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State v. Simpson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

July 18, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NATHANIEL SIMPSON, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-17-621424-A

          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, and Kelly Needham, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Joseph V. Pagano, for appellant.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          EILEEN T. GALLAGHER, PRESIDING JUDGE.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Nathaniel Simpson, appeals from his convictions following a bench trial. He raises the following assignments of error for review:

1. The trial court erred when it denied Simpson's motion for acquittal under Crim.R. 29 because the state failed to present sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt the elements necessary to support the convictions.
2. Simpson's convictions are against the manifest weight of the evidence.
3. The trial court erred by denying Simpson's motion for new trial.
4. Simpson was deprived of his constitutional rights to due process, a fair trial, and the effective assistance of counsel where he was not permitted to introduce evidence of his text messages with M.S. on July 3, 2017.
5. The trial court erred by ordering Simpson to have no contact with his daughter.

         {¶ 2} After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we affirm Simpson's convictions.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         {¶ 3} In September 2017, Simpson was named in a three-count indictment, charging him with felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1); abduction in violation of R.C. 2905.02(A)(2); and domestic violence in violation of R.C. 2919.25(A). The indictment stemmed from allegations that Simpson physically assaulted his daughter, M.S., during an altercation inside Simpson's home. In May 2018, the matter proceeded to a bench trial, where the following evidence was adduced.

         {¶ 4} M.S., who was 19 years old at the time of the incident, testified that in July 2017, she was temporarily living with Simpson during a two-week period he was receiving chemotherapy treatment. M.S. stated that she assisted Simpson with "regular duties around the house" including grocery shopping and meal preparation. M.S. described her relationship with her father as "kind of rocky," but attributed their "deteriorated" relationship to being a side effect of his chemotherapy treatment.

         {¶ 5} On July 3, 2017, M.S. visited her friends in Toledo, Ohio. M.S. testified that Simpson was upset she left for the weekend and began arguing with her through text messages. M.S. testified that she told her father that she would come to his home, collect her belongings, and return to her mother's home where she permanently resided.

         {¶ 6} M.S. testified that when she arrived to Simpson's home, she and Simpson sat at the dining room table and had a conversation that lasted over one hour. M.S. stated that Simpson became more and more agitated during the conversation. M.S. testified that she had previously arranged for her cousin, Amhara Denson, to pick her up from Simpson's house. When Amhara arrived, she called M.S.'s cell phone and waited outside for 10-15 minutes before M.S. told her to leave because Simpson "was not letting me leave the house."

         {¶ 7} M.S. testified that she then went into her bedroom to get the rest of her belongings and called a friend to see if she could get a ride to her mother's home. When her friend responded that she could not give M.S. a ride, M.S. told Simpson that she would just walk to her mother's home. M.S. testified that her comment triggered Simpson, and that he "went crazy" and "attacked [her]." M.S. testified that Simpson "grabbed [her] by the [hair] and tossed [her] on the bed." While M.S. was on the bed, Simpson held her down by placing his knee on her back. When M.S. "rolled [her] body," she and Simpson fell to the floor. M.S. testified that she hit her head on the corner of a bookshelf when she fell to the floor. While on the floor, Simpson continued to restrain her. M.S. pleaded with Simpson to let her go, and when he did, she immediately went to her friend's house.

         {¶ 8} After discussing the incident with her family members, M.S. went to the hospital on July 4, 2017, where she was diagnosed with a minor concussion, a minor neck sprain, and a back contusion. Photographs of M.S.'s injuries were presented to the trier of fact. Subsequently, M.S. filed a police report on July 5, 2017.

         {¶ 9} Amhara Denson testified that on the day of the incident, M.S. asked her for a ride from Simpson's home. Denson testified that when she arrived at Simpson's home, M.S. indicated that she "was coming right out." After waiting for several minutes, Denson called M.S.'s cell phone. Denson testified that when M.S. answered her phone, she heard "scuffling" and heard M.S. "[tell] her father to get off of her." Denson testified that she also heard a male voice yelling. Denson stated that she eventually left Simpson's home without M.S. because she "kind of felt out of place in that predicament." Denson also testified that M.S. told her she "was okay."

         {¶ 10} Detective Barry Bentley of Cleveland Police Department was assigned to investigate the allegations levied against Simpson. In the course of his investigation, Det. Bentley conducted a formal interview of M.S. and obtained a warrant for Simpson's arrest. Once in custody, Simpson "admitted that there was a small confrontation" with M.S. because "he did not approve of the lifestyle that she was currently living" and "felt she was being unruly and also disrespectful." Det. Bentley further testified that Simpson admitted that "when [M.S.] attempted to go into the bedroom [he] grabbed her by her hair and attempted to push her out the house." Simpson also stated that "they both fell on the ground and [M.S.] fell on top of him."

         {¶ 11} At the conclusion on the state's case, defense counsel made a Crim.R. 29 motion for acquittal. Following a brief discussion on the record, the trial court denied the motion. Simpson then testified on his own behalf. Contrary to M.S.'s testimony, Simpson testified that M.S. was not living with him at the time of the incident. Simpson stated that on July 3, 2017, he sent several text messages to M.S. indicating that she was not welcome to come to his home that day and "that she needed to go to her home where she lived with her mother." Simpson explained that he was weak from his chemotherapy treatments and did not want M.S. coming over "because she was doing some very, very serious things that could have gotten her put in jail." Simpson denied assertions that M.S. was taking care of him while he was undergoing chemotherapy. Simpson testified that M.S. was "forbidden" from coming to his home and that he took her house keys away from her approximately three months earlier.

         {¶ 12} Regarding the incident, Simpson testified that he was asleep when he heard someone come into his house through the back door. When Simpson realized that M.S. had broken into his house, he confronted her. Simpson stated that while he was "telling [M.S.] to get out," she was talking on her phone with a friend. Simpson testified that M.S. was laughing and stated that Simpson was "not going to do anything." At that time, Simpson "went to grab [M.S.]" to remove her from his home. Simpson testified that when he approached M.S., she "reached up as though she was going to punch me." In response, Simpson "reached up to try to grab her hair and her arm." Simpson explained that when M.S. "swung around," he and M.S. both fell to the ground. Simpson testified that M.S. fell on top of him and hit her head on the base of the bed. They fell a second time as they attempted to stand up. Simpson testified that he did not invite M.S. into his home, did not ask her to stay, and did not hinder her from leaving. He further testified that he did not knowingly cause serious physical harm to M.S.

         {¶ 13} At the conclusion of trial, Simpson renewed his motion for acquittal, which the trial court denied. Thereafter, the trial court found Simpson guilty of all counts. Prior to sentencing, Simpson filed a motion for new trial. In its entirety, the motion argued Simpson was entitled to a new trial for the following reasons:

1. The court erred in denying the motion of the defendant for judgment of acquittal made at the end of the State's evidence and renewed at the conclusion of all evidence.
2. The verdict of the Court is contrary to the weight of the evidence.
3. The verdict is not supported by substantial evidence.
4. The defendant has new evidence that he was not aware of at the time of the ...

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