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State v. James

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Lorain

June 28, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Appellee
v.
WALTER L. JAMES Appellant

          APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 16CR094820.

          MICHAEL J. DUFF, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          DENNIS P. WILL, Prosecuting Attorney, and BRIAN P. MURPHY, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          Jennifer Hensal, Judge.

         {¶1} Walter James appeals his convictions from the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas. This Court affirms.

         I.

         {¶2} The victim in this case is Mr. James's stepdaughter who, at the time of trial, was 28 years old. Mr. James married the victim's mother ("S.H.") when the victim was four years old. S.H. had a son from a previous relationship, and had a daughter with Mr. James after they married. The family of five moved into a ranch-style home when the victim was 7 years old. According to the victim, Mr. James started sexually abusing her around that time. The abuse started with Mr. James kissing her and touching her vagina as he put her to bed at night.[1] When she was 10 years old, the victim moved from her first-floor bedroom to a basement bedroom. Once she moved to the basement, Mr. James began inserting his fingers into her vagina "most nights[.]" This progressed to the victim performing oral sex on Mr. James by the time she was 12 or 13 years old, and to having vaginal intercourse with him when she was around 13 years old.

         {¶3} In 2003, the victim confided in one of her youth-group friends about the abuse. That friend told the pastor's wife, who told the pastor, who then contacted Children's Services. Children's Services removed Mr. James from the family home while they conducted an investigation. Fearing that her family would be split up, the victim recanted and the investigation ended without charges being filed. Mr. James then returned to the family home.

         {¶4} Shortly after his return, S.H. had a mental breakdown, which lasted about three years. During that time, S.H. was heavily medicated and spent most of her time in her bedroom while Mr. James looked after the three children. Within a few months after his return, Mr. James began having sex with the victim multiple times a week. The abuse continued into adulthood, with the victim explaining that she continued to have sex with Mr. James even after she moved out of the family home. She explained that sex eventually became the "price" she had to pay for him doing things for her, including work on her home or car.

         {¶5} The abuse stopped in 2014, and the victim stopped communicating with Mr. James in 2015. S.H. took notice and reached out to her daughter. The victim met with S.H. for lunch and disclosed the abuse. S.H. took several days to process the information, and then confronted Mr. James. According to S.H., Mr. James acknowledged the truth of the allegations and left the family home. S.H. initially sought a dissolution of the marriage, but eventually filed for divorce.

         {¶6} The victim testified that she initially did not report the abuse to the police because she had hoped that Mr. James would continue to provide for her mother and other siblings, which she felt Mr. James owed to her given the years of abuse. When he stopped supporting them, she reported the abuse to the police.

         {¶7} A grand jury indicted Mr. James on one count of rape in violation of Revised Code Section 2907.02(A)(1)(b), one count rape in violation of Section 2907.02(A)(2), four counts of sexual battery in violation of Section 2907.03(A)(5), and one count of unlawful sexual contact with a minor in violation of Section 2907.04(A). Mr. James pleaded not guilty and the matter proceeded to a jury trial.

         {¶8} At trial, the State presented testimony from the victim and S.H. Mr. James did not testify, nor did he present any evidence aside from three letters that the victim wrote to him contemporaneous with the alleged abuse. The jury ultimately returned a verdict of guilty on all counts, and the trial court sentenced Mr. James to a total of 24 years of incarceration. He now appeals, ...


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