lesser
offense of voluntary manslaughter. The jury rejected
Smith's self-defense claim and found him guilty of each
murder offense and specification. Because the jury had found
Smith guilty of murder, it did not, as it had been
instructed, return a verdict on the voluntary-manslaughter
At sentencing, the trial court imposed a 15-year-to-life
prison sentence for each murder offense and ordered those
terms to be served consecutively to each other, to the
three-year firearm specifications, and to a 36-month prison
term for having a weapon under a disability. The aggregate
prison sentence was 39 years to life. This appeal followed.
In his initial assignment of error, Smith contends that the
trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress
statements that he had made to police investigators. Because
of the serious nature of the offenses, the detectives made a
visual recording of the entire interview. The video-recorded
interview with the police investigators was played for the
trial court and during the jury trial.
Smith argues that, despite signing a waiver-of-rights form,
he had not voluntarily and knowingly waived his right to
remain silent under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S.
436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). He also argues
that his subsequent inculpatory statements were not
voluntarily made. Smith maintains that because he was
suffering from the effects of his injuries and was under the
influence of prescription narcotics at the time of
questioning, he could not have knowingly and voluntarily
waived his Miranda rights or made statements to the
We review a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress
in a two-step process. First, we must accept the trial
court's findings of historical fact if they are supported
by competent, credible evidence. See State v.
Burnside, 100 Ohio St.3d 152, 2003-Ohio-5372, 797 N.E.2d
71, ¶ 8. Then this court must make an independent
determination, as a matter of law, without deference to the
trial court's legal conclusions, whether those facts meet
the applicable constitutional standards. Id.
The state bears the burden of demonstrating by a
preponderance of the evidence both that Smith's waiver of
rights was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, and that his
subsequent statements were voluntary. See State v.
Barker, 149 Ohio St.3d 1, 2016-Ohio-2708, 73 N.E.3d 365,
¶ 30; see also State v. Leonard, 104 Ohio St.3d
54, 2004-Ohio-6235, 818 N.E.2d 229, ¶ 32; State v.
Cedeno, 192 Ohio App.3d 738, 2011-Ohio-674, 950 N.E.2d
582, ¶ 17 (1st Dist.).
We analyze both issues using a totality-of-the circumstances
test. See State v. Durgan, 1st Dist. Hamilton No.
C-170148, 2018-Ohio-2310, ¶ 21. The totality of the
circumstances includes the age, mentality, and prior criminal
experience of the accused; the length, intensity, and
frequency of interrogation; the existence of physical
deprivation or mistreatment; the existence of a police threat
or inducement, and any other relevant factor. State v.
Lather, 110 Ohio St.3d 270, 2006-Ohio-4477, 853 N.E.2d
279, ¶ 9. From the evidence available, the trial court
must determine the defendant's understanding, "which
can be implied by his conduct and the situation."
At the motion-to-suppress hearing, the investigating officer,
Detective Christopher Wharton of the Cincinnati police
department, testified that he and another detective had
interrogated Smith for about four hours on the evening after
the murders. He testified that the video recording was an
accurate record of the interview. Detective Wharton stated
that he had advised Smith of his rights against
self-incrimination, verbally and in written form, prior to
questioning. Smith said, "All right," signed the
waiver form, and agreed to answer the detectives'
questions. Detective Wharton acknowledged that Smith had
substantial injuries to his hand, head, neck, and side. But
the detective stated that Smith did ...