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State v. Lawson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

June 25, 2019

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Isiah D. Lawson, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas C.P.C. No. 17CR-6887

         On brief:

          Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Sheryl L. Prichard, for appellee.

          Anzelmo Law, and James A. Anzelmo, for appellant.


          Sheryl L. Prichard.

          James A. Anzelmo.


          BRUNNER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Isiah D. Lawson, appeals a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas entered on April 24, 2018 following a jury trial, convicting him of aggravated robbery as an aider and abettor with a firearm specification and sentencing him to serve a seven-year term of imprisonment. We find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting a text message constituting a communication just before the crime between Lawson and a person with whom he was allegedly complicit. We further find that Lawson's conviction was sufficiently supported by the evidence at trial and not against the manifest weight of the evidence. However, because the trial court committed an apparent clerical error in stating in its judgment entry that Lawson's sentence was mandatory, we remand for the issuance of a nunc pro tunc entry. We otherwise affirm.


         {¶ 2} On December 21, 2017, a Franklin County Grand Jury indicted Lawson for aggravated robbery, and two counts of robbery (one a second-degree felony and one a third-degree felony), each with an associated three-year firearm specification. (Dec. 21, 2017 Indictment at 1-2.) Lawson pled "not guilty" and the court held a jury trial[1] on the matter. (Dec. 26, 2017 Plea Form.)

         {¶ 3} At the trial, one of Lawson's victims, Ashley Householder, testified first. She related that in October 2017 she wanted to buy a used cellular phone (a Samsung Galaxy S8) and found several for sale through Facebook Marketplace (an online listing service). (Tr. at 201-04.) She sent messages to some of the individuals who were attempting to sell S8 phones, but only one seller responded to her inquiries, an individual whose Facebook profile identified him as "Ceo Lawson." (Tr. at 204.) Householder and Lawson shared a text message discussion about the availability of the phone and initially agreed on a price of $300 for the phone. (Tr. at 206; State's Exs. B1-B13.) After further discussion, the two ultimately agreed that Householder would pay $400 for both the phone and an iPad 2. (Tr. at 208.) Lawson invited Householder to meet him at a business on Livingston Avenue to consummate the sale, but Householder declined because that area of town was not an area in which she felt comfortable meeting. (Tr. at 206-07.) Lawson agreed to instead meet at Householder's suggested exchange point, a gas station on the corner of U.S. Route 33 and Petzinger Road between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. (Tr. at 207, 210.)

         {¶ 4} Householder said that she and her fiancé, Corey Mitchell, went to the gas station at the appointed time (which was after dark) and parked under a light in the gas station lot. (Tr. at 211-12, 225.) Because Lawson had not yet arrived, Mitchell and Householder got out of their car, bought some snacks at the gas station, and waited for Lawson near their car. (Tr. at 213, 227.) After a time, Lawson arrived driving an SUV; he backed in, leaving a parking space between the cars. (Tr. at 211-12, 226.) In the SUV with Lawson were a female passenger in the front and a male passenger in the back. (Tr. at 213.) Instead of showing Householder the phone or iPad, Lawson engaged in casual conversation, indicating that it was his birthday and pausing several times during the conversation to send and review text messages on his phone. Id. After several minutes of this activity and requests to see the merchandise, Lawson retrieved a black book bag from the center console, placed it on his lap, unzipped it, but did not take anything out. (Tr. at 214-15.) At that point, Householder noticed the man in the back seat was moving around a good deal and seemed jumpy. (Tr. at 214.) When the man in the back seat got out of the SUV suddenly, both she and her fiancé stepped back, but the man indicated there was no reason to be nervous or scared and walked to the gas station convenience store. (Tr. at 215-16.) After stepping through the door of the convenience store, however, he quickly circled back, grabbed Householder from behind, and pressed what she believed was a gun to her lower back. (Tr. at 217.) "Where's the money, ma'am? Where's the money?" he inquired. Id. Mitchell, who was holding the $400 for Householder, gave the money to Lawson. (Tr. at 218.) After Lawson received the money, the presumed gun-wielder shoved Householder toward Mitchell, hopped in the still open door of the SUV, and Lawson, and his passengers sped away on Route 33. Id.

