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State v. Jones

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

December 19, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
GREGGORY JONES, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-17-617001-A.


          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, and Brian D. Kraft, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

          Britt Newman, for appellant.



         {¶ 1} Greggory Jones appeals from his convictions of felonious assault and tampering with evidence and the firearm specifications accompanying tampering with evidence. He also challenges the maximum term he received for tampering with evidence. On appeal, he raises the following assignments of error for our review:

1. Appellant's conviction for felonious assault was not based on sufficient evidence and was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
2. Appellant's conviction for tampering with evidence was not based on sufficient evidence and was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
3. The trial court erred in sentencing appellant to serve a three-year firearm specification attached to the tampering with evidence charge due to the state's failure to prove the elements of the specification.
4. The trial court erred in sentencing appellant to serve a one-year firearm specification attached to the tampering with evidence charge since the alleged tampering rendered the firearm inoperable.
5. The trial court erred when it sentenced appellant to consecutive firearm specifications in violation of his constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his right to substantive due process.
6. Appellant was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel due to the cumulative effect of counsel's errors.
7. The trial court erred in sentencing appellant to a maximum term of imprisonment on his conviction for tampering with evidence.

         {¶ 2} After a careful review, we affirm Jones's convictions of felonious assault, tampering with evidence, and the one-year gun specifications accompanying his offenses, and his sentence for these offenses. We, however, find merit to the third assignment of error and, accordingly, vacate the three-year firearm specification associated with his offense of tampering with evidence.

         {¶ 3} The indictment against Jones stemmed from the death of Raymond Laster. On September 15, 2016, Laster's half-naked, bullet-ridden body was found in a deserted backyard. On that same day, Jones, naked and in a PCP-induced haze, was found walking in a street, and the clothing scattered around him had Laster's blood on it. The lab test subsequently showed Laster's body to be positive for PCP as well.

         {¶ 4} In connection with Laster's death, Jones was indicted for aggravated murder (R.C. 2903.01(A)), murder (R.C. 2903.02(B)), felonious assault (R.C. 2903.11(A)(1)), felonious assault (R.C. 2903.11(A)(2)), and tampering with evidence. Each of the five counts was accompanied with one- and three-year firearm specifications.

         Trial Testimony

         {¶ 5} At trial, the state presented the testimony from the police officers who investigated the shooting, the pathologist who performed the autopsy, a crime analyst specialized in cell-tower mapping, two forensic scientists, a firearm examiner, Jones's ex-girlfriend, and Laster's girlfriend. The testimony reflects that on September 15, 2016, a half-naked body was discovered in a deserted backyard on Parkview Avenue in the east side of Cleveland. The police received the call about the body around 2:40 p.m. The victim was shirtless, and his pants were pulled down. He had multiple gunshot wounds, and a 9 mm shell casing was located near the body. His cell phone and wallet were still in his possession.

         {¶ 6} Sometime in mid-afternoon, the police also responded to a dispatch call indicating a man was "taking his clothes off and also possibly wielding a gun." When the police arrived, they saw a naked man getting in and out of a vehicle, a gold Chrysler, and walking around. The police found a pair of pants, a shirt, and a cell phone near him.

         {¶ 7} The man, Greggory Jones, was eventually arrested without incident. The police suspected he was high on PCP because people under the influence of PCP have a tendency to take their clothes off. Jones was taken to the hospital after he was arrested, and a toxicology test showed him to be indeed high on PCP. When he awoke from his disoriented state, he told the police that people were trying to rob and kill him. A vial of PCP was later found inside the car.

         {¶ 8} There was a pool of fresh blood on the front passenger seat of the Chrysler. The blood was subsequently matched to Laster's DNA. Laster's blood was also detected on Jones's shorts retrieved from where Jones was found.

         {¶ 9} Although the victim sustained seven "through-and-through" shots (meaning the bullets passed through the body), no bullets were found inside the vehicle. Inside the vehicle, however, the police found a 9 mm H&K semiautomatic handgun "broken into pieces" and nine, 9 mm shell casings. The police did not perform DNA testing on the shell casings found inside the car, and the DNA testing performed on the shell casing found near the body did not produce a useful profile. However, James Kooser of the Cuyahoga County Regional Forensic Science Laboratory, a firearms examiner, testified that he compared all ten shell casings - nine from inside the vehicle and one found near the victim's body - with the firearm found in the Chrysler. Although the firearm was missing the barrel and the side return spring, he used a loaner barrel and spring for test-firing. Kooser was able to determine that all ten, 9 mm casings were fired from the same firearm and that they were fired from the firearm found inside the vehicle.

