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Lytle v. Buchanan

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division, Columbus

July 26, 2018

ROBERT LYTLE, JR., Petitioner,
TIM BUCHANAN, [1] Warden, Noble Correctional Institution Respondent.

          Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. Chief Judge.


          Michael R. Merz United States Magistrate Judge.

         This habeas corpus action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 was brought by Petitioner Robert Lytle with the assistance of counsel and challenges his convictions for robbery in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. The case is ripe for decision on the Petition (ECF No. 1), the State Court Record (ECF No. 4), the Return of Writ (ECF No. 5), and Petitioner's Reply (ECF No. 10). The Magistrate Judge reference was transferred to the undersigned to assist in balancing the Magistrate Judge workload in the District.

         Procedural History

         Respondent quotes the background facts of the case and some of the procedural history from the direct appeal decision of the Ohio Tenth District Court of Appeals:


[*P2] Several bar robberies on the south side of Columbus committed within a two-day span in January 2014 gave rise to appellant's criminal indictment in two cases. In the first case, related to the Old Landmark Bar, appellant was indicted on January 23, 2014 for four counts of robbery pursuant to R.C. 2911.02. Under Count 1, the indictment alleged appellant, "in attempting or committing a theft offense in respect to Old Landmark Bar, or in fleeing immediately after the attempt or offense, did recklessly inflict, attempt to inflict, or threaten to inflict physical harm on another, to wit: Susan Puckett" on or about January 16, 2014. (Emphasis added.) (Old Landmark Bar Case Indictment at 1.) Count 2 alleged the same conduct, except "in respect to Susan Puckett." (Old Landmark Bar Case Indictment at 1.) Counts 3 and 4, alleging robbery involving the use or threatened immediate use of force against another, were nolled at the request of plaintiff-appellee, State of Ohio.
[*P3] In the second case, related to TK Sports Bar, appellant was indicted on April 1, 2014 for four counts of kidnapping, pursuant to R.C. 2905.01, and two counts of robbery, pursuant to R.C. 2911.02. In pertinent part, Count 5 of the indictment alleged appellant, "in attempting or committing a theft offense in respect to TK Sports Bar, or in fleeing immediately after the attempt or offense, did recklessly inflict, attempt to inflict, or threaten to inflict physical harm on another, to wit: Sarah Carter" on or about January 14, 2014. (TK Sports Bar Case Indictment at 2-3.) The remaining counts were nolled at the request of appellee.
[*P4] Appellant pled not guilty to the charges, and the cause came to trial on July 20, 2015. At the outset of the trial, the judge overruled appellant's previously filed motion to suppress photo identifications in the TK Sports Bar case due to appellant's allegation of procedure violations under R.C. 2933.83. The judge likewise overruled appellant's motion to sever trial of the separate cases and emphasized he would specifically instruct the jury regarding considering each case separately.
[*P5] The trial commenced, and after opening statements, the judge addressed the separate nature of the cases with the jury stating:
[A]s a matter of law * * * these are separate incidents. You are to consider and analyze each separately. Sometimes we have cases tried apart, but other times we allow them to be together. But we always worry that a jury will say, "Well, he was involved in one, he must be involved in the other." You've got to analyze each on their own facts. They're allowed to make arguments about whether they're similar, but I did caution you that you have to decide each case separately.
[*P6] The trial resumed, and appellee produced the following relevant evidence in its case-in-chief.
[*P7] Stephanie Christman testified that around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 16, 2014, she was at the Old Landmark Bar watching a basketball game with her husband, Steve. According to Stephanie, a man entered the bar through the back door dressed in a grey sweatshirt with the hood up and grey sweatpants and asked the bartender for the location of the restroom. A friend of the Christmans named Bobby Gray was already in the restroom arguing on the phone with his girlfriend, and Stephanie asked her husband to check on him. When her husband returned, the man came out of the restroom wearing a ski mask and holding a gun. Stephanie dropped to the ground behind the bar, while her husband remained seated. Stephanie heard the man say to Susan Puckett, the bartender, "[g]ive me all of the money, or I'm going to kill you, bitch," then ask Puckett for her car keys and what color her car was. (Tr. at 52.) She heard scuffling, and when she got up, she saw three men restraining the man with the ski mask on the ground. Puckett kicked the gun and called 911.
