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State v. Battle

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

July 18, 2019

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
James D. Battle, Jr., Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (C.P.C. No. 17CR-2224)

         On brief:

          Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Seth L. Gilbert, for appellee.

          Yeura R. Venters, Public Defender, and Ian J. Jones, for appellant.

         Argued:

          Seth L. Gilbert.

          Ian J. Jones.

          DECISION

          NELSON, J.

         {¶ 1} After a shoot-up that apparently left two people with relatively minor gunshot wounds and a residence festooned with bullet holes, a jury convicted James D. Battle, Jr., of two counts of felonious assault, one count of discharging a firearm into a habitation, and one count of improperly handling a firearm in a motor vehicle, along with three firearm specifications. The trial judge sentenced him to a total of eight years in prison.

         {¶ 2} Mr. Battle appeals, arguing that he was deprived of a fair trial because of comments made in the presence of the jury about absent witnesses and witness fear of retaliation, and because of testimony about driving without a license and a warrant unrelated to the charges for which he was tried, and about the earlier theft of the gun that he admitted using on the evening in question. He also challenges the legal sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence regarding the convictions for felonious assault and shooting into a dwelling; he does not extend his weight and sufficiency arguments to the improper handling conviction, as to which count his trial counsel had conceded guilt during closing argument, see Tr. at 629, 640.

         {¶ 3} By his own account to police, Mr. Battle was present at the events, in the company of armed companions, and had brought his own gun, fired his gun (leaving shell casings at the crime scene), and wound up behind the wheel of the get-away car (a car he had provided and in which his gun was discovered). Upon review under the governing standards, we are not persuaded by any of his arguments on appeal: We affirm Mr. Battle's convictions. Explaining why, we begin with a brief summary of some of the evidence the jury heard.

         {¶ 4} Ciera Hampton testified that she lived with Kenya Chandler and their four children in a large apartment complex. Tr. at 422-25. Neighbors and friends had gathered to enjoy the temperate evening of April 12, 2017; everyone was "having fun and socializing," barbeque was on the grills, and "the kids were playing." Tr. at 426-27, 241.

         {¶ 5} A new group of five or six men then approached the gathering. Id. at 428. Ms. Hampton recognized one of the men in this new group as a neighbor named "Redd," who "seemed like he was calling out anybody who wanted to fight." Tr. at 428-29. After she believed the men had started to leave without further incident, she walked into her home and was coming back out when she "started hearing gunfire." Tr. at 431. People streamed toward her home because "[i]t was the closest door to go to." Id.

         {¶ 6} Reese Smith and Kenya Chandler were both injured by the gunfire. Tr. at 432-33. Several bullets struck Ms. Hampton's dwelling, with one lodging by the door and another going through an upstairs window. Tr. at 434. Ms. Hampton could not say how many shots or individual weapons were fired. Tr. at 435.

         {¶ 7} Kenya Chandler also testified. According to Mr. Chandler, Redd had brought "a group of people to the neighborhood" to confront a teenager named "Duck." Tr. at 454-55. Redd asked Mr. Chandler where "the guy [Redd] want[ed] to fight" was before starting to walk away. Tr. at 457. When Redd and his group reached a nearby dumpster, Mr. Chandler heard "a whole bunch of shots" and saw everyone run into the apartment that he shared with Ms. Hampton. Tr. at 457-58. Mr. Chandler heard "three quick gunshots and then, like, thirty gunshots"; debris rained down from the bricks of the building, and bullet holes appeared "all around the front door" and elsewhere. Tr. at 459, 462. He sustained injuries from the gunfire, including "a flesh wound on [his] left arm" and a wound on his "upper right chest." Tr. at 461.

         {¶ 8} Sabrina Slappy was also present the evening of April 12, 2017, and told the jury she had been struck in the face by a flying fragment of brick. Tr. at 237, 247. She testified that Redd and his companions had engaged in a "big confrontation" and displayed "a violent attitude" before shots were fired. Tr. at 238-40. She was one of the people who fled inside the Hampton/Chandler apartment when the gunfire began. Tr. at 243. Ms. Slappy stated that her daughter, Jasmine, identified Redd to the police as one of the group of shooters. Tr. at 250. Ms. Slappy did not want her daughter involved lest she become "a target of retaliation," and only testified herself because she was subpoenaed by the court. Tr. at 251-52.

         {¶ 9} Eddie Gray also lived in the apartment complex. Tr. at 220. Her door was open and she was in the doorway at the time the gunfire started. Tr. at 223. Ms. Gray ran out and got her seven-year-old grandson to bring him inside, at which point she saw "one male run past" wearing a red sweatshirt with a hood over his head and a gun in his hand. Tr. at 225-26, 232.

         {¶ 10} Officer Jeffrey Gearhart and his partner responded to the shooting. Tr. at 266-67. As they arrived, Officer Gearhart "saw a vehicle leaving * * * at a high rate of speed" with multiple people inside. Tr. at 267. He identified the vehicle as a Chevy Malibu and had its license plate number broadcast over the police radio. Tr. at 269.

         {¶ 11} Officer William Beard also responded to the dispatch. Knowing that other officers had arrived on the scene already, he drove south of the apartment complex to look for the vehicle that had been described. Tr. at 284-85. A mile past the complex, he pulled up behind a Chevy Malibu with matching plates. Tr. at 286-87. Mr. Battle, the driver, was at that point the only person in the vehicle. Tr. at 289, 291. After discovering that Mr. Battle had an outstanding warrant and a suspended license, Officer Beard arrested him. Tr. at 291, 294. At the time of his arrest, Mr. Battle was wearing a red sweatshirt. State's Ex. 63.

         {¶ 12} Officer Benjamin Leppla performed an inventory of the vehicle, which included a live round of ammunition in a cup holder, Tr. at 306-07, a Smith & Wesson .45 in the back seat area, Tr. at 313-14, and several documents with Mr. Battle's name on them, Tr. at 310. The firearm contained a single live round in the chamber and three in the magazine. Tr. at 316.

         {¶ 13} The jury also saw a recording of the interview police conducted with Mr. Battle (in a red garment) after his arrest. Tr. at 522; State's Ex. 71. During that questioning, Mr. Battle stated that he had gone with Redd and others to the complex, in the car that Mr. Battle provided, to give back-up protection to Redd as Redd squared off with an adversary in a contemplated fight. See State's Ex. 71 (video), e.g. at 16:20 ("wanted to make sure he didn't get jumped"); 32:00 - 34:00 (Redd had "got into it with some Dudes"; "We just out here to make sure you [that is, Redd] good"); 15:50 (Redd's ...


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