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State v. Riggins

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

August 14, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
DEVARIEH RIGGINS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Trial No. B-1701205(B) Court of Common Pleas

         Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Judith Anton Lapp, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Raymond T. Faller, Hamilton County Public Defender, and David Hoffman, Assistant Public Defender, for Defendant-Appellant.


          Mock, Presiding Judge.

         {¶1} In six assignments of error, defendant-appellant Devarieh Riggins appeals his convictions and sentences for aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. For the reasons set forth below, we find no merit to the assignments of error and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Victim Gunned Down on Way to Work

         {¶2} Defendant-appellant Devarieh Riggins lived with his mother, Jabina Riggins, and several siblings. He met Coron Smith in 2016 after Riggins was released from prison. Riggins and Smith often rode around together in Jabina's silver minivan. On June 28, 2016, Riggins, Smith, Jabina, and Riggins's brother De'oveon decided to drive around the Winton Terrace community in the minivan looking for people to rob.

         {¶3} At approximately 3:30 a.m. on that day, James Tamplin was walking to work in front of the neighborhood recreation center when a silver van approached. Riggins, Smith, and De'oveon got out of the vehicle, and Riggins approached Tamplin. According to Smith's testimony, Riggins ran up to Tamplin and began shooting. Smith, hearing the gunshots, began firing as well. After the victim collapsed, Riggins stood over him and continued to fire until the weapon was empty. Smith later told investigators that Riggins had continued to pull the trigger even after the gun was empty. The group then ran back to the van and fled. Smith asked Riggins what had happened, and Riggins told Smith that it looked like Tamplin was reaching for a weapon. But Smith testified that he had never seen Tamplin with a weapon, and no weapon was later found attributable to Tamplin.

         {¶4} Tamplin attempted to walk home as he began to lose blood. He was eventually picked up by a passing motorist, who drove him home.

         {¶5} Tamplin's brother Kevin Lackey, came to the door in response to pounding and screaming. Lackey testified that when the door opened, Tamplin yelled his name and collapsed. Tamplin told him that he had been robbed and shot. Lackey asked Tamplin who shot him, and Tamplin responded that it was a "silver van." While this conversation was going on, Tamplin's mother frantically called 911. After speaking to the man who drove Tamplin home, Lackey left the home to go to the area where Tamplin had been shot, leaving Tamplin with other family members. Lackey found the spot in front of the recreation center where the shooting had occurred and followed the trail of blood several blocks to the point where Tamplin had been picked up by the passerby.

         {¶6} Cincinnati Police Officer Christopher Loreaux responded to the 911 call. By the time that he arrived, Tamplin was unable to speak and the other members of the family were "pretty frantic." Tamplin was taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for several hours. Doctors were unable to repair the damage, and Tamplin died from his injures later that day.

         {¶7} Detective Tracy Jones from the Cincinnati Police Department led the investigation at the scene. He photographed the blood trail from the recreation center to where Tamplin was picked up. At the scene of the shooting, he found three .22-caliber cartridge casings and three 9 mm casings in the area. Information was also retrieved from a nearby stationary license plate reader. Police retrieved photographs of a silver van and its license plate that passed the area at the time of the shooting. The license plate was traced back to Jabina Riggins. Other cameras in the area recorded images of a silver van coming into and leaving the area at the time of the shooting. Detective Jones also recognized that the van matched the description of a vehicle that had been involved in a different shooting three weeks earlier. Using this information, investigators tied the van to Jabina, and Jabina to Riggins and Smith.

         {¶8} Over a week later, police officers stopped a white Pontiac that had been reported stolen. Smith was the driver of the vehicle and Riggins was in the front passenger seat. Police found a .22-caliber handgun on the passenger seat, a second .22-caliber pistol next to the passenger seat, and a .38-caliber handgun on the floor in front of the driver's seat. Police also found a bag of white powder on the floor in front of Riggins's seat. Ammunition for a .22-caliber handgun was found in Riggins's pocket. Both men were arrested and charged with having a weapon while under a disability, improper handling of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, and trafficking in and possession of drugs.

         {¶9} Detective Jones subsequently learned of the arrests of Smith and Riggins and arranged for the weapons that were seized to be tested by the crime lab. The guns were tested against the casings found at the scene of the homicide. Detective Kurt Ballman, who had also been assigned to the case, testified that one of the handguns found by Riggins's seat was the same weapon that had fired the .22-caliber rounds that killed Tamplin.

         {¶10} While Riggins was being held on the weapon and drug charges that arose from the traffic stop, Ballman met with him at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Ballman told Riggins that he was only there to take a DNA sample for the weapons charges related to the traffic stop.