[*P8] Stephanie testified that she saw the man's face after police arrived and removed the ski mask. She identified appellant in the courtroom as the man who entered the restroom, exited the restroom 000.0in a ski mask, and was arrested by police that evening. Stephanie recalled that the lighting in the back of the bar was "a little dim" but testified that she did not have problems seeing the man or the gun, which had a laser light. (Tr. at 53.) Stephanie later learned from police that the gun was a fake. Stephanie agreed she had consumed alcohol that evening, specifically Bud Light, and did not remember how many she consumed but said she did not feel inebriated and noted she had to work the next day. On cross-examination, Stephanie agreed she could have had up to eight Bud Lights over the course of the three hours she was at the bar watching the game. Stephanie additionally agreed that in the written statement she made to police after the incident, she did not indicate that the man wore a ski mask or that he took Puckett's car keys.
[*P9] Stephanie's husband, Steve Christman, testified that he watched a basketball game at the Old Landmark Bar on the evening of January 16, 2014 with his wife, Gray, a person named Doug Purcell, a few other people, and bartender Susie Puckett. At his wife's prompting, Steve checked on Bobby in the bathroom, and observed someone else at the urinal with his hood up. He returned and reported everything was okay, but then saw the man come out of the bathroom with a ski mask on and point the laser of a gun at Puckett's chest while she was at the cash register. According to Steve, who said he remained sitting at his bar chair, Puckett gave the man with the ski mask the money from the cash register after the man threatened to kill her. Steve then heard the man in the mask ask Puckett for her car keys and saw Puckett remove a key from her key ring and give him the key. Right before the man exited the back door, Purcell hit the man with a pool stick, possibly dislodging the gun, and Steve and Purcell took the man to the floor, where they held him until police arrived.
[*P10] Although Steve indicated that the lighting in the bar was dim, he did not have trouble seeing individuals in the bar. Steve further testified that he was able to view the face of the man when police stood him up and removed his ski mask and identified appellant in the courtroom as that man. Steve agreed he had consumed alcohol that evening but testified that his alcohol consumption did not affect what he saw or heard that night.
[*P11] On cross-examination, Steve agreed that he did not know if anyone else was in the restroom along with his friend Bobby and the man with his hood up but said the restroom only had room for two people. He also confirmed that in his written statement to police he did not write that the man in the ski mask threatened to kill Puckett.
[*P12] Doug Purcell testified to being at the Old Landmark Bar on the evening of February 16, 2014. While he was at the bar, he saw a red dot on Puckett's back and observed a man with a gun wearing a "hoodie" and a mask. (Tr. at 125.) According to Purcell, the man said "[f]ucking bitch, give me the money" and "[g]ive me your money, or I'll kill you," and then asked for Puckett's car keys and where her car was located. (Tr. at 122.) Puckett and the man walked toward the back door of the bar, and Purcell thought that Puckett was going to go outside with him. Purcell hit the man in the back with a pool stick and threw him to the ground. Steve assisted him in getting the man to the ground, and someone got the gun and kicked it on the floor. Purcell thought the man probably was punched and kicked in the process. During the confrontation, Purcell recalled hearing something like a radio or police scanner coming from the man.
[*P13] Purcell thought that he had two or three alcoholic drinks that night, which he believed did not affect his judgment. Purcell testified that he was able to view the man's face without the mask on and identified appellant in the courtroom as that man.
[*P14] On cross-examination, Purcell agreed that he had not included in his written statement to police that the man wore a ski mask, that the man said the threatening words he just testified to hearing, or that Purcell hit the man with a pool stick. When questioned about his identification of appellant as the assailant, Purcell testified that he did not get a good look at the man in the mask, reiterated that he did see his face, and thought appellant did not look exactly the same as he did on January 16, 2014. Purcell also agreed that he had spoken to the Christmans, Gray, and the bartender about the situation since the incident happened.
