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State v. Rutledge

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

August 27, 2019

State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Lincoln S. Rutledge, Defendant-Appellant.

          APPEAL from the Franklin County C.P.C. No. 16CR-2072 Court of Common Pleas

         On brief:

          Ron O'Brien, Prosecuting Attorney, and Steven L. Taylor, for appellee.

          Timothy Young, Ohio Public Defender, Stephen P. Hardwick, and Allen Vender, for appellant.


          Steven L. Taylor.

          Stephen P. Hardwick.


          LUPER SCHUSTER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Lincoln S. Rutledge, appeals from a judgment entry of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas finding him guilty, pursuant to jury verdict, of aggravated murder, felonious assault, attempted murder, and aggravated arson. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         {¶ 2} By indictment filed June 7, 2016, plaintiff-appellee, State of Ohio, charged Rutledge with one count of aggravated arson in violation of R.C. 2909.02, a second-degree felony; one count of aggravated murder in violation of R.C. 2903.01, an unclassified felony; one count of aggravated murder of a police officer in violation of R.C. 2903.01(E), an unclassified felony; four counts of attempted murder in violation of R.C. 2923.02 and 2903.02, first-degree felonies; and four counts of felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11, first-degree felonies. The indictment also contained capital specifications for killing a law enforcement officer, killing during a course of conduct involving the purposeful killing or attempt to kill two or more persons, and killing for the purpose of escaping detection, apprehension, trial, or punishment for aggravated arson. Additionally, all of the counts except aggravated arson included a 7-year specification for discharging a firearm at a peace officer and a 3-year specification for the use of a firearm. The charges related to the shooting death of Steven M. Smith, a SWAT officer with the Columbus Police Department, as well as the attempted murder of four other police officers. Rutledge entered a plea of not guilty.

         {¶ 3} At the trial beginning June 2, 2017, the evidence indicated that on April 8, 2016, Rutledge's wife, Jennifer Young, informed Rutledge that he could come to her home that weekend to pick up some of his items. Rutledge and Young were separated at the time, and she was out of town but had friends house sitting for her who would be able to give Rutledge access to the house. Rutledge replied by email, demanding that she give him money, and writing:

If you back me into a corner where it's my life or your bullshit, what choice do you think I will have to make? There is no choice. I have to survive. I'll get what's mine with a fountain pen or gun. You can take that to heart. There is nowhere for you to hide.

(Tr. at 1293.)

         {¶ 4} After receiving Rutledge's threatening email, Young called her house sitters and asked them to leave her house and take her dog to another location. The house sitters left Young's house on the morning of April 9, 2016 and locked the house. Rutledge arrived at Young's house after the house sitters had left, and surveillance video from a nearby parked car showed Rutledge go around to the back of the house. One of Young's neighbors also saw Rutledge at the back of Young's house. The surveillance video then showed Rutledge drive away, and, approximately 28 minutes later, it showed smoke coming from Young's home. Firefighters arrived on the scene to extinguish the fire. A subsequent investigation found the fire was purposely set with the aid of an ignitable liquid, and investigators noted an odor of gasoline in the bedroom.

         {¶ 5} That same day, fire investigators were able to review the surveillance video from the nearby parked vehicle. The video led police to obtain an arrest warrant for Rutledge at 10:34 p.m. and a search warrant for his residence at 11:15 p.m.

         {¶ 6} SWAT officers from the Columbus Police Department were waiting at Rutledge's address, 14 West California, to execute the warrants. The officers knocked loudly and announced their presence as police. The officers continued to knock for at least 20 minutes. Although Rutledge did not respond to the knocking at his door, the SWAT officers surrounding the residence could see the silhouette of someone moving inside turning off a light and attempting to hide.

         {¶ 7} The SWAT officers determined that it was a barricade situation and called for all SWAT officers to report to the scene. Police used a loudspeaker system from one of their vehicles to advise Rutledge that they were the Columbus Police and were outside his home. Further, police advised Rutledge that they were not going to hurt him and that they wanted him to come outside peacefully. As part of their announcement over the loudspeaker, police repeatedly stated "There is a warrant for your arrest. You need to exit the premises immediately." (Tr. at 1567.) A neighbor in an adjacent building testified he could hear the repeated police announcements. In the darkness of the apartment, police could see that Rutledge was flickering a lighter.

         {¶ 8} While the SWAT officers were outside repeatedly asking for Rutledge to surrender, Rutledge was located in the back bedroom of his apartment. Officer Dennis Prestel and Officer Troy Palmer were able to gain access to the basement directly underneath the back bedroom of Rutledge's apartment. The SWAT officers decided to turn off the electricity to the apartment through the circuit breaker box in the basement and were communicating their plan through their police radios when Rutledge fired a gun down through the floor in the direction where the officers were located. The bullet grazed Officer Palmer's ballistic vest. Officers Prestel and Palmer could see the dust settle from the shot directly above them.

         {¶ 9} The SWAT officers decided to breach the front door of Rutledge's residence, and they did so by ramming it open. Officer Charles Distelhorst and Officer Tim O'Donnell took positions at the breached front door and repeatedly yelled "Columbus police, SWAT. We are outside. We are not leaving. We have a warrant for your arrest. You need to make yourself known inside the house." (Tr. at 1864.) Rutledge responded by saying "I'm not coming out. Stay out of my house. Do not come in here." (Tr. at 1865-66.)

         {¶ 10} Minutes after those announcements, Rutledge began firing a number of gunshots at the group of officers by putting his arm around the corner of the bedroom doorway and firing his weapon, a mid-sized black handgun. As he fired these four or five shots, Rutledge was screaming "Get the fuck out of my house." (Tr. at 1948.)

         {¶ 11} Officer Distelhorst then yelled at Rutledge to "[q]uit shooting," telling him he was "making this way worse than it has to be." (Tr. at 1948.) Rutledge told the officers he was invoking the Castle doctrine, and Officer Distelhorst tried to explain to Rutledge that the Castle doctrine would not apply to his current situation since the officers had a warrant for his arrest. Officer Distelhorst repeatedly pleaded with Rutledge to put down his gun and show his hands to be taken into custody. Rutledge responded by saying, "You fucking pussy, why don't you come in here and get me?" (Tr. at 1965.)

         {¶ 12} As the stand-off continued, police sent two robots through the front door to assess the situation. Rutledge fired shots at the robots and disabled both of them. The SWAT officers then introduced tear gas and knee-knockers through the back bedroom window, but Rutledge still did not surrender.

         {¶ 13} Eventually, the SWAT officers decided to use a camera to attempt to see into the back bedroom. The officers used a "Bearcat" armored vehicle, planning to drive it as close as possible to the back bedroom window. Officer Enoch White was driving the vehicle, and Officer Smith was positioned atop the vehicle, standing upright through a turret and using the opened hatch to provide partial cover. Officer Smith had his rifle in order to provide cover for the officers who were on foot. The officers planned for Officer David Thivener to use a pole to clear out the glass and blinds still obscuring the window, at which point Sergeant Scott Bray was to extend the camera on a pole through the window.

         {¶ 14} When Officer Thivener began to use the pole to clear out the window, Rutledge fired his gun between five to ten times and was screaming, "Come and get me, you fucking pussies." (Tr. at 1664.) From his vantage point inside the armored vehicle, Officer White could see the muzzle flashes from Rutledge's gun being fired methodically from a low position in the bedroom, aimed toward the armored vehicle. Officer White could hear shots hit the armored vehicle, including the windshield where he was positioned, and then another shot hit Officer Smith in the head. After realizing Officer Smith had been shot, Officer Thivener came around to the back of the armored vehicle ...

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