Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common
Pleas Case No. CR-17-614402-A
Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting
Attorney, and Tasha Forchione, Assistant Prosecuting
Attorney, for appellee.
Andrew Baker, for appellant.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
PATRICIA ANN BLACKMON, P.J.
1} Michael Suells Williams
("Suells") appeals from his convictions for rape,
kidnapping, and other associated offenses and assigns the
following errors for our review:
I. Defendant-appellant's conviction[s] must be reversed
because his waiver of counsel was not knowingly and
voluntarily made, and therefore it was ineffective.
II. Defendant-appellant's conviction[s] must be reversed
due to prosecutorial misconduct.
III. The trial court erred in granting a continuance during
testimony from the alleged victim.
IV. The trial court erred in failing to allow
defendant-appellant to properly cross-examine the alleged
V. Defendant-appellant's conviction must be reversed
because the conviction for the firearm specification was not
supported by sufficient evidence.
VI. Defendant-appellant's conviction must be reversed
because the conviction on the sexually violent predator
specifications [was] not supported by sufficient evidence.
VII. Defendant-appellant's conviction must be reversed
because the trial court erred in failing to merge the
kidnapping and rape charges.
VIII. Defendant-appellant's conviction[s] must be
reversed because all convictions were against the manifest
weight of the evidence.
2} Having reviewed the record and pertinent law, we
affirm the trial court's judgment. The apposite facts
3} On October 21, 2016, Suells, who knew the victim
C.H. "from the neighborhood," picked C.H. up from
work, took her back to his house, and allegedly raped her
multiple times. C.H. did not report the incident to the
police. One week later, on October 28, 2016, as C.H. was
walking to her apartment, Suells confronted her with a gun
and forced her into her house. He forced his penis into her
mouth multiple times, then received a phone call and left her
house. On November 14, 2016, C.H. filed a police report
because she believed Suells was going to continue to
4} On April 3, 2018, Suells was charged with three
counts of rape, three counts of kidnapping, two counts of
having a weapon while under disability, and two counts of
aggravated burglary. Suells's indictment included
firearm, sexual motivation, and sexually violent predator
specifications. Suells was declared indigent and assigned
court-appointed counsel. On May 21, 2018, Suells filed a pro
se motion of self-representation, requesting that defense
counsel be terminated and that he represent himself "at
all further proceedings henceforth."
5} On May 30, 2018, the court granted defense
counsel's oral motion to withdraw and appointed new
counsel for Suells. On July 25, 2018, the court permitted the
second defense attorney to withdraw as counsel and assigned a
third attorney to represent Suells. On August 1, 2018, the
court held a hearing on, and then granted, Suells's
motion to waive counsel. Additionally, Suells signed a
written waiver of counsel. The court ordered the third
defense attorney to "remain as advisory counsel"
6} On August 13, 2018, Suells waived his right to
jury trial, and this case proceeded to a bench trial. On
August 30, 2018, the court found Suells guilty of the
following offenses associated with the October 28, 2016
incident: rape in violation of R.C. 2907.02(A)(2), a
first-degree felony; kidnapping in violation of R.C.
2905.01(A)(4), a first-degree felony; aggravated burglary in
violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(1), a first-degree felony;
aggravated burglary in violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(2), a
first-degree felony; and having a weapon while under
disability in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(3). The court also
found Suells guilty of four one-year firearm specifications,
four three-year firearm specifications, one sexual motivation
specification, and two sexually violent predator
specifications. The court acquitted Suells of all other
charges, which were associated with the October 21, 2016
7} On September 5, 2018, the court sentenced Suells
to life in prison with parole eligibility after 32 years. It
is from these convictions that Suells appeals.
8} The following evidence was presented at
Suells's bench trial:
9} On August 15, 2018, C.H. testified that, in
October 2016, she was living at 40th and Quincy in Cleveland.
C.H. first met Suells when he got out of prison in 2016,
although they knew of each other from the "28th
projects" on the "West side" of Cleveland.
