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State v. Morris

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

August 8, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DEL RICCO D. MORRIS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-17-617940-B


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

          Kelly Zacharias, for appellant



         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Del Ricco Morris ("Morris"), appeals from his convictions following a bench trial. He raises the following assignments of error for review:

1. The trial court was without jurisdiction to conduct a bench trial because the requirements of R.C. 2945.05 were not strictly followed.
2. Insufficient evidence supported appellant's convictions.
3. Appellant's convictions are against the manifest weight of the evidence.

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

         I. Procedural and Factual History

         {¶ 3} In June 2017, Morris and his codefendants, Denzel Carr ("Denzel") and Rai'Shoun Morris ("Rai'Shoun"), were named in a 14-count indictment, charging them each with aggravated robbery in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(1), with one- and three-year firearm specifications (Count 1); robbery in violation of RC. 2911.02(A)(1), with one- and three-year firearm specifications (Count 2); robbery in violation of RC. 2911.02(A)(2), with one- and three-year firearm specifications (Counts 3-6); robbery in violation of R.C. 2911.02(A)(3), with one- and three-year firearm specifications (Counts 7-10); and kidnapping in violation of RC. 2905.01(A)(2), with one- and three-year firearm specifications (Counts 11-14). The charges brought against Morris stemmed from allegations that he participated in the armed robbery of a jewelry store located in Richmond Heights, Ohio.

         {¶ 4} In February 2018, Morris pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and kidnapping, as amended in Counts 1 and 11 of the indictment. The remaining counts were nolled. Prior to the imposition of a sentence, however, Morris filed a motion to withdraw his plea. The trial court granted Morris's motion to withdraw and the matter was scheduled for trial.

         {¶ 5} In August 2018, Morris appeared before the court and executed a written waiver of his right to a trial by jury. In open court, Morris orally confirmed that he signed the written waiver, that he understood the rights he was waiving, and that it was his desire to waive a jury trial. The matter then proceeded to a bench trial, where the following evidence was adduced.

         {¶ 6} On May 22, 2017, Susan Kozlowski, Steve Kozlowski, Erica Hollar, Sydney Givens, and Bill Mavrakis ("Mavrakis") were working at Sands Jewelry Company in Richmond Heights, Ohio. At approximately 4:19 p.m., two masked men entered the store with guns. Video footage of the incident was captured by the store's surveillance cameras.

         {¶ 7} Erica Hollar testified that she was working in the store's main showroom at the time of the incident. Hollar stated that when the masked men walked inside the store, she noticed that each man had a gun. Hollar described the first man as "a thin-build black man with a mask on, dark clothes." She testified that the second masked man was wearing "a very similar ensemble" and was approximately the same height as the first man. Hollar estimated that the men were "young adults."

         {¶ 8} Hollar testified that when she encountered the masked men, she "froze because they were saying, Don't move." Hollar stated that one of the men then pointed his gun at her and ordered her to get on the ground. Hollar testified that she was terrified and stayed on the ground and faced the wall until her boss, Susan Kozlowski, told her to run out of the store. Hollar did not observe anything while she was facing the wall, but heard one of the individuals tell Mrs. Kozlowski "you have to give us something or we're going to shoot somebody."

         {¶ 9} Mrs. Kozlowski is the co-owner of the jewelry store. She testified that at approximately 4:19 p.m. on May 22, 2017, she was working in the jewelry store when she heard a commotion and saw her husband, Steven Kozlowski, running towards the back of the building. Mrs. Kozlowski testified that when she realized the store was being robbed, she confronted one of the masked men and yelled at him to get out of her store. As the robbery was occurring, Mrs. Kozlowski observed Hollar "on her knees with her hands over her head to protect herself." Mrs. Kozlowski also observed another store employee, Sydney Givens, hiding under a table. When one of the masked men pointed his gun at the back of Hollar's head, Mrs. Kozlowski attempted to persuade him that it was "not worth killing somebody over this." The masked man responded, "I'm going to get me some." Despite this threat, Mrs. Kozlowski boldly told the masked man that they "aren't going to get a thing." Ultimately, the masked men fled the scene without taking any of the store's property.

         {¶ 10} Mrs. Kozlowski testified that the masked men were African-American. She further stated that "they were just wearing dark, head to toe, and something over their faces." Mrs. Kozlowski testified that the gun she observed pointed at Hollar was "a silver color." However, Mrs. Kozlowski admitted that she was not wearing her eyeglasses at the time of the robbery and, therefore, was not able to see the two men clearly.

         {¶ 11} Steven Kozlowski testified that on the day of the incident, he was working in the front main showroom of the store with Hollar and Givens. Mr. Kozlowski testified that he began to walk towards the back of the store to speak with Mrs. Kozlowski when he was suddenly confronted by a masked man holding a gun. Mr. Kozlowski testified that he saw two masked men in the store and that both men were in possession of a gun. One of the masked men pointed a gun directly at Mr. Kozlowski and stated, "Don't move, don't move." Despite the masked man's directives, however, Mr. Kozlowki ran down the hallway towards the back of the building. Once inside a secure location, Mr. Kozlowski called 911. The 911 call was played during trial.

