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State v. Leannais

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 27, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
STEVEN LEANNAIS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-16-612395-A

          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, and Kevin R. Filiatraut, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Mark A. Stanton, Cuyahoga County Public Defender, and Paul Kuzmins and Cullen Sweeney, Assistant Public Defenders, for appellant.



         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Steven Leannais, appeals his convictions and claims the following five errors:

1. The government failed to present sufficient evidence to demonstrate appellant acted recklessly.
2. Each of the appellant's convictions is against the manifest weight of the evidence where the government failed to present any credible evidence that appellant acted recklessly.
3. Trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective when he failed to request a jury instruction on "accident."
4. Trial counsel was ineffective when he failed to cross-examine a government's fact witness about an agreement not to prosecute.
5. Trial counsel was ineffective when he failed to object to the government's misrepresentations of the law of recklessness and negligence.

         {¶ 2} We find no merit to the appeal and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶3} In December 2016, Leannais shot and killed his friend, Anthony Stanford, Jr., while playing with his 9 mm Glock handgun during a dinner party in his home. As a result of the incident, Leannais was charged in a four-count indictment with involuntary manslaughter, using weapons while intoxicated, reckless homicide, and assault. All the counts included a forfeiture specification, seeking forfeiture of the 9 mm Glock handgun.

         {¶ 4} At trial, the state introduced a video recording of the dinner party that Leannais broadcasted on Facebook Live on the night of the shooting. (Tr. 1054.) The first part of the video shows Stanford visiting Leannais in his West Tech Loft apartment while Leannais prepares steaks for his guests. Leannais indicates on the video that he is drinking Tito's vodka, and Stanford is seen making himself a vodka drink. Shortly thereafter, Stanford leaves the apartment and indicates he will return soon.

         {¶ 5} Meanwhile, Leannais takes the Facebook audience on a tour of his apartment, pointing out certain items of interest such as artwork and a particular houseplant. He also shows the audience his Glock 9 mm pistol and notes a skull decal on the rear of the slide, which he calls "the punisher." After the tour, two other guests arrive: John Frenden and his girlfriend, Ashley Karmie. Leannais introduces them to the Facebook audience and continues cooking steaks for his guests.

         {¶ 6} Moments later, Frenden is seen in the video playing with a decorative sword that was hanging on the wall. He disappears from view and reappears with Leannais's gun. Leannais warns Frenden that the gun is loaded and takes it from him. Leannais removes the magazine, racks it twice, and pulls the trigger to make sure the gun is not loaded. He then hands it back to Frenden, who puts it in his mouth and says, "Last thing you hear is 'I didn't know it was loaded.'" (Facebook video 1:05:49.) Leannais shows the live round at the top of the magazine to the Facebook audience and says: "That would have made a bloody mess." (Facebook video 1:06:16.) He then appears to place the magazine in his pocket, and Frenden replies: "You don't know about the secret clip." (Facebook video 1:06:40.)

         {¶ 7} Stanford soon returns to the apartment. For the remaining 13 minutes of video, Leannais cooks two more steaks while Karmie puts makeup on in front of a mirror next to the dining table. Meanwhile, Frenden walks around the apartment. He refers to a "secret case" and appears to be carrying something toward the kitchen counter but returns it to some other location. Frenden picks up the iPad that has been broadcasting the scene on Facebook Live and turns it off at approximately 8:45 p.m. (Facebook video 1:19:00.)

         {¶ 8} The four friends sat down for dinner off camera. Karmie testified at trial that she does not know how the handgun made its way to the dining table. However, at some point, Leannais was "joking around" with the gun and pointed it at her. Karmie testified that even though she believed the gun was unloaded, she ducked and told Leannais not to point it at her. (Tr. 591.) Karmie saw Leannais turn toward the other guests and heard a shot. (Tr. 591-592.) Karmie looked up at Leannais and noticed that his face had "turned white." Both Leannais and Stanford exchanged looks of "utter disbelief." (Tr. 592.)

         {¶9} Stanford ran out of the apartment followed by Leannais. (Tr. 595.) Leannais returned moments later, asked Frenden and Karmie to leave, and called 911. Officer James Zak of the Cleveland Police Department responded to the scene just as EMS were loading Stanford into an ambulance. Leannais met Officer Zak outside the apartment building and led him and two other officers to his apartment to explain what happened. Officer Zak's body camera captured the interview on film, and the body camera video was introduced as evidence at trial. (Tr. 1054.)

         {¶ 10} Leannais, who had a concealed-carry ("CCW") permit, admitted to Officer Zak that he fired the shot that ultimately caused Stanford's death. He explained: "We all had dinner, we had a couple of drinks, and we were all joking around, it was on the counter and we were all joking around with it, I shouldn't have it out." (Body camera video 2:37-2:47.) When asked how the shooting occurred, Leannais explained: "We were all sitting around, there was no magazine in the chamber, and I pointed it just joking around. As I was bringing it back down, I pulled the trigger as I was bringing it back down and got him." (Body camera video 5:40-6:02; tr. 435.)