Asked to explain how well she knew Suells, C.H. stated,
"I don't know. It's like we somehow related some
ways." They began talking and texting, and C.H. was
interested in dating Suells.
10} From here, C.H.'s testimony became dubious.
For example, the prosecutor asked C.H. about a time when
Suells picked her up as she was walking to the bus stop after
work. She testified, "That's the thing. I don't
remember the month, the dates, and times." Additionally,
C.H. could not recall where Suells took her after picking her
up. "It's so long. So much stuff happened. I
don't remember." Asked why she was testifying in
court that day, C.H. replied, "I don't remember,
dude. * * * There's a lot going on right now." The
court took a recess, and when it went back on the record,
C.H. refused to reenter the courtroom.
11} The bench trial proceeded, and the state called
Cleveland Police Detective Richard Durst ("Det.
Durst") to testify. Det. Durst testified that he has
been a police officer for almost 20 years, and he has been
with the sex crimes unit for almost ten years. In October
2016, Det. Durst was assigned to follow up on a report C.H.
made alleging that Suells raped her. When Det. Durst
interviewed C.H. at the police station, C.H. was
"nervous. Upset." Det. Durst testified that the
alleged rape occurred at the house Suells was staying in on
Drake. Det. Durst tried to track Suells down, but during the
course of his investigation, Suells was taken into custody
"by the feds. * * * He was considered an escapee from
his halfway house."
12} Det. Durst interviewed Suells in February 2017,
at the federal prison in Youngstown. Suells was aware of
C.H.'s allegations because C.H.'s police report was
introduced into evidence at his federal court hearing for the
escape charge. During the interview with Det. Durst, Suells
answered questions by reading directly from his copy of
C.H.'s statement to the police, changing only the issue
of consent. "Where [C.H.] had stated it was rape, you
stated it was consensual. Everything else was
consistent." Det. Durst testified that Suells "was
making his statement as he was looking at the police
report." According to Det. Durst, it was "not
normal" that a suspect had the police reports at his or
her disposal during an interview. "It was - it was like
he had studied. Like he had a cheat sheet for a test. It was
too perfect. Two people's recollection of one event
normally touches on the same major components. But his was
almost verbatim except for the fact of consent."
13} Det. Durst testified that C.H. waited 17 days
after the incident to report it to the police. In the
detective's experience, victims may delay reporting
"[b]ecause they're scared. They're afraid.
They're afraid of retribution or not being
14} Cleveland Police Officer Jeffrey Frinzl
("Officer Frinzl") testified that on November 14,
2016, he received a dispatch call for a sexual assault at
C.H.'s house on Quincy Avenue. When Officer Frinzl
arrived at the house, C.H. told him that Suells raped her.
Officer Frinzl testified that C.H. was "[v]ery scared. *
* * You could tell she was nervous about talking to me to
begin with. She seemed paranoid, afraid for her safety and
for herself and her kids. She explained in detail some of the
history that he has that she knew about and some of his prior
jail time, stuff like that." Officer Frinzl further
testified as follows: "She expressed a great fear. We
felt the need to do as much as we could for her. We tried
finding alternative housing. We made as many connections with
resources as we could because we felt we had a real victim. *
* * We tried to get her placed into a shelter for women
because she was fearful to stay where she was."
15} C.H. continued her testimony on August 21, 2018.
This time, she recollected two incidents with Suells in
detail. C.H. testified that in August 2016, she "was
becoming friends" with Suells with the intention of
possibly dating, but "things started going down like
after a few months." One day in September or October,
Suells picked her up on the east side of Cleveland after she
finished working as a home health aide. According to C.H.,
Suells took her to his house.
He was drinking, very aggressive, but I started getting used
to it because that's how he was. * * * Like when I
started getting to know him, he was like - he was cool at
first, and then he started being very controlling, started
scaring me, talking about my dead sister, do I know why she
was dead. * * * Nobody gives a fuck about me. Nobody will
never believe nothing that I say because he is him and I am
* * *
He was talking about * * * my sister that is deceased, and it
got me emotional. And he made me bend over, and I told him
no, I didn't want to do it. He did it anyway and he got
disgusted because I was bleeding.