[*P15] Susan Puckett testified to being present and interacting with the purported robber during the incident at the Old Landmark Bar on January 16, 2014. Puckett testified that she was familiar with the Old Landmark Bar because she "work[s] there." (Tr. at 150.) Specifically, Puckett testified that her position at the bar was "bartender" in January 2014, but at the time of trial she was "a manager there." (Tr. at 150.) At the time of the incident, Puckett testified that she was working in the capacity of a bartender. While she was bartending, someone wearing a hoodie walked in the back door and asked where the bathroom was located. After about five minutes, Puckett testified that:
I guess I turned around, and he was there with a ski mask on his face and a gun, demanding that I give him all the money in the register and telling me that he would kill me if I didn't comply. He stated to give him all of the money and not to bullshit him or he would kill me.
I gave him all the money. He kept saying "all of it." And then he asked for my keys, asked me if I had a car, and wanted my keys. So I gave him -- I went and got my key ring and I took the keys off of -- I took my car key off my key ring and handed it to him.
He asked me where my car was at. I started to go out of the building.
(Tr. at 152.)
[*P16] At that point, customers tackled the man, and Puckett called 911 and slid the dislodged gun away from him with her foot. After police arrived, Puckett asked to see the man's face to see if she recognized him, which she did not. In court, Puckett identified appellant as the man who held up the bar. Eventually, all the money taken was returned, and Puckett got back her car keys.
[*P17] On cross-examination, Puckett testified that she and the others try not to talk about the incident with each other. Regarding other disturbances at the bar, Puckett indicated that "in the four years that [she has] been there," only about two other bar fights had occurred. (Tr. at 171.) She agreed that in her written statement she did not include expletive words used by the assailant when demanding the money or that he wore a mask. She thought she told the detective about the mask and noted that the man still had the mask on when police arrived.
[*P18] Randall Beam, an officer with the Columbus Division of Police, testified to responding to a robbery-in-progress dispatch on January 16, 2014 at the Old Landmark Bar. When he arrived, another officer had the suspect detained on the ground and was placing handcuffs on him. Beam recovered cash from the suspect and a nearby gun on the ground. Beam testified that police additionally recovered a cell phone from the suspect running what appeared to be a police scanner "app" in which the dispatch runs of the city police could be heard. (Tr. at 185.) Concerning the behavior of the bar patrons, Beam did not observe indications that they were drunk or needed to be checked for sobriety.
[*P19] Craig Goodman, a patrol officer with the Columbus Division of Police, likewise testified to responding to a robbery dispatch on January 16, 2014 at the Old Landmark Bar. Goodman entered the bar, observed that patrons had subdued the suspected robber, and secured the suspect in handcuffs. Thereafter, Goodman spoke to the patrons regarding the incident, then took the suspect to the police car and secured property on his person. The property recovered included, among other items, a pair of gloves, a ski mask, a pocketknife, a cellphone and ear phones, a BB gun with a fake silencer, and cash. Goodman identified appellant in court as the person he placed in handcuffs that evening. On cross-examination, Goodman agreed that on the day of the incident the weather was cold with snow on the ground, that it was not uncommon for people to have things like gloves and hats during such weather, and that when he arrived it appeared that the suspect had taken "a pretty good beating," enough so for Goodman to call medics. (Tr. at 202.)
[*P20] Todd Cress, a detective with the Columbus Division of Police robbery unit, testified to investigating a robbery at the Old Landmark Bar that allegedly occurred on January 16, 2014. As part of his investigation, Cress interviewed the bar patrons, the other two officers, and the suspect. In court, Cress identified appellant as the suspect that he interviewed.
[*P21] During Cress's interview with appellant, after being read his rights and agreeing to speak with the detective about this incident, appellant claimed that he entered the bar, used the restroom, and then sat down and ordered a beer. According to appellant, he only had $12 in his pocket, and, in need of more money, he attempted to sell the fake gun to the bar patrons for $20. Instead, out of nowhere, one of the patrons who thought he knew appellant by the name of "Buddy" began beating him and other patrons joined. (Tr. at 221.) According to appellant, the bar patrons said "Call the cops. We'll say he robbed the bar since he's got the gun," and everyone agreed since they were all friends, and since the original patron at the source of the fight had convinced the group that appellant gave his sister gonorrhea. (Tr. at 222.) Appellant additionally explained that the ski mask was a black toboggan for the cold weather and that he had the police scanner to listen for robberies occurring in an area where he had recently been robbed. During the interview, appellant denied that police secured money from him and maintained his innocence when Cress feigned having viewed a videotape of the incident.
