Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Athens
CRIMINAL APPEAL FROM COMMON PLEAS COURT
M. Jaquith, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, Columbus,
Ohio, for appellant.
J. Blackburn, Athens County Prosecuting Attorney, and Merry
M. Saunders, Athens County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney,
Athens, Ohio, for appellee.
DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY
B. Abele, Judge.
1} This is an appeal from an Athens County Common
Pleas Court judgment of conviction and sentence. A jury found
William David Blair, defendant below and appellant herein,
guilty of (1) aggravated murder in violation of R.C.
2903.01(B), and (2) burglary in violation of R.C.
2} Appellant raises three assignments of error for
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:
"THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT SENTENCED WILLIAM BLAIR
TO LIFE WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE DESPITE THE FACT
THAT THE RECORD CLEARLY AND CONVINCINGLY DID NOT SUPPORT SUCH
A PUNITIVE SENTENCE, AND R.C. 2953.08(D)(3) IS
UNCONSTITUTIONAL TO THE EXTENT THAT IT PROHIBITS APPELLATE
REVIEW OF MR. BLAIR'S SENTENCE. (AUG. 2, 2018, SENT. TR.,
P. 10; AUG. 2, 2018, JUDGMENT ENTRY.)"
SECOND ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:
"THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN IMPOSING CONSECUTIVE
SENTENCES. (AUG. 2, 2018, SENT. TR., PP. 11-12; AUG. 2, 2018,
THIRD ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR:
"MR. BLAIR RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL IN
VIOLATION OF THE SIXTH AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES
CONSTITUTION WHEN TRIAL COUNSEL FAILED TO MOVE TO WAIVE COURT
COSTS AT SENTENCING. (AUG. 2, 2018, SENT. TR., PP. 8-9; AUG.
2, 2018, JUDGMENT ENTRY, )"
3} Mary Robinson was a seventy-one year old woman
who had conquered substance abuse issues and had been sober
for thirty-six years. Mary's daughter, Tammie Blair,
lived two blocks from Mary. On June 17, 2017, Mary's
friends became concerned when Mary missed an AA meeting that
she was expected to lead. Later, Mary's car was found at
Tammie's home, and Mary found dead inside the home.
4} In June 2017, an Athens County Grand Jury
returned an indictment that charged appellant with one count
of aggravated murder (R.C. 2903.01(B)), an unspecified
felony, and one count of burglary (R.C. 2911.12(A)(1)), a
second-degree felony. Appellant pled not guilty and, after
the court resolved several motions in limine, a six-day jury
trial began on July 23, 2018.
5} At trial, George Blair, the victim's
son-in-law and appellant's brother, testified that
appellant lived with George and his wife Tammie for
approximately two and-a-half years when they lived in Athens
and before they moved to Chauncey. George stated that Tammie
helped appellant to obtain Social Security disability and
back pay, and helped him to purchase a truck after they
rescued appellant from living under a bridge. George also
testified that he and Tammie had planned to visit
Tammie's father in California and that originally, Mary
planned to travel with them, but Mary decided to stay home,
in part, to help care for the couple's three cats.
6} George testified that appellant came to their
Chauncey home a few days before he and Tammie left for
California and sold George a bag of marijuana. On June 16,
2017, while George and Tammie were in California, appellant
called George and asked if they were home. George told
appellant that he and Tammie were in California. George
testified that the following day, while he was in California,
he received a sheriffs deputy's call stating that they
found Mary dead in the couple's home and that the home
appeared to have been burglarized. George stated that he and
the deputy Facetimed to attempt to determine what objects may
be missing. During that time, George noticed missing
computers, TV, Blu-ray player, Roku box, as well as jewelry
and approximately $800 in cash. When they returned home, they
also noticed other objects were missing including a little
box of marijuana they had purchased from appellant before
their trip, two or three large bottles of vodka, a can of
moonshine, and a vacuum cleaner.
7} George testified that his brother, Ernie Blair,
visited their home after George and Tammie returned from
California and asked George if he thought appellant had
anything to do with the murder and burglary. When George
asked Ernie why he might think that, Ernie told him that
appellant tried to sell him a TV. Ernie testified that he had
a conversation with appellant before the murder and appellant
told him that George owed him money and appellant told Ernie
to go to George's house and get the "weed."
8} Tammie Blair, the victim's daughter,
testified that she and her husband arranged for her mother,
Mary, and other friends to check their house while they were
in California. Tammie stated that when they returned from
their vacation, she noticed pry marks on the doorframe, a
stain on the wall under the thermostat, a TV remote from the
upstairs bedroom on the floor at the top of the stairs, and
TVs, computers and other missing items.
9} Amy Salzman testified that Mary Robinson was her
AA sponsor and they saw each other three or four times per
week. Salzman stated that she met Mary for lunch on Friday,
June 16, 2017 around noon, and that Mary had mentioned that
she was going to chair the AA meeting in the morning on the
following day. Salzman testified that when Mary did not
attend the meeting, she knew something was wrong. Salzman
then visited Mary's apartment in Chauncey, but it was
dark and her car gone, so Salzman called 9-1-1 and asked for
10} Athens County Sheriffs Deputy Michael Burba
testified that he was dispatched to perform a well-check, and
when he did not find Mary at home, he drove around the area
and found her car parked in the Blairs' driveway. Burba
also noticed a brown sandal on the porch and a shut storm
door, but an open inside door. After Burba knocked and
announced himself several times, he cupped his hands to see
through the window and noticed a body on the floor. When
Burba did not get a response, he entered the home and found
Mary Robinson's body on the floor.
