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State v. Elliott

Court of Appeals of Ohio, First District, Hamilton

September 6, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
MARKEISHA ELLIOTT, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Trial No. B-1702979 Court of Common Pleas

         Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed

          Joseph T. Deters, Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, and Sean M. Donovan, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Michael J. Trapp, for Defendant-Appellant.

          OPINION

          Bergeron, Judge.

         {¶1} The gasoline of social media, poured on a simmering feud, sparked a conflagration that left one person dead. A murder prosecution ensued, resulting in a conviction that gives rise to this appeal. But the defendant only presents an ineffective assistance claim in this appeal, insisting that defense counsel should have pursued an "accident" theory at trial rather than "defense of another." The record, however, undermines the vitality of the accident theory, preventing us from concluding that trial counsel committed a strategic blunder here. For the reasons discussed below, we accordingly affirm the conviction.

         I.

         {¶2} During an afternoon in May 2017, Tyshara Walker was involved in a physical altercation with an acquaintance after being refused a ride, and she ultimately summoned the police to report the incident. After the altercation, Ms. Walker returned to work and tried to put the matter behind her, but the constant ding of Facebook alerts on her phone distracted her. Like wildfire, word spread about the incident and Ms. Walker's decision to call the police, which attracted the scorn of the Facebook community. Shawnice Johnson chimed in with the mob-like chorus, prompting a Facebook back-and-forth between her and Ms. Walker in which the two eventually agreed to "meet up" that evening, mutually understood to be an agreement to fight.

         {¶3} By the time the two met on the corner of Stanton Avenue and Oak Street, the entire neighborhood appeared aware of the looming fight and eager to witness it. Though disputed whether everyone pulled up in cars with Ms. Walker, or if the crowd was already milling about, by the time Ms. Johnson and Ms. Walker met face-to-face, a crowd had gathered (some members even brandishing makeshift, Walking Dead-esque weapons). Among those present in the crowd was Ms. Walker's older sister, Markeisha Elliott.

         {¶4} Though initially someone attempted to defuse the situation, the scene quickly devolved into a melee, with Ms. Walker and Ms. Johnson at the epicenter. With punches and kicks flying, the two combatants ultimately tumbled to the ground. Video footage captured on cellphones from that evening reveals that it was then that Ms. Elliott, sitting on the sidelines until this point, advanced over to where her sister and Ms. Johnson wrestled on the ground. She approached the two with a small, pointed object in hand, which Ms. Elliott later acknowledged was a knife. Ms. Elliott then bent over and made a thrusting movement with the hand holding the knife in the direction of Ms. Johnson. In the wake of that blow, Ms. Johnson stumbled to her feet, clutching her neck. The crowd quickly dispersed as the severity of Ms. Johnson's wounds became apparent. Though rushed to the hospital, the knife had punctured Ms. Johnson's left carotid artery; she eventually lost consciousness and later died. After a police investigation, Ms. Elliott was indicted and tried for murder, two counts of felonious assault, and tampering with evidence.

         {¶5} At trial, Ms. Elliott's defense counsel presented a defense of another theory, seeking to establish that she acted only to protect the life of her sister that evening. On the witness stand, Ms. Elliott admitted she stabbed Ms. Johnson, but portrayed it as an accident:

Q: * * * What happened when you reached in to pull these people apart?
A: I accidently stabbed [Ms. Johnson].
Q: * * * And I'm going to ask you, why did you stab [Ms. ...

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