         {¶ 12} While standing by the backdoor of the store, Mr. Kozlowski noticed a suspicious car that was parked near the back of the property that "certainly didn't belong there." Mr. Kozlowski suspected the car was the "get-away car" and had store employee, Bill Mavrakis, take photographs of the car and its license plate. While this was occurring, Mr. Kozlowski suddenly observed "the two guys walk right by us fairly slowly, masks are off." Mr. Kozlowski clarified that his statement regarding "the two guys" referred to "the two guys that were in the store with the guns." Mr. Kozlowski explained that he was able to identify the men as the masked robbers because "they had masks and they were dressed exactly the same." Mr. Kozlowski noted their dark clothing, their gloves, and the stripe on one of the men's pants. Mr. Kozlowski further stated that he could see that the men still had their masks and that they attempted to "try to make a move to put [their] masks back up" once they noticed Mr. Kozlowski and Mavrakis. Mr. Kozlowski testified that he was able to get a good look at one of the individuals, whom he identified in court as being Morris. In addition, Mr. Kozlowski expressed that he was confident Morris was the individual who pointed a gun at him inside the jewelry store because the perpetrator's face was only covered from his nose down, and Morris has "very distinctive eyes."

         {¶ 13} When the two men "started to run" from the scene, Mavrakis immediately began chasing them on foot. At that point, Mr. Kozlowski got into his own vehicle and followed the two men as they ran. Mr. Kozlowski testified that he observed the men get into a "gold colored car" that was driven by a third individual. Mr. Kozlowski stated that he provided the 911 dispatcher the license plate number of the gold car and proceeded to follow the gold car through the streets of Cleveland until he was ordered by the police to stand down.

         {¶ 14} Mavrakis testified that he was working as an independent contractor at the jewelry store on May 22, 2017. During the robbery, Mavrakis was located in the rear repair shop of the store with Mrs. Kozlowski. Mavrakis testified that he and Mrs. Kozlowski "heard a noise" and saw Mr. Kozlowski "running down the hallway, which was very odd." When they went to the nearby hallway to investigate, Mavrakis observed a masked man with a gun. Mavrakis testified that while Mrs. Kozlowski was confronting a masked man, Mr. Kozlowski grabbed him, took him outside, and stated, "We're being robbed." Once outside, Mavrakis took photographs of a suspicious vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Mavrakis observed a man walking near the back of the property. Mavrakis testified that he "assumed" that the man he observed walking was the masked gunman he previously observed in the store. Mavrakis testified that the man was not wearing the mask over his face at that time. However, when the man noticed Mavrakis, "he pulled a mask back onto his head." Mavrakis stated that the man "was struggling to pull it (the mask) on because he still had the gun in his hand." Mavrakis stated that a second individual joined the walking man several seconds later. Once the men noticed Mavrakis, "they both ran." Mavrakis attempted to chase after them but quickly "lost track of them."

         {¶ 15} Detective Charles Duffy of the City of Richmond Heights Police Department, testified that he was assigned to investigate the jewelry store robbery. In the course of his investigation, Det. Duffy used the license plate number provided by Mr. Kozlowski to determine that the gold car was registered to Lamar Carr. Upon contacting Carr, Det. Duffy learned that either Carr's parents or brother, codefendant Denzel Carr, were in possession of the car on the day of the robbery. Det. Duffy testified that Lamar Carr provided him with Denzel's cell-phone number. In turn, Det. Duffy contacted Denzel's cell-phone provider and "sent an exigent circumstance request for immediate pings and traces on that cell phone." Shortly thereafter, the cell-phone provider sent Det. Duffy "longitude and latitude pings from [Denzel's] cell phone" which led to the recovery of the unoccupied vehicle in Cleveland, Ohio.

         {¶ 16} Denzel was eventually brought into the police station by his father. Det. Duffy testified that Denzel provided an alibi and indicated that he had previously reported the vehicle as stolen. However, after Denzel was released, Det. Duffy investigated Denzel's alibi and determined that his statements were false. Accordingly, Det. Duffy issued a warrant for Denzel's arrest.

         {¶ 17} When Denzel was arrested several days later, he provided a second written statement to Det. Duffy, implicating Rai'Shoun Morris and Morris as the two men who robbed the jewelry store. Following Denzel's arrest, Det. Duffy obtained a search warrant to conduct a forensic examination of Denzel's cell phone. In addition, Det. Duffy used information provided by Denzel to locate a cell phone behind Denzel's home that was "believed to be [Morris's] phone." Det. Duffy testified that he also obtained a warrant to have Morris's cell phone manually searched.

         {¶ 18} At that point, Det. Duffy was able to see the text message and call records from Denzel and Morris's personal cell phones. Det. Duffy testified that the phone records corroborated Denzel's statement that he had conversations with Morris leading up to the robbery. Relevant to this appeal, the following text messages were exchanged between Denzel and Morris:

DENZEL: gotchu [May 21, 2017 at 10:49 a.m.]
MORRIS: Ima bless you. You tryna drive me to hit this lick on Monday? [May 21, ...

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