** * He pulled my pants down and that was the only thing that
got off was my pants. * * * He did what he wanted to do. * *
* Put his penis inside of me. * * * Just * * * kept telling
me no matter what I say, nobody will believe me, and I
16} Asked if Suells put his penis in her vagina or
anus, C.H. replied, "My butt." C.H. testified that
"you can't tell him no. * * * Because he was in
control." According to C.H., the rape lasted until she
began bleeding. "It seemed like he was disgusted, so he
made me get in the tub with bleach. I had to sit in the tub
with him with bleach. * * * He scrubbed my body." C.H.
further testified about other details she remembered from
that day, including how, after the rape, Suells called his
caseworker about his "food stamps." C.H. recalled
that Suells got angry with the caseworker, and he made her
sit between his legs and turn her phone off while he was on
the call. C.H. testified that she was at Suells's house
for "like six hours" before he drove her home.
Furthermore, while they were in the car, Suells punched C.H.
in the mouth, causing the wire bracket to fall off of her
17} Asked if she called the police after Suells took
her home, C.H. testified, "No. * * * Because I was
scared that nobody will believe me. * * * That if I did say
something, the reputation that [Suells] had, I could have got
18} C.H. next testified about a second time Suells
raped her. Although she could not recall the exact date, she
testified that Suells "caught" her as she was
getting out of a friend's car outside of her house. This
time, Suells had a gun in one hand and a beer in the other
hand, and said, "I want my dick sucked." C.H. told
Suells no, but "he put the gun up to my head, and I
said, You going to have to make me give you head. He made me.
* * * With the gun up to my head, walked me, told me
don't say nothing. Go in the house. Shut the fuck up,
19} Suells forced C.H. into her house at gun point,
and while they were in the kitchen, "[h]e kept forcing
[his penis] in my mouth. * * * By that time, the gun was on
my head. I just kept trying to keep my mouth shut tight as
long as I can. He didn't even care that my braces was
20} Asked how Suells was acting, C.H. testified,
"To him, it was turning him on. To me, it was
torture." According to C.H., Suells put his penis inside
her mouth "[t]wice that night." Eventually, Suells
received a phone call and "left with his gun and the
rest of his beer * * *. That's what saved me that
21} C.H. further testified that she did not call the
police when Suells left her house. "He had it in my head
that nobody will believe me. He had more power in the
streets, like now." C.H. further testified as follows:
What caused me to call the police is because he just kept
threatening me. And he had this girl and he kept trying to
make my friend fight me. He had people thinking that I - that
I was - had her thinking I was playing on their phone and
stuff. And then when he knew that that didn't work, him
and another girl, Tini, when he knew that it didn't work,
they tried to pay her to fight me. * * * I had flagged some
officers down when I got off work. I was getting scared
because he be riding past the house, asking me why this
person over here.
22} C.H. asked the officers what she could do if she
had been raped but did not go to the hospital. The officers
told her to call 911. C.H. made this call on November 14,
2016. A recording of this 911 call was played for the court.
23} Suells called the following witnesses to
testify: Breana McQueen, Kenya Meyers, Aaron Harmon, Sasha
Reed, Brittany Nettles, and Grayland Hargett. These witnesses
all testified that they knew Suells and C.H. "from the
neighborhood." Some of these witnesses testified that
C.H. claimed to be pregnant with Suells's child. However,
none of these witnesses were present when either alleged rape
occurred, and none of these witnesses testified about the
events that occurred on the two dates in question. Rather,
the testimony Suells elicited from these witnesses was mostly
inadmissible, because it was hearsay or not based on
firsthand knowledge. The testimony that was properly admitted
mostly concerned how many cell phones Suells had and whether
or not C.H. had called these ...