Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common
Pleas Case No. CR-18-627962-A
Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting
Attorney, and Andrew T. Gatti, Assistant Prosecuting
Attorney, for appellee.
Stanton, Cuyahoga County Public Defender, and Francis
Cavallo, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
EILEEN KILBANE, ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE
¶1} Defendant-appellant, Gina M. Huler
("Huler"), appeals her conviction for aggravated
arson. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
2} In May 2018, Huler was charged with one count of
aggravated arson, in connection with a fire that occurred at
the Parma, Ohio residence she shared with her boyfriend and
two of their three children, as well as with their two dogs.
In December 2018, the matter proceeded to a bench trial.
3} At trial, through the testimony of 11 state
witnesses and Huler, who testified in her own defense, it was
established that Huler and her boyfriend, Grant Delewski
("Delewski"), rented the house where the fire
occurred for approximately four years. Huler and Delewski had
an unwritten month-to-month tenancy requiring them to pay
$400 per month, plus the cost of the utilities.
4} On April 13, 2018, the day of the fire, Delewski
was at work, and the two sons were at work and school,
respectively. Their landlord, Bernadette Kulikowski
("Kulikowski"), hired masons to tuck-point the
chimney of the house, as well as the house next door, which
had also been owned by Kulikowski. At approximately 1:00
p.m., after leaving the house twice and returning for the
second time around 12:30 p.m., Huler came out of the house
yelling and screaming that there was a fire inside and her
dogs were trapped inside the house. Two neighbors assisted
Huler by calling 911, and one of the masons rescued one of
the dogs. The second dog was rescued after the fire
department, police, and dog warden arrived on the scene.
5} The fire department extinguished three distinct
fires in the home; one on the landing between the first floor
and the basement; one on a hanging mail and key holder; and
one at the entrance to the kitchen. There was evidence to
suggest there would have been a fourth fire, but it failed to
erupt. The fire caused approximately $4, 200 worth of damage.
6} Huler's neighbor Delores Whitescarver
("Whitescarver") testified at the trial.
Whitescarver testified that on the day of the fire, she
happened to be looking periodically out her window, which
faces Huler's house. Whitescarver stated she could see
the masons at work on the roof next door and later working on
Huler's house. Whitescarver testified that when Huler
returned home around 12:30 p.m., she appeared to speak
briefly with the older of the two masons, and then went
inside. Whitescarver stated that about 30 minutes later, she
observed Huler running down the driveway and across the
street screaming "fire."
7} Neighbors Dale Mitchell ("Mitchell")
and Lauren Anselmo ("Anselmo") live across the
street from Huler. Mitchell testified that he helped rescue
one of the dogs when Huler ran across the street screaming
"fire" and indicated that her dogs were still
inside the house. Mitchell testified he had to enter the
house twice before the dog would come out of the house.
Anselmo testified that she had observed Huler walking her
dogs the morning of the fire. Anselmo stated that sometime
between 9:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., Huler got in her car and
left. Anselmo testified that sometime between 12:30 p.m. and
1:00 p.m., she heard pounding on the side door and then heard
Huler screaming and asking for help to save her dogs. On
cross-examination, Anselmo testified that she had noticed
that morning that Huler's dining room window, which was
normally open, was closed. Anselmo testified it was a
beautiful day and the only window Huler had open was the
8} Delewski, who works as a contractor, testified he
was in downtown Cleveland, when a neighbor notified him of
the fire. Delewski headed home, but the fire was extinguished
by the time he arrived. Later that evening, in an interview
with fire inspectors, Delewski expressed the belief that
sparks were flying while the masons worked on the chimney,
which traveled down the chimney through the attic floor and
started the fires.
9} One of the masons, Michael Doracak
("Doracak"), testified that he retired from the
Strongsville Fire Department after 33 years and has been
involved in general contracting for 40 years. Doracak
testified that Kulikowski hired him to tuck-point around the
chimneys of the two houses, one of which was Huler's.
Doracak explained that tuck-pointing involves cleaning out
mortar joints with a grinder and then remortaring the joints.
Doracak further explained that the process produces a lot of
dust and does not produce any sparks. Doracak testified that
in his 33 years as a firefighter, he had never responded to a
fire caused by the grinding of mortar joints.
10} Doracak worked on Huler's house earlier that
day and was on the roof of the second house, when he observed
Huler running across the street yelling that the house was on
fire. Doracak came down off of the roof to provide
assistance. Doracak testified that smoke was billowing out
the front door, so he used a crowbar to open the side door,
and he was able to rescue one of the dogs. Doracak testified
that by the time the fire department arrived, the fire was
out and the house just needed ventilation.
11} Raymond Alessandro ("Alessandro"), a
concrete contractor, testified that he worked with Doracak
the day of the fire at Huler's house. Alessandro
testified that he witnessed the fire, came down off of the
roof, and provided assistance opening the side door so they
could rescue the dogs. Alessandro also explained that
grinding mortar joints does not produce sparks. Alessandro
testified that there were no sparks when they tuck-pointed
the chimney of Huler's house.
12} Mollie Jordan ("Jordan"), of the State
Fire Marshal's Forensic Lab, testified that she analyzes
evidence for possible ignitable liquids, possible latent
fingerprints, and also swabs for DNA. Jordan testified that
she tested the debris from the fire. Specifically, Item
Number 1, debris from the kitchen and hallway floor, tested
negative for ignitable liquids; Item Number 2, debris from
the kitchen table, tested negative for ignitable liquids;
Item Number 3, debris from the trash can on the stairs,
tested positive for acetone; Item Number 4, debris from the
attic, tested positive for gasoline; and Item Number 5,
plastic bottle from the attic, tested positive for gasoline.
13} Jordan testified that Item Number 5, the plastic
bottle, was processed for latent prints, but no prints of
value were found. In addition, the lid of the bottle was
swabbed for DNA and the swab was sent to BCI for testing.
Jordan testified the report from BCI indicated there was no
DNA suitable for testing. Jordan explained that if someone
touched an item for only a second or with freshly ...