         {¶11} After his visit, Ballman began to listen to calls made by Riggins from the Hamilton County Justice Center, hoping it would spur him to talk about the homicide. Ballman testified that Riggins called his mother after his arrest and that Riggins was "in what I would call a full-blown panic." The first thing that Riggins told her was that "it's over." Riggins told his mother that a holder was going to be put on him in the next couple days and that he needed to get out of jail before that happened. He told his mother that he was "about to do 25" and that "[they] about to put a charge on me." Ballman testified to a series of conversations that Riggins had with others in which he was trying to raise money to make his bail before he was charged with more serious offenses. He wanted to make bail so he could flee the jurisdiction and stay with an aunt in Louisville, Kentucky.

         {¶12} Riggins pled guilty to having a weapon while under disability and was sent to prison. Detective Ballman tried to interview him there, but Riggins refused to cooperate. He called his mother, who told him that another "dude" had court that day. From the context of the conversation, it appeared that Jabina was referring to Smith. Riggins said that "dude better shut up, though. Better not tell on himself. You feel me? I know they are fishing."

         {¶13} After a jury trial, Riggins was found guilty of aggravated murder in violation of R.C. 2903.01(B), murder in violation of R.C. 2903.02(A), murder in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B), felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1), felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(2), aggravated robbery in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(1), aggravated robbery in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(3)-all with one- and three-year gun specifications-and having a weapon while under a disability. He was sentenced to life in prison for the aggravated-murder charge, plus three years for the related gun specification. He further was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the aggravated robbery in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(1), plus three years for the related gun specification. He was also sentenced to three years in prison for having a weapon while under a disability. Riggins was ordered to serve all prison terms consecutively to each other, and was told he would be eligible for parole after 30 years. All of the remaining charges and specifications were merged as allied offenses of similar import with those charges and specifications for which he was sentenced. His total sentence was 50 years to life.

         {¶14} In six assignments of error, Riggins now appeals. For ease of discussion, we will discuss them out of order.

         Destruction of Jail-Call Recordings

         {¶15} In his first assignment of error, Riggins claims that the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed Detective Ballman to testify to notes he made of calls Riggins made from the Justice Center when the state had failed to preserve the actual jail recordings.

         {¶16} Prior to trial, Riggins filed a motion to prohibit Ballman from testifying from his notes as to the contents of the destroyed recordings. During the hearing, Ballman testified that he had listened to several recordings involving calls between Riggins and others. He said that he took notes on all the calls that were relevant to the investigation. He was able to listen to the recordings through an online system at his office, but the system did not allow him to record those calls. In order to obtain recordings for trial, the policy was to email the person at the Justice Center in charge of making the recordings. He testified that he contacted Heather Dobbins by email on October 3, 2016, to begin the process of recording the calls. Ballman testified that he went to the Justice Center several times to pick up the recordings, but each time he was told they were not available. He eventually spoke to a supervisor who told him that Dobbins no longer worked for the Hamilton County Sheriffs Department.

         {¶17} Ballman then spoke to a sergeant there and sent a follow-up email relating to his request for recordings. He received an email back indicating that there were 194 calls from Riggins and 1, 900 calls from Coron Smith. He responded to the email with information to allow the department to limit the number of calls that he needed. Ballman again went to the Justice Center on "two or three separate occasions" and was told the discs were not there. As the court date approached, Ballman spoke to someone who told him that the recordings were no longer available. Ballman returned to the Justice Center to see if the recordings had been saved, and he was told they had not been.

         {¶18} At the conclusion of the hearing, counsel for Riggins argued that, under the rule of completeness, it was unfair to allow Ballman to testify from his notes to those portions of the conversations Ballman felt were relevant when the defense did not have access to the calls themselves to place the notes in context. In essence, it would have been "unfair to the defense for Detective Ballman to testify to parts of these conversations without testifying to the entirety of the conversations."

         {¶19} The state responded by noting that, in his motion, Riggins had claimed that the recordings had been destroyed in bad faith, and that Riggins had not made that showing. The state also noted that there was no evidence that anything in the recordings was exculpatory, and that Riggins had not filed a motion to preserve the recordings. The trial court agreed with the state, and it found that there had been no bad faith on behalf of Ballman or the sheriffs department.

         {¶20} A decision by a trial court to admit or exclude evidence rests within its sound discretion and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. State v. Salaam, 2005-Ohio-4552, 47 N.E.2d 495 (1st Dist). The term "abuse of discretion" connotes more than an error of law or judgment; it implies that the court's attitude is unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable. Body Power, Inc. v. Mansour, 1st Dist. Hamilton No. C-130479, 2014-Ohio-1264, ¶ 28, citing Blakemore v. Blakemore, 5 Ohio St.3d 217, 291, 450 N.E.2d 1140 (1983). Most cases will fall within the "unreasonable" prong of discretionary decisions, as few judges issue decisions that are unconscionable or arbitrary. AAAA Ent., Inc. v. River Place Community Urban Redev. Corp., 50 Ohio St.3d 157, 161, 553 N.E.2d 597 (1990). A decision is unreasonable if

there is no sound reasoning process that would support that decision. It is not enough that the reviewing court, were it deciding the issue de novo, would not have found that reasoning process to be persuasive, perhaps in view of countervailing ...

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