11} Deputy Burba also noticed the victim's purse
near her head, with her glasses and false teeth on the floor
beside her, along with a piece of candy. The coroner noticed
that the victim had keys in her hand, was wearing a brown
sandal that matched the sandal on the porch, and the purse
strap was wrapped around her neck. At this point, the
investigation changed to a homicide. Burba further testified
that the upstairs looked like it had been ransacked, with a
room with a TV receiver but no TV, a chest with a broken
model ship on top, cables with no TV, a remote control at the
top of the steps, and items pulled from closets. Burba then
contacted Tammie Blair, the victim's daughter.
12} Athens County Coroner's Office Death
Investigator Ben Ashcraft testified that after he arrived at
the scene he noticed the upstairs in disarray and that items
appeared to be missing, as evidenced by areas with no dust.
The victim, positioned on the living room floor between a
coffee table and the couch, had her purse strap around her
neck with a ligature mark that indicated force had been used.
13} Vicky Fluharty testified that she was best
friends with Tammie and George Blair and knew the victim
well. Fluharty had agreed to help to check the Blair home
during their vacation. Fluharty was at the home on Friday,
June 15 around noon, for fifteen to twenty minutes to check
on the cats and the house looked normal with things
"always in their place." Fluharty said that on
Sunday she received a call that asked if she had seen the
victim. When she did not find the victim at her own home,
Fluharty went to the Blair home, saw the victim's car in
the driveway and noticed police and emergency equipment.
After Fluharty identified herself, officers asked her to look
to see if anything was missing. Fluharty saw the victim on
the floor, and blood on the front door and on the wall behind
the pantry door. She also noticed that the upstairs had been
14} Devon Cogar testified that her brother, David
Cogar, is appellant's friend and he allowed appellant to
stay with him at his house-trailer "off and on."
Devon was at David's house-trailer on June 17, 2017
smoking marijuana and watching a movie with appellant and
David. Devon stated that appellant drunk Jack Daniels
straight from a large bottle. Devon explained that her
brother usually had one, small 20 inch TV in his
house-trailer, but on June 17 they watched the movie on a
large, flat-screen TV that she never saw again. Devon
explained that appellant told them that he got the TV from a
house that he helped clean and that it did not work, but he
got it to work.
15} Athens County Prosecutor's Office Felony
Investigator Trent Eskey testified that he executed a search
warrant on a blue Ford truck reported to belong to appellant.
Eskey testified that the Blairs' door had been pried
open, and that, among other things retrieved from
appellant's truck, he found a crowbar.
16} Athens County Prosecutor's Office Felony
Investigator Molly Katusin testified that she is certified in
obtaining data from cell phones and she testified about (1)
Exhibit 50, AT&T Mobility records for appellant's
phone from June 15, 2017 to June 17, 2017, (2) Exhibit 51,
tower dump information for one cell tower, (3) Exhibit 52,
tower dump information for another cell tower, (4) Exhibit
14B, an extraction record of Tammie Blair's cell phone,
(5) Exhibit 14A, an extraction record from appellant's
phone, (6) Exhibit 14C, an extraction record from Devon
Cogar's cell phone, (7) Exhibit 13B, five boxes of an
extraction report from the victim's phone, (8) Exhibit
13C, an extraction report from David Cogar's phone, and
(9) Exhibit 13A, records obtained from AT&T from June 14,
2017 to June 17, 2017 for appellant's phone.
17} Athens County Sheriffs Detective Brice Fick
testified that he visited the Blair home on June 17, 2017 in
regard to a suspicious death. Fick stated that they contacted
the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation
(BCI&I) and, while they waited, they canvassed two blocks
in every direction to see if neighbors had observed anything
suspicious. Fick testified that he also Facetimed with George
Blair so that Blair could tell him what objects may be
missing from the home. Fick testified that he was also a
member of the group of law enforcement officers who arrived
at the Cogar home, where they found appellant and his truck.
18} Athens County Sheriffs Detective John Deak
testified that he assisted Detective Fick in interviewing
appellant, who told them that he was at George and
Tammie's home that weekend to help the victim get one of
the cats out of the home. Appellant also admitted to being at
their home, on the Friday before they left, to sell
marijuana. When Deak asked appellant if they would find his
DNA on the victim, appellant initially said no. Then,
appellant told Deak that he may have shaken the victim's
hand, but otherwise, "there ain't no way" they
were going to find his DNA on the victim. Later, appellant
"blurt[ed] out a statement" that "I would
never hurt Mary." Detectives also spoke with appellant
about his call to his brother George who told him he was in
California. Appellant, however, denied that he knew that
George and Tammie were in California. Later, appellant
admitted that he also took a bottle of vodka.
19} Athens County Coroner Dr. Carl Ortman testified
that strangulation was the cause of death. Montgomery County
Coroner and Forensic Pathologist Dr. Kent Harshbarger
testified that he performed the victim's ...