         {¶ 10} Laster, the victim, lived with his girlfriend on South Moreland Road, several blocks from Parkview Avenue where his body was found. Laster had dropped off his girlfriend at her workplace at 9:00 a.m. The last time she spoke with him was around 9:50 a.m.

         {¶ 11} A detective from the police department testified regarding video footage shot from multiple camera angles covering the area outside Laster's apartment building. The footage showed that around 10:00 a.m., Laster was seen exiting his apartment building, and at 10:25 a.m., the video showed a gold vehicle pull up. The detective also testified that he was able to determine from his viewing of the video footage that Laster went inside the vehicle.

         {¶ 12} A crime analyst with the Cleveland Police Department conducted cell-tower mapping of the cell phone found with Jones when he was arrested. The cell-tower records showed that sometime before 10 a.m., the cell phone was in the general area of the South Moreland Road location where Laster was last seen and the Parkview Avenue location where his body was found.

         {¶ 13} The Chrysler's owner turned out to be Arruth Glass, who used to date Jones but their relationship had ceased to be romantic before the incident. She was also the owner of the dismantled handgun found in the vehicle. The defense's theory is that Maurice Grey, Glass's younger brother, shot and killed Laster and that the bullets that killed Laster came from a different gun, not the gun found in the vehicle.

         {¶ 14} Glass testified that she lived on Langley Avenue with her mother. Her brother Maurice Grey, who was 18 years old in 2016, also resided there. She worked the night shift as a security guard at Case Western Reserve University, and she kept the gun locked in the glove compartment of the vehicle. On the day of the incident, she dropped her children off at their school at 7:30 a.m. and returned to her house at 7:45 a.m. She parked her vehicle in her driveway and placed her keys, including the keys to her vehicle and the glove compartment, on the kitchen table. She then took a bath and a long nap in preparation for her night shift at the university.

         {¶ 15} Sometime after noon, she was awakened by a phone call from Jones's mother about the shooting incident and saw that her vehicle was missing from her driveway. Glass testified that she did not give Jones permission to use her vehicle or the firearm in the glove compartment.

         {¶ 16} Glass also testified that she had seen Jones socialize with Laster on a few occasions. Regarding her brother, Glass testified on direct examination that he was home that morning and, to her knowledge, he never left the house. She knew that because when she received the phone call from Jones's mother about the shooting, her brother was still in the same pajamas when she saw him earlier that morning. She testified that "[h]e looked like he didn't go anywhere. He was walking around with his hair all messed up on his head. You can tell he didn't go anywhere. You could tell." She also testified she had never seen her brother with the victim.

         {¶ 17} The defense did not introduce its own witnesses, but tried to link Glass's brother to the shooting during its cross-examination of Glass. She was asked if she had told a detective that, while she was taking a bath, Jones came into the house and took the keys from her brother, and she learned about it from her brother. In response, Glass testified that she remembered telling the detective that while she was taking a bath, her brother let Jones into the house but her brother did not realize Jones took the keys off the table.

         {¶ 18} On redirect examination, Glass testified that she moved in with her mother after breaking up with Jones. She was in an abusive relationship with Jones, and she wanted to get away from him.

         {¶ 19} At the close of the state's case-in-chief, the defense moved for an acquittal of all charges. The trial court denied the motion but granted the prosecutor's motion to amend the aggravated murder count to the lesser-included charge of purposeful murder under R.C. 2903.02(A).

         {¶ 20} The defense rested without presenting its own witnesses. At closing argument, defense counsel offered its interpretation of the testimony presented at trial: that Maurice Grey, rather than Jones, was the shooter. Without elaboration, defense counsel suggested to the jury that "Maurice Grey was on the phone in the car when those [cell] towers pinged, and Greggory Jones got into the car afterwards."