         {¶ 11} Leannais told Officer Zak that prior to the shooting, he removed the magazine from the chamber and did not know there was a live round in the gun. (Body camera 10:30-10:58.) Officer Zak referenced Leannais's CCW permit and reminded Leannais that the CCW class teaches permit holders to always treat guns as if they are loaded. (Tr. 438.) When asked how much he had to drink prior to the shooting, Leannais replied that he "had three drinks," and later admitted that he was "buzzed a little bit." (Body camera video 6:10-6:16; 20.00; tr. 439.) While examining the scene, Officer Zak observed that the firearm did not have a magazine inside the handle, but he found a magazine on the kitchen counter along with one loose live round. (Tr. 430.) Leannais informed Officer Zak that he had a total of three magazines.

         {¶ 12} Kristen Koeth, a firearms examiner with the Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Science Laboratory in the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office, testified that there are two ways to load a live round into Leannais's gun. (Tr. 833.) First, if there is a magazine in the gun, the user could load one round into the chamber by pulling back the slide. Second, the user could load the gun without a magazine by pulling back the slide, dropping a round into the empty chamber, and allowing the slide to move forward. (Tr. 833.) Koeth explained that unlike other gun models, Leannais's Glock handgun could be fired without a magazine inside. Koeth also found that the gun did not have a "hair trigger," meaning that the user would have to apply some pressure on the trigger in order to fire the gun. (Tr. 840.) Koeth compared the hollow point bullet recovered from Stanford's body with bullets test-fired from Leannais's gun in the laboratory and concluded that the bullet in Stanford's body was fired from Leannais's gun. (Tr. 848.)

         {¶ 13} Koeth reviewed the portion of the Facebook Live video where Leannais took the gun from Frenden and rendered it safe. She testified that removing the magazine, racking the slide, and pulling the trigger would have cleared all live rounds in the gun. (Tr. 854.) She explained, however, that "you always have to check and make sure that there's not one in the chamber." Koeth further commented that gun-safety classes, such as those required for CCW permits, instruct gun owners to treat every firearm as if it is loaded and that the user should never point the gun at anything he or she does not intend to shoot. (Tr. 851.) Koeth also testified that the "number one rule" of gun safety is to always assume there is a bullet in the battery ready to be fired. (Tr. 855.)

         {¶ 14} Detective Gregory Cook, a homicide detective with the Cleveland Police Department, interviewed Leannais as part of the homicide investigation. The interview was recorded, and the video of the interview was entered into evidence. (Tr. 1054.) During the interview, Leannais told Detective Cook that Frenden spoke to him about using the gun as a prop for a movie. (Tr. 1000.) At trial, Detective Cook compared the portion of the Facebook Live video showing Leannais racking the slide back to clear the weapon with another part of the video in which Leannais is heard talking to Frenden about playing a prank on someone using blanks. (Facebook video 1:13:50.)

         {¶ 15} The audience cannot see Leannais and Frenden in this portion of the video, but their actions are heard. Cook testified that clicking sounds heard during the conversation about using blanks were the same sounds the audience previously heard when Leannais racked the slide back after taking the gun from Frenden. (Tr. 1004.) He explained that it "[s]ounded like he racked the action back, and it sounded like it stayed back because when they - at the end, it sounded like he allowed the slide to slam forward." (Tr. 1004.) Cook testified that this could have been the time when a live round was put into the chamber of the gun without using the magazine because the sounds were consistent with that activity. (Tr. 1004-1005.) Leannais admitted in his statement to Detective Cook that he failed to check the chamber of the gun before pulling the trigger. (Tr. 1006.) Detective Cook testified that Leannais should have checked the chamber of the gun when he it picked up an hour after handling it in a way in which someone could have dropped a round into the slide without using the magazine. (Tr. 1047.)

         {¶ 16} The jury found Leannais guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and assault, but not guilty of using weapons while intoxicated. The state conceded that all Leannais's convictions merged for sentencing purposes and elected to have Leannais sentenced on the reckless homicide charge. The trial court sentenced Leannais to two years on the reckless homicide charge to be served consecutive to the three years on the firearm specification, for an aggregate five-year prison term. Leannais now appeals his convictions.

         II. Law and Analysis A. Recklessly

         {¶ 17} In the first assignment of error, Leannais argues the state failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that he acted recklessly. In the second assignment of error, Leannais argues his convictions are against the manifest weight of the evidence because the state failed to present credible evidence that he acted recklessly. We discuss these assigned errors together because they are closely related.

         {¶ 18} The test for sufficiency requires a determination of whether the prosecution met its burden of production at trial. State v. Bowden, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 92266, 2009-Ohio-3598, ΒΆ 12. The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven ...

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