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State v. Howell

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

August 8, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SLATTER HOWELL, III, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case Nos. CR-16-603024-A and CR-16-606767-A

         JUDGMENT: AFFIRMED

          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, and Daniel A. Cleary, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Mark A. Stanton, Cuyahoga County Public Defender, Robert B. McCaleb and Jeffrey M. Gamso, Assistant Public Defenders, for appellant.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          PATRICIA ANN BLACKMON, JUDGE.

         {¶1} Defendant-appellant, Slatter Howell, III, appeals from his convictions for aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and other offenses in Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-16-603024-A and his conviction for felonious assault in Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-16-606767-A. He assigns the following errors for our review:

I. Mr. Howell was denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel when, after being accused of witness tampering and attempting to suborn perjury, his attorneys simply declared their innocence rather than asking the trial court to make findings and demanding a mistrial.
II. The trial court's comments bolstering the credibility of the government's DNA "expert" prejudiced Mr. Howell's defense.
III. The trial court committed error when it imposed consecutive sentences because its finding that consecutive sentences were necessary to protect the public is altogether unsupportable and irrational.

         {¶ 2} Having reviewed the record and the controlling law, we affirm.

         {¶ 3} Howell was charged in a five-count indictment in Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-16-606767-A in connection with an attack on Joe Houston on May 1, 2014. On October 11, 2017, Howell pled guilty to one count of felonious assault and was sentenced to eight years imprisonment.

         {¶ 4} Howell was also indicted in Cuyahoga C.P. No. CR-16-603024-A for two homicides and related offenses. Counts 1 through 8 arose from the April 7, 2014 shooting death of gas station worker Babul Saha ("Saha"), and the indictment charged Howell with two counts each of aggravated murder, felonious assault, and aggravated robbery, and one count each of murder and robbery. The charges also included repeat violent offender specifications, a notice of prior conviction, and one-and three-year firearm specifications. Counts 9 through 14 arose from the May 1, 2014 shooting death of Theodore Wright ("Wright") and the indictment charged Howell with aggravated murder, murder, aggravated robbery, robbery, felonious assault, and tampering with evidence. The parties agreed that the state would proceed to trial first on the offenses pertaining to Saha, and the jury trial for these offenses began on September 5, 2017. The notice of prior conviction and repeat violent offender specifications were tried to the court.

         {¶ 5} The state's evidence demonstrated that on the night of April 7, 2014, Saha was working alone behind the counter at the Prime Station on Granger Road in Maple Heights. According to customer Bruce Tyus ("Tyus"), a man in a gray hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled tightly over his head approached him at the pumps and asked how many people were inside the store. Tyus replied that one or two people were inside. The man walked inside and shortly after that, Tyus heard gunshots.

         {¶ 6} Dennis Hanson ("Hanson") testified that around 10:30 p.m., he had stopped at a traffic light near the Prime Station and observed three individuals in hooded sweatshirts repeatedly crossing Granger Road at Milo Avenue. After the shooting, Hanson reviewed police photos and identified three people as "possibly" involved, but he was unsure if Howell was among these individuals.

         {¶ 7} Customer Sam Killings ("Killings") went into the store and waited for service. After a few minutes, he looked behind the counter and observed the clerk on the floor "with his eyes rolling in the back of his head." One of the cash register drawers was opened.

         {¶ 8} Saha died from his injuries. According to Cuyahoga County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph Felo ("Dr. Felo"), Saha sustained a gunshot wound to his torso that ...


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