         {¶ 5} Though Householder and Mitchell left the scene before the police arrived due to Householder being too distressed to stay, she and Mitchell did follow up with the police the Monday following the Thursday robbery. (Tr. at 220-23.) Approximately one month later, on November 15, 2017, the police showed Householder a photo array containing Lawson's photograph and she identified him as the driver of the SUV involved in the robbery. (Tr. at 231-33; State's Exs. E1-E2.)

         {¶ 6} Mitchell also testified and recounted the same events with some relatively minor differences. (Tr. at 257-80.) He confirmed that Householder had given him the money to hold and that soon after Lawson arrived they approached and asked him for the phone. (Tr. at 263.) He elaborated that he handed Lawson a SIM card through the SUV window to put in the phone to see if it worked and said it was at that point that Lawson picked up the black bag. (Tr. at 265-66.) Mitchell explained that Lawson fiddled with the bag for a bit before handing the SIM card back and announcing that an adapter was needed to make it fit the phone. Id. Mitchell said he never saw the contents of the bag and that after returning the SIM card, Lawson began to drive away and he and Householder started to retreat to their own vehicle. (Tr. at 267.) However, Lawson then reversed back into the space. Id. Mitchell again asked to see the phone but Lawson, after asking them to approach, did not answer the question about the phone and busied himself with texting. (Tr. at 269.) The man in the back seat seemed to be fidgeting with something and staring at them, but Mitchell could not tell what it was. (Tr. at 267, 269.)

         {¶ 7} Mitchell testified that it was at this point, that he began to feel that something was not right but was not sure whether he and Householder could get away given that Lawson's car was running while theirs was off and locked. (Tr. at 269-70.) Lawson then unlocked the doors of the SUV by pressing the unlock button and the backseat passenger jumped out. (Tr. at 270.) The sudden appearance of the passenger caused both Mitchell and Householder to recoil, but the passenger said there was no reason to be scared and walked away toward the convenience store. (Tr. at 270-71.) When he did, Mitchell turned his attention back to Lawson and again asked for the phone which, again, was not produced; Lawson instead ignored him and continued texting. Id.

         {¶ 8} Unseen by Mitchell, however, the backseat passenger returned, approaching quickly from behind, grabbing Householder, and pulling her toward the SUV. (Tr. at 272.) Although Mitchell did not see a gun or other weapon, as the robber gripped Householder's shoulder, his other arm was cocked such that it appeared he was holding something to Householder's back. (Tr. at 272-73.) When he demanded money, Householder indicated she did not have it. (Tr. at 272.) Mitchell did, however, and produced it. Id. The robber ordered Mitchell to give it to Lawson. Id. When he complied, the robber threw Householder toward Mitchell, then hopped in the SUV, which drove away. (Tr. at 274.)

         {¶ 9} Mitchell confirmed that he and Householder did not stay at the gas station because Householder was very upset. (Tr. at 274-75.) However, they followed up with the police and he selected Lawson from a photographic lineup as the driver. (Tr. at 275-78; State's Exs. F1-F2.) According to Mitchell, Lawson did not say anything in the robbery or protest in any way. (Tr. at 279.)

         {¶ 10} A number of witnesses testified to corroborating details, including the clerk of the gas station who witnessed Householder's hysterical demeanor following the robbery, the "blind administrator" of the photographic lineup who confirmed the process that was followed in administering the lineup, and a detective who photographed the SUV in which Lawson was eventually arrested. (Tr. at 302-03, 311-13, 325-34.)

         {¶ 11} A substantive witness, a detective with the robbery unit of the Columbus Police Department, confirmed that Mitchell and Householder identified Lawson and that Lawson was ultimately arrested in the SUV used during the robbery. (Tr. at 353-61, 367-68.) The detective testified that Lawson was frank in admitting that a robbery had occurred and agreed with most of what the victims had recounted. (Tr. at 376-78.) The only substantive difference, said the detective, was that Lawson alleged that the robber (who Lawson knew through rap music business as "Streetz") took him hostage, holding the gun to his head, in order to force him to drive away from the scene. (Tr. at 376-79.) Lawson claimed he had not come forward about what happened because he feared Streetz. (Tr. at 380.) The detective agreed that Lawson gave information about a prior arrest of Streetz in Whitehall through which the detective was able to obtain Streetz' real ...

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