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State v. Laney

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Williams

June 28, 2019

State of Ohio Appellee
Alan K. Laney Appellant

          Trial Court No. 17CR000110

          Dave Yost, Ohio Attorney General, and Micah R. Ault, for appellee.

          Karin L. Coble, for appellant.


          ZMUDA, J.

         I. Background and Procedure

         {¶ 1} On June 6, 2017, police were called to the home of appellant, Alan Laney, to investigate injuries to his girlfriend's 17-month-old child, S.H. Laney lived at the home with his girlfriend, Alisha Underwood, along with two of his children, Kayla Harrold, his adult daughter, and his newborn son, born to Underwood. Additionally, Underwood's three other minor children resided at the home with Laney.

         {¶ 2} Jennifer Benson, Harrold's mother and Laney's ex-wife, placed the call to police after Harrold called her to come to the house to see S.H.'s injuries. Both Laney and Underwood were out at the time, and had left Harrold to babysit all of the children, including S.H. When Benson arrived, she found Harrold very distraught, and noted the bruising on S.H., covering the child from head to toe. While Benson was on the phone with the police dispatcher, Laney and Underwood returned home.

         {¶ 3} When police arrived, they separated Harrold and Benson from Laney and Underwood for questioning. Harrold told police that she witnessed Laney strike and kick S.H., and spank her with a board and a flyswatter in the days preceding, and that she did not do anything at the time because she feared Laney. However, Laney claimed he did nothing to S.H., indicating instead that any injuries resulted from a fall down the outside stairs to the home.

         {¶ 4} Officers noted bruising to S.H.'s face and a mark on her chest that appeared to match a flyswatter in the home. Police also noticed a paddle next to Laney's chair. They took photographs of the injuries and the scene, and collected the paddle and fly swatter as evidence. Police called Tracy Valentine, a Williams County Department of Job and Family Services investigator, to the scene. Valentine assisted in the investigation, took photographs of the injuries, and assisted in interviewing witnesses.

         {¶ 5} Officers transported S.H. to the hospital for an examination by Dr. Francis Aona, who noted significant bruising from head to toe, with the bruising indicating injury over a period of time, displaying various stages of healing. Dr. Aona indicated that the injuries were not consistent with a fall down the stairs, and the bruise to the chest resembled a grid-like pattern, consistent with the flyswatter collected from the scene. In addition to bruising, Dr. Aona noted an injury to the right hand he identified as a second-degree burn from a cigarette. Dr. Aona declined to take x-rays or scans, so the next day, investigators also had S.H. examined at Toledo Hospital, where S.H. was examined a second time, and had x-rays and CT scans taken. The findings from the Toledo Hospital exam were consistent with S.H.'s initial examination.

         {¶ 6} On September 19, 2017, Laney was indicted on 11 counts stemming from the abuse of S.H, including 2 counts of felonious assault, in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1)(D)(1)(a), 2 counts of endangering children, in violation of R.C. 2919.22(B)(1)(E)(2)(d), felonies of the second degree, 6 counts of endangering children, in violation of R.C. 2919.22(B)(2)(E)(3), felonies of the third degree, and 1 count of endangering children, in violation of R.C. 2919.22(B)(4) and (E)(3), a felony of the third degree.

         {¶ 7} The grand jury also indicted Underwood on two felony counts and one misdemeanor count of child endangering for her involvement in the abuse. As part of a plea agreement, Underwood entered a guilty plea to one count of attempted endangering children, a fourth-degree felony, and agreed to testify against Laney.

         {¶ 8} Because the other minor children witnessed the abuse, the trial court conducted a voir dire examination of three of the minor children on April 23, 2018, prior to the trial, and determined two of the three were competent to testify. The matter proceeded to a bench trial on May 3, 2018. The trial court entered acquittals as to one of the felonious assault counts, one of the second-degree felony child endangering counts, and one of the third-degree felony child endangering counts. The trial court found Laney guilty as to the remaining counts, and after merging allied offenses, sentenced on Count 1 for felonious assault involving the cigarette burn, Count 6 for child endangerment involving strikes to the face, Count 9 for child endangerment involving strikes with a flyswatter and wooden paddle, and Count 10 for child endangerment involving injuries to the legs caused by stomping. The trial court ordered the sentences to run consecutively, for an aggregate prison term of seven and one-half years.

         {¶ 9} Laney filed a timely appeal of his conviction, asserting the following assignments of error:

I. Because the conviction for felonious assault is based solely upon one burn which did not require treatment, the conviction is unsupported by sufficient evidence and is against the manifest weight of the evidence.
II. Two of the three convictions for endangering are unsupported by sufficient evidence and are against the manifest weight of the evidence, when the state's expert opined that only one act cause "serious physical harm" and the child's mother admitted to lying about witnessing the acts.

         II. ...

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