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State v. Campbell

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

May 17, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Respondent-Appellee,
WILLIAM CAMPBELL, Defendant-Petitioner-Appellant.

          Hamilton County Trial No. B-0808031 Court of Common Pleas.

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

          Carpenter Lipps & Leland LLP, Kort Gatterdam and Erik P. Henry, for Defendant-Petitioner-Appellant.


          Bergeron, Judge.

         {¶1} Raising Brady, ineffective assistance, and actual-innocence claims, defendant William Campbell seeks a new trial and postconviction relief. Although we find that we lack jurisdiction over the latter (postconviction) claim, we conclude that the trial court erred in denying Mr. Campbell an evidentiary hearing to evaluate his new-trial claims in light of new evidence. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the cause.


         {¶2} After a night of heavy drinking in October 2008, Mr. Campbell and his companion Tina Hayes elected to get in her car and drive to visit another bar. That decision proved tragic, as the driver eventually lost control and the car crashed into a building. Neither individual was wearing a seatbelt, and the force of the crash ejected Mr. Campbell through the windshield and killed Ms. Hayes.

         {¶3} This case effectively boils down to who was driving the car at the time of the crash. Although Mr. Campbell consistently denied being the driver of the vehicle, he was convicted after a trial of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol ("OVI") in violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1)(a), aggravated vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06(A)(1)(a), and aggravated vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06(A)(2)(a). The trial court sentenced him to consecutive prison terms totaling 28 years.

         {¶4} Mr. Campbell unsuccessfully challenged his convictions on direct appeal and in a timely-filed postconviction petition. State v. Campbell, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-090875 (Sept. 19, 2012) (affirming on direct appeal), appeal not accepted, 132 Ohio St.3d 1411, 2012-Ohio-2454, 968 N.E.2d 493; State v. Campbell, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-120016 (June 29, 2012) (affirming denial of postconviction relief), appeal not accepted, 133 Ohio St.3d 1414, 2012-Ohio-4650, 975 N.E.2d 1031. In 2013, on remand from our decision reopening the direct appeal, the trial court merged the aggravated vehicular homicides and imposed consecutive prison terms of five years for OVI and 15 years for OVI-based aggravated vehicular homicide. State v. Campbell, 2012-Ohio-4231, 978 N.E.2d 970 (1st Dist.), appeal not accepted, 134 Ohio St.3d 1452, 2013-Ohio-347, 982 N.E.2d 729. We affirmed those convictions on appeal. State v. Campbell, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-130251 (May 16, 2014), appeal not accepted, 140 Ohio St.3d 1441, 2014-Ohio-4160, 16 N.E.3d 683.

         {¶5} After reaching the end of the road in state court, Mr. Campbell turned to federal court, filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2014 before the Southern District of Ohio, seeking relief on various grounds including actual innocence, ineffective assistance of counsel, and prosecutorial misconduct. Upon receiving certain new evidence during the discovery process in federal court, Mr. Campbell sought to use that evidence in that forum, only to be told to return to state court for exhaustion purposes. In December 2016, the federal magistrate accordingly granted Mr. Campbell's motion to hold the habeas proceedings in abeyance pending exhaustion of state remedies. See Campbell v. Warden, London Corr. Inst, S.D.Ohio No. 1:14-CV-13, 2015 WL 7710761 (Nov. 30, 2015), supplemented, S.D.Ohio No. 1:14-CV-13, 2016 WL 497285 (Feb. 9, 2016).

         {¶6} Consistent with the federal court's directives, Mr. Campbell thereupon returned to state court, presenting his habeas grounds for relief in a petition under R.C. 2953.21 et seq. for postconviction relief and motions under Crim.R. 33 for a new trial and for leave to file a new-trial motion out of time. The trial court dismissed Mr. Campbell's late and successive postconviction petition based on the failure to satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of R.C. 2953.23. And the court denied leave and overruled his new-trial motion on the merits, concluding that Mr. Campbell could not meet his burden under State v. Petro, 148 Ohio St. 505, 76 N.E.2d 370 (1947).

         {¶7} In the wake of this ruling, Mr. Campbell appeals, presenting a single assignment of error that challenges the trial court's denial of postconviction relief and a new trial.


         {¶8} No stranger to alcohol-related incidents, Mr. Campbell had six OVI convictions between 1993 and 2002, which culminated in a lifetime driver's license suspension. Analyses of Mr. Campbell's blood at the time of the 2008 crash showed blood-alcohol-content levels well above the legal limit. The parties stipulated to those matters, leaving for trial the pivotal issue of whether Mr. Campbell or Ms. Hayes (herself under the influence of alcohol and cocaine) was driving the car at the time of the accident.

