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State v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

June 27, 2018

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
WILLIAM ANTONIO SMITH, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas TRIAL NO. B-1505510

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Philip R. Cummings, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Michaela M. Stagnaro, for Defendant-Appellant.


          Cunningham, Judge.

         {¶1} 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.

         {¶2} 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.

         {¶3} 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.

         I. The Murder of Owens and Jackson

         {¶4} 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.

         {¶5} 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 Smith's injuries.

         {¶6} 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 apartment.

         II. The Trial

         {¶7} 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.

         {¶8} 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.

         {¶9} 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 head.

         {¶10} 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 come outside.

         {¶11} 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.

         {¶12} 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 charge.

         {¶13} 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.

         III. Pretrial Issues

         {¶14} 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.

         {¶15} 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 police.

         {¶16} 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.

         {¶17} 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.).

         {¶18} 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." Id.

         {¶19} 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 ...

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