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State v. Williams

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fourth District, Highland

June 28, 2019

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Joel Edward Williams, Defendant-Appellant.

          James A. Anzelmo, Anzelmo Law, Gahanna, Ohio, for appellant.

          Anneka P. Collins, Highland County Prosecutor, Hillsboro, Ohio, for appellee.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT ENTRY

          MICHAEL D. HESS, JUDGE

         {¶1} This case stemmed from an incident in which Joel Edward Williams allegedly entered the home of Danielle Countryman and attacked Phillip Whitley with a log chain. A jury found Williams not guilty of felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(2) but guilty of aggravated burglary in violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(1). Williams now appeals his aggravated burglary conviction.

         {¶2} First, Williams asserts the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence that he used the log chain to break Whitley's car windows after the attack. This evidence tended logically to prove elements of the charged offenses. It was relevant, it had a purpose other than proving Williams's character, and its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Thus, the trial court's decision to admit the evidence was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable.

         {¶3} Williams also asserts the court committed plain error and deprived him of the right to a unanimous verdict when it failed to instruct the jury that to find him guilty of aggravated burglary, it had to find he committed felonious assault with a deadly weapon. Consistent with R.C. 2911.11(A)(1), the court instructed the jury that the state had to prove he trespassed with purpose to commit any criminal offense. The court also instructed the jury that the criminal offense at issue was felonious assault. Thus, no error occurred.

         {¶4} Next, Williams argues the court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial because the aggravated burglary verdict is internally inconsistent given his acquittal for felonious assault. His claim is based on the incorrect premise that to find him guilty of aggravated burglary, the jury had to find him guilty of the offense it found he trespassed with purpose to commit. Any inconsistency between the aggravated burglary and felonious assault verdicts is immaterial because inconsistency between verdicts on different counts of a multi-count indictment does not warrant setting aside a verdict.

         {¶5} Williams also maintains insufficient evidence supported his conviction and it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. The state presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude the state established the essential elements of aggravated burglary beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the jury did not clearly lose its way or create a manifest miscarriage of justice. Thus, we reject his claims.

         {¶6} Finally, Williams asserts trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by not objecting to the aggravated burglary instructions or moving for a waiver of court costs. However, the instructions were proper, and counsel is not required to make meritless objections. And even if we assume the failure to move for a waiver of court costs was deficient, Williams has not demonstrated prejudice. Thus, we reject his claim and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Facts

         {¶7} The Highland County grand jury indicted Williams on one count of aggravated burglary in violation of R.C. 2911.11(A)(1) and one count of felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(2). Williams pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded to a jury trial at which the state presented the following evidence.

         {¶8} Countryman testified that on March 27, 2018, she was at home with her friend, Whitley. She heard "like a boom noise" and a "squeak noise like the window being opened" and saw Williams enter her home through a window. Williams walked past Countryman and began to strike Whitley with a log chain, which Countryman described as "one of those real thick linked chains." Whitley "balled up on the ground trying to protect himself as much as possible." Williams struck Countryman in the face with his fist as he exited the home. Over Williams's objection, Countryman testified that while on the phone with a 911 operator, she saw Williams use the chain to "bust out all the windows" of Whitley's car. Countryman testified that she identified Williams as the perpetrator during the 911 call and in a written statement she gave the night of the incident.

         {¶9} Tabatha Holsinger testified that she drove Williams to Countryman's home to pick up some clothing. Williams exited the car and returned about 10 to 15 minutes later, but Holsinger did not see how he had entered the home. She initially did not give police this information because she was scared.

         {¶10} Whitley did not testify but the court admitted photographs which depict cuts on his face and red marks on his back, arm, and shoulder. Over Williams's objection, the court admitted photographs of Whitley's car.

         {¶11} The court instructed the jury that the elements of aggravated burglary included that the defendant trespass in an occupied structure with purpose to commit in the structure "any criminal offense," that "[p]urpose and intent mean the same thing," and that it was "necessary that the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that trespass was committed with the intent to cause the offense of felonious assault as charged in Count Two of the Indictment." The court instructed the jury that the elements of felonious assault included that the defendant knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to Whitley by means of a "deadly weapon" and defined that phrase. Neither party objected to the instructions.

         {¶12} The jury found Williams guilty of aggravated burglary but not guilty of felonious assault. He moved for a judgment of acquittal or a mistrial on the basis that the verdicts were inconsistent. The trial court denied the motion, sentenced him to six years in prison, and ordered him to pay court costs.

         II. Assignments of Error

         {¶13} Williams assigns the following errors for our review:

I. The trial court erred by denying Williams' motion for a mistrial, in violation of his rights against Double Jeopardy and to a Fair Trial and Due Process guaranteed by the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Sections 1, 10 and 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
II. The trial court provided a misleading and improper instruction on aggravated burglary, in violation of Williams' rights to a Fair Trial and Due Process guaranteed by the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Sections 1, 10 and 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
III. The trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence * * * irrelevant, vague and prejudicial evidence, in violation of his rights to a Fair Trial and Due Process guaranteed by the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Sections 1, 10 and 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
IV. Williams' conviction is based on insufficient evidence, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Sections 1 & 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
V. Williams' conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Sections 1 & 16, Article I of the Ohio Constitution.
VI. Williams received ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Section 10, ...

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