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State v. Taylor

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Fayette

August 26, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Appellee,
v.
BRANDON JOSHUA TAYLOR, Appellant.

          CRIMINAL APPEAL FROM FAYETTE COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS No. CRI 20180057

          Jess C. Weade, Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney, Sean M. Abbott, Fayette County Courthouse, for appellee

          Steven H. Eckstein, for appellant

          OPINION

          M. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, Brandon Joshua Taylor, appeals his conviction in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas for aggravated robbery, felonious assault, and tampering with evidence.

         {¶ 2} On November 28, 2017, Lee Watkins arranged to meet with Aaron Mosley on the parking lot of a Fayette County church to sell Mosley a pound of marijuana for $3, 000. Watkins arrived at the church around 6:30 p.m. He removed the marijuana from the trunk of his car and sat with it inside the vehicle awaiting Mosley's arrival. Thereafter, Mosley arrived and parked his car near Watkins' vehicle. Unbeknownst to Watkins, Mosley was accompanied by appellant, a person unknown to Watkins. Appellant was armed with a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol.

         {¶ 3} Mosley exited his car and sat with Watkins in Watkins' car. Appellant remained in Mosley's car. Although Mosley had not yet paid him, Watkins gave the marijuana to Mosley. Subsequently, the two talked and drank Hennessy cognac for about 20 minutes. Appellant then approached Watkins' car, pointed his handgun at Watkins, ordered him out of the car, and demanded the marijuana. Watkins exited his vehicle. A struggle over the handgun ensued between appellant and Watkins. During the struggle, appellant's handgun discharged, striking him in a forearm and Watkins in the chest. Mosley and appellant then fled the scene with the marijuana without paying for it.

         {¶ 4} A church worker present on the parking lot witnessed the struggle between appellant and Watkins. Upon hearing a gunshot, the worker retreated to safety, then called 9-1-1. A deputy sheriff dispatched to the scene found Watkins bleeding in his car with a gunshot wound to the chest. Watkins was subsequently air-lifted to a hospital.

         {¶ 5} Sergeant Jon Fausnaugh of the Fayette County Sheriff's Office and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation ("BCI") Special Agent Todd Fortner assisted with processing the scene. While searching Watkins' car, Agent Fortner noticed an odor of marijuana in the trunk of the car; however, no marijuana was found in the trunk. An empty bottle of Hennessy cognac was found in Watkins' car. A shell casing was also found at the scene.

         {¶ 6} During his investigation, Sergeant Fausnaugh learned from Watkins that Mosley and another person unknown to Watkins were involved. Upon interviewing Mosley, Sergeant Fausnaugh learned that the third individual was appellant. Upon interviewing appellant, the sergeant learned that appellant had pawned the Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun. The handgun was subsequently retrieved from a pawn shop and test fired. The testing revealed that the shell casing found at the scene was fired from appellant's handgun.

         {¶ 7} Appellant was indicted in February 2018 on one count of aggravated robbery with a firearm specification, two counts of felonious assault, both with a firearm specification, one count of tampering with evidence, and one count of discharging a firearm on or near prohibited premises. Appellant entered a plea of not guilty and the matter proceeded to a jury trial. At trial, the church worker, the deputy sheriff, a BCI firearm expert, Agent Fortner, Sergeant Fausnaugh, and Watkins testified on behalf of the state. Appellant did not testify or present witnesses on his behalf.

         {¶ 8} Sergeant Fausnaugh testified how his investigation of the shooting led him to interview appellant. During the interview, appellant stated that he accompanied Mosley to the drug deal; once they arrived at the church, he remained in Mosley's car and Mosley went into Watkins' car; and 30 minutes later, armed with his Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, appellant exited Mosley's car and approached Watkins' car. Appellant claimed that an armed Watkins then exited his car, put his weapon down, and then grabbed appellant's handgun. Appellant further claimed that the handgun discharged when he tried to take it back from Watkins. Appellant told the sergeant he had pawned the handgun because he needed money to buy food.

         {¶ 9} Watkins testified he did not know appellant accompanied Mosley to the drug transaction. He further testified that once appellant pointed the 9mm handgun at him, he exited his car and put his hands up. Meanwhile, Mosley exited Watkins' car with the pound of marijuana in hand and jumped into his own car. Subsequently, Watkins tried to grab the 9mm handgun from appellant and the two struggled over the weapon. Watkins did not hear the handgun go off but saw "the shell fly." He then became extremely weak and managed to get back in his car where he tried to call 9-1-1. Meanwhile, appellant jumped into Mosley's car and the two fled the scene. Watkins denied pulling the trigger of the 9mm handgun. He further denied he had a weapon.

         {¶ 10} In its discovery response to appellant, the state disclosed that Watkins had a juvenile criminal record. The discovery indicated that Watkins was born in 1992 and that he was adjudicated delinquent for aggravated robbery in 2007. On cross-examination, defense counsel asked Watkins whether he had been convicted of a felony offense within the last ten years. The trial court sustained the state's objection and instructed the jury to disregard the question.

         {¶ 11} After the state rested its case-in-chief, appellant moved for acquittal pursuant to Crim.R. 29. The trial court denied the motion. Appellant then admitted a single exhibit and rested without calling witnesses. On October 25, 2018, the jury found appellant guilty as charged. Appellant was subsequently sentenced to an aggregate 14-year prison term.

         {¶ 12} Appellant now appeals, raising four assignments of error. The third and fourth assignments of error will be considered together.

         {¶ 13} Assignment of Error No. 1:

         {¶ 14} TRIAL COUNSEL RENDERED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE DURING TRIAL IN VIOLATION OF DEFENDANT-APPELLANT'S RIGHTS UNDER THE FIFTH, SIXTH AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES ...


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