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State v. Stinson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

August 23, 2019

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
JESSE M. STINSON Defendant-Appellant

          Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2013-CR-237

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by HEATHER N. JANS, Atty. Reg. No. 0084470, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Montgomery County Courts Building, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          JESSE M. STINSON, A710-916, Defendant-Appellant, Pro Se

          OPINION

          HALL, J.

         {¶ 1} Jesse M. Stinson appeals pro se from the trial court's decision, order, and entry overruling separate new-trial motions he filed on February 27, 2018 and March 9, 2018.[1]

         {¶ 2} Stinson advances four assignments of error. First, he contends the trial court erroneously applied the doctrine of res judicata to his March 9, 2018 new-trial motion. Second, he claims the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard to that motion. Third, he asserts that the trial court erred in finding the evidence supporting his March 9, 2018 motion to be irrelevant. Fourth, he argues that the trial court adopted an "incorrect standard of review" when applying res judicata to his February 27, 2018 motion.

         {¶ 3} The record reflects that Stinson was convicted of murder and other serious charges following a 2014 jury trial. He received an aggregate sentence of 32 years to life in prison. This court affirmed on direct appeal, overruling assignments of error addressing the weight and sufficiency of the evidence, an earlier new-trial motion, and merger of allied offenses. See State v. Stinson, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 26449, 2015-Ohio-4405.

         {¶ 4} In May 2015, Stinson filed a statutory petition for post-conviction relief. The following month, he amended the petition. Among other things, he argued, without a supporting affidavit, that a person named Reginald Langford had identified James Demmons as the owner of a handgun used in the murder. Stinson also argued that the prosecutor had engaged in misconduct during a pretrial interview by leading Demmons while obtaining a statement from him. The trial court denied the petition in November 2017. Stinson did not appeal.

         {¶ 5} Thereafter, on February 27, 2018, Stinson moved for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, namely an affidavit from Reginald Langford. In the affidavit, Langford averred that the prosecutor had interviewed him prior to Stinson's trial. According to Langford, he denied knowing anything about the crimes in Stinson's case. In response, the prosecutor allegedly told him what to say on the witness stand and threatened him with additional prison time if he did not cooperate and do what the prosecutor told him. Although Langford ultimately did not testify at Stinson's trial, Stinson argued that the affidavit bolstered and corroborated a similar, prior allegation involving another witness, Stinson's cousin Gerry Stinson, who did testify at trial.

         {¶ 6} Less than two weeks later, Stinson filed a second new-trial motion. In that March 9, 2018 filing, which also was predicated on newly discovered evidence, he submitted another affidavit from Langford. This time Langford averred that a private investigator had shown him a picture of "the gun." Langford stated that he did not tell the investigator who owned the gun. According to Langford, he later told Stinson's trial counsel that "the gun was brought to the house by Jimmy." Langford added that "Jimmy" "said whoever wanted to use it could, it was the house gun until he left." The reference to "Jimmy" appears to have been a reference to James Demmons, who had testified as a witness at Stinson's trial. In his new-trial motion, Stinson relied on Langford's affidavit to argue that Demmons owned the gun that was used in the murder.

         {¶ 7} The trial court overruled both new-trial motions in a September 21, 2018 decision, order, and entry. It held that proof of ownership of the gun was irrelevant because ownership was not an element of any of charges against Stinson. With regard to the use of Langford's affidavit to challenge Gerry Stinson's trial testimony, the trial court held that res judicata applied "since Defendant could have raised this claim in a direct appeal of his conviction[.]" Finally, the trial court determined that "there was overwhelming evidence at trial, in addition to the evidence contained in Gerry Stinson's testimony, of Defendant's guilt," and "that Defendant has not brought forth any newly discovered evidence to support the need for a new trial"[2]

         {¶ 8} In his first assignment of error, Stinson argues that the trial court's denial of his May 2015 statutory petition for post-conviction relief should not have been given res judicata effect with regard to his March 9, 2018 new-trial motion. First, he contends Langford's affidavit about gun ownership did not exist when the trial court ruled on the 2015 petition. Second, he claims the trial court's ruling on the petition was "void" because the trial court violated Ohio Sup.R. 40(A) by taking too long to reach a decision. Third, he contends that, upon a showing of "good cause," this court's decision in State v. Call, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 15280, 1996 WL 27830 (Jan. 24, 1996), authorizes second or successive post-conviction relief petitions involving the same issue and the same facts.

         {¶ 9} Upon review, we find Stinson's first assignment of error to be without merit. Although we are unconvinced by any of his arguments, we need not dwell on them. His first assignment of error necessarily fails for other reasons. As a preliminary matter, the trial court does not appear to have given its denial of his 2015 statutory petition for post-conviction relief res judicata effect. Rather, the trial court explicitly applied res judicata based on a finding that Stinson could have raised his claims in the direct appeal of his conviction. More importantly, and regardless of the applicability of res judicata, the only issue raised in the March 9, 2018 new-trial motion was ownership of the murder weapon. As set forth above, Stinson produced an affidavit from Reginald Langford, who suggested that James Demmons owned the firearm. The trial court correctly observed, however, that ownership of the firearm was irrelevant to Stinson's convictions. At trial, the State presented eyewitness testimony that Stinson shot and killed Tryee North in North's home during a dispute over a drug deal. Stinson at ¶ 12. Although the State presented evidence establishing Stinson's possession and use of the firearm, Stinson suggests that the State did not prove ownership and, based on Langford's affidavit, that he did not own the weapon. In denying Stinson's new-trial motion, the trial court correctly recognized, however, that none of his convictions required proof of ownership of the handgun. That being so, we fail to see how ownership of the weapon was relevant to any material issue. Even if ownership of the gun did have marginal relevance to some issue in the case, a new trial is not warranted based on newly discovered evidence unless, among other things, the new evidence" 'discloses a strong probability that it will change the result if a new trial is granted[.]'" State v. Gillispie, 2012-Ohio-2942, 985 N.E.2d 145, ¶ 43 (2d Dist.), quoting State v. Petro, 148 Ohio St. 505, 76 N.E.2d 370 (1947), at syllabus. Here we are firmly convinced that the result of Stinson's trial would have been the same if the jury had heard evidence from Langford claiming that Demmons brought the gun to the house and designated it as the house gun. Accordingly, the first assignment of error is overruled.

         {¶ 10} In his second assignment of error, Stinson claims the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard to find that ownership of the gun was irrelevant. Specifically, he reasons that the trial court erroneously "reduced a Motion for New Trial based on the presentation of New Evidence down to a Motion arguing if the State met the elements of a crime the Appellant was convicted of." (Appellant's brief at14.) In his third assignment of error, Stinson challenges the ...


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