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State v. Blair

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Athens

June 21, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WILLIAM DAVID BLAIR, Defendant-Appellant.

          CRIMINAL APPEAL FROM COMMON PLEAS COURT

          Craig M. Jaquith, Office of the Ohio Public Defender, Columbus, Ohio, for appellant.[1]

          Keller J. Blackburn, Athens County Prosecuting Attorney, and Merry M. Saunders, Athens County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Athens, Ohio, for appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          Peter 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. 2911.12(A)(1).

         {¶ 2} Appellant raises three assignments of error for review:

         FIRST 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, JUDGMENT ENTRY.)"
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 a well-check.

         {¶ 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 ransacked.

         {¶ 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 ...


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