         {¶9} The only eyewitness to the accident, Corporal Robert Viner of the Hamilton County Sheriffs Department, did not see who was driving. While on patrol near midnight, erratic driving prompted Corporal Viner to initiate pursuit of Ms. Hayes's car. During the course of the chase, he saw the car mount a curb, proceed through a yard, and hit a tree and then a building. "As the vehicle was striking the building," Corporal Viner, from a distance of 20 feet from the building, saw Mr. Campbell "ejected from the vehicle * * * [in] one fluid motion."

         {¶10} As Corporal Viner approached the car after the accident, he saw no one in the driver's seat. He then observed Mr. Campbell outside of the car, surrounded by "a lot of debris." On the car's passenger side, he saw Ms. Hayes, unconscious, "seated in the passenger seat." "[H]er legs were kind of straight ahead, but her body was kind of turned toward the passenger side," and her head "was kind of twisted," with "the back of her head * * * wedged in between the passenger seat and what they call the vehicle B-pillar, which is basically where the door shuts and locks." He also observed a large hole in the passenger-side windshield.

         {¶11} Corporal Viner summoned his supervisor and emergency medical assistance. Mr. Campbell was bleeding from cuts on his face, arm, and leg, but emerged relatively unscathed from the accident. When asked who was driving, a somewhat dazed Mr. Campbell responded, "It wasn't me." Corporal Viner also observed that Ms. Hayes was wearing shoes, but Mr. Campbell was not. At some point after Ms. Hayes and Mr. Campbell were transported to the hospital, Corporal Viner noticed a pair of gym shoes on the driver's side of the vehicle.

         {¶12} The news media arrived between 12:15 and 12:30 a.m., after Ms. Hayes and Mr. Campbell had been whisked away to the hospital. A videographer shot about eight minutes of raw footage, providing (among other things) a brief look at the open driver's side of the car. This footage did not show the shoes present on the driver's side (a point we return to later).

         {¶13} At the hospital, Mr. Campbell was found to have injuries to his face, eye, and leg, but not his chest. A chest X-ray and CT scan ruled out internal injuries. An autopsy showed that Ms. Hayes had died as a result of "a cervical spine fracture due to blunt-force trauma, due to a motor vehicle collision." The autopsy also showed a blunt-force laceration extending from her left forehead to the parietal scalp, a four-inch laceration to the right posterior scalp, a blunt-force superficial abrasion below her lower lip, a bruise and abrasion to the right clavicular chest, abrasions to her right wrist and forearm, and a blunt-force abrasion and contusion over her left knee. The deputy coroner who testified to the autopsy results declined to opine whether those injuries were more consistent with being on the driver's side or the passenger side of the car. But he did acknowledge, "[T]here was nothing to indicate that [Ms. Hayes] was the driver of the vehicle. There was no steering wheel imprint which you may expect in a motor vehicle collision if you were the driver and unrestrained." Nor did Mr. Campbell have any such imprint.

         {¶14} Subsequent forensic analysis found that hairs gathered from the passenger window frame corresponded in microscopic characteristics with Ms. Hayes's hair, and not Mr. Campbell's hair. But hairs gathered from the middle portion of the windshield, the passenger-side windshield, and the passenger-side airbag did not correspond with either Ms. Hayes's hair or Mr. Campbell's hair. Neither the car's brake pad nor the gym shoes found in the car had left a discernable impression on the other. Asked to "look for dark fibers" because it had been "reported that the victim was wearing a dark sweater," the forensics expert collected fibers that had been "fused" into the car's passenger-side armrest, examined them microscopically, and found "several dark blue * * * cotton fibers."

         {¶15} No blood was found on the car's driver-side airbag. A mix of blood was found on the passenger-side airbag, and DNA analysis excluded Ms. Hayes as a contributor and identified Mr. Campbell as the major contributor. Neither Ms. Hayes nor Mr. Campbell could be excluded from the mixture of nonblood DNA collected from the gym shoes. Ms. Hayes was determined to be the source of blood on the front plate of the car's glovebox.

         {¶16} Two days after the accident, Ms. Hayes's mother, Pamela Holt, searched the car for a camera containing pictures from a recent family outing. The glovebox, according to Ms. Holt, was locked and was not dented or otherwise damaged, until a police officer assisting her "broke down the glovebox" with a crowbar to gain access to its contents. Ms. Holt also noticed that the passenger seat was pushed all the way back, with the seat back slightly reclined, whereas the driver's seat was in its usual position for Ms. Hayes, who at five feet, three inches tall, with "short legs," "always" positioned her seat "straight up, where she could reach the pedals." Mr. Campbell, standing nearly six feet tall, is considerably taller.

         {¶17} The forensic evidence presented at trial was certainly not overwhelming in either direction. Some aspects favored Mr. Campbell's position that he was not the driver, whereas others favored the state. To secure a ...

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