[*P22] Sarah Carter testified that she worked as a bartender at the TK Sports Bar on the evening of Tuesday, January 14, 2014, two days prior to the Old Landmark Bar incident. According to Carter, that night:
[A] gentleman walked in the door * * *. He started going towards the restroom. I stopped him about halfway to the restroom.
I said, "We don't have public restrooms." He barely looked up at me and said, "I'm going to be getting a drink." Then he proceeded in the restroom.
A couple minutes passed. He came back out, had a mask over his face, came to the middle of the bar and held a gun on me. It had one of those little red dots. That's what I focused on. It was right on my chest. He asked for me to give him all the money out of the register, and if I didn't, he was going to kill me.
* * *
I panicked. I jumped. I was scared. I've never had anyone point a gun at me. I immediately turned around, got him all the money out of the register, handed it to him across the bar, and he proceeded out of the bar.
(Tr. at 249-50.)
Carter testified that the words used by the man were "[g]ive me the money out of the register" and then "[i]f you don't do this, I'm going to kill you." (Tr. at 251.) Carter testified that she was able to look at the man without a mask when he first came into the bar and described his clothes as really baggy, like sweatpants, and perhaps a sweatshirt or jacket. The mask worn by the man was black with the eyes cut out, and the gun he carried was black with a laser pointer.
[*P23] After the man left, Carter pressed a silent alarm button underneath the bar and also used the phone to call police. Police were unable to apprehend the person who robbed her that evening, but she was later approached by detectives about a possible suspect. The detectives asked her to view a line up of six photographs, and Carter picked photograph four, the photograph of appellant, and indicated she was 60 percent sure that the photo selected was the person who robbed her. Regarding her percentage, Carter explained that she had very little chance to view the individual because he hardly made eye contact with her, and she did not want to pick the wrong person, but that the more she looked at the photo array she was "almost positive" that it was the person she chose. (Tr. at 267.) In the courtroom, Carter, without hesitation, identified appellant as the person who robbed her and stated that she was now "not worried at all" that appellant is the wrong person. (Tr. at 275.)
[*P24] On cross-examination, Carter agreed that the description she gave police after the incident indicated that the suspect was in his late twenties to early thirties with light brown to blond hair. Carter additionally agreed that in the notes of her photo array selection, she indicated that her 60 percent determination was in part due to her being unable to see the remainder of his body in the photo because she thought the suspect was a heavier-set man.
[*P25] During the conversation about the photo array, appellant's counsel asked Carter whether the second and fifth photograph appeared to be the same person. Carter replied, "[t]hey look similar * * *. They do look similar. I wouldn't tell you today they are the same person." (Tr. at 276-77.) When pressed about why she did not realize that two of the photographs were actually the same person, Carter replied, "[b]ecause I knew they were not the people that robbed me. I guess I didn't focus on that very much." (Tr. At 277.) Carter agreed that she and the other bar patrons involved talked about the incident between the day the alleged robbery occurred and the day she viewed the photo array.
[*P26] Anjanette Meade, a bartender at TK Sports Bar, testified that around 10:30 p.m. on January 14, 2014, she and her boyfriend were sitting at the corner of the bar. According to Meade, a man entered the bar wearing big sweats and went into the restroom after telling Carter he would buy a drink. As Meade talked to her boyfriend, a red light appeared on his forehead and face. Meade turned and looked down the bar and saw a man with gloves, a mask, and a gun. Meade thought they were being robbed and restrained her boyfriend as the man later passed them to exit the bar.
[*P27] Meade testified that she was able to see the man's face without the mask as he passed her on the way to the restroom, in lighting that was probably dim. She said she had about two drinks that evening that did not affect her judgment. A few days later, on January 20, police asked Meade to see if a photo array included the suspected robber. Meade testified that she picked photo number four "[r]ight away" and was about 90 percent sure the man in that photo was the person who robbed the bar. (Tr. at 304.) In court, Meade ...

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