         {¶ 21} The jury found Jones not guilty of the two murder counts - under R.C. 2903.02(A) ("purposely cause the death of another") or under R.C. 2903.02(B) ("cause the death of another as a proximate result of the offender's committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree"). The jury also found Jones not guilty of felonious assault as defined in R.C. 2903.11(A)(2) ("knowingly * * * [c]ause or attempt to cause physical harm to another * * * by means of a deadly weapon"). The jury found him guilty of felonious assault as defined in R.C. 2903.11(A)(1) ("knowingly * * * [c]ause serious physical harm to another"). The jury also found him guilty of tampering with evidence in dismantling the firearm.

         {¶ 22} Regarding the firearm specifications in connection with felonious assault, the jury found Jones guilty of the one-year firearm specification (possessing a firearm) but not guilty of the three-year firearm specification (displaying, brandishing, or indicating the possession of the firearm, or using it to facilitate the offense). Regarding the firearm specifications in connection with tampering with evidence, the jury found Jones guilty of both the one-year and the three-year firearm specifications.

         {¶ 23} The jury verdicts were seemingly inconsistent - Jones was found not guilty of the murder counts and also not guilty of felonious assault in causing the victim physical harm by means of a deadly weapon, yet he was found guilty of felonious assault in causing the victim serious physical harm. In addition, the jury found that, while committing the latter offense, Jones had a firearm under his possession (one-year firearm specification) but did not display or brandish the firearm, indicate he possessed the firearm, or use it to facilitate the assault (three-year firearm specification). Understandably, among the claims raised by Jones on appeal is the claim that the jury's verdicts were inconsistent, and the inconsistency reflects that the jury lost its way and, therefore, his convictions were against the manifest weight of the evidence.


         {¶ 24} The trial court sentenced Jones to a maximum eight-year term for his felonious assault conviction in addition to one year for the accompanying firearm specification. The court also sentenced him to a maximum three-year term for his conviction of tampering with evidence and a merged three-year term for the three-year and one-year firearm specifications accompanying tampering with evidence. His prison term totals 15 years.

         {¶ 25} Jones raises seven assignments of error for our review. The first and second assignments of error concern the sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence for his convictions of felonious assault and tampering with evidence.

         Standard of Review for Sufficiency and Manifest Weight of Evidence

         {¶ 26} When assessing a challenge of the sufficiency of the evidence, a reviewing court examines the evidence admitted at trial and determines whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259, 574 N.E.2d 492 (1991), paragraph two of the syllabus. "The relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. A reviewing court is not to assess "whether the state's evidence is to be believed, but whether, if believed, the evidence against a defendant would support a conviction" State v Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d 380, 390, 678 N.E.2d 541 (1997) (Cook, J, concurring).

         {¶ 27} Unlike sufficiency of the evidence, manifest weight of the evidence raises a factual issue.

"The court, reviewing the entire record, weighs the evidence and all reasonable inferences, considers the credibility of witnesses and determines whether in resolving conflicts in the evidence, the jury clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered. The discretionary power to grant a new trial should be exercised only in the exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily against the conviction."

Thompkins at 387, quoting State v. Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d 172, 175, 485 N.E.2d 717 (1st Dist.1983). "[T]he weight to be given the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses are primarily for the trier of the facts." State v. DeHass, 10 Ohio St.2d 230, 227 N.E.2d 212 (1967), paragraph one of the syllabus.

         Felonious Assault

         {¶ 28} Under the first assignment of error, Jones argues his conviction for felonious assault as defined in R.C. 2903.11(A)(1) ("cause serious physical harm to another") was not based on sufficient evidence and was against the manifest weight of the evidence. He claims there was inadequate evidence to show he was the one who fired the shots that killed Laster.

         {¶ 29} Our review of the trial transcript shows the state presented evidence showing that Laster was picked up from his South Moreland apartment by a gold-colored vehicle the morning of the shooting. His half-naked body turned up in a backyard on Parkview Avenue, only several blocks away. A 9 mm shell casing was found near his body. Jones was found sometime in mid-afternoon, naked and in a PCP-induced haze, getting in and out of a gold Chrysler. Inside the vehicle, the police found a dismantled firearm and nine shell casings. The state's ballistic testing matched the firearm found inside the vehicle to the shell casings retrieved from the vehicle as well as the single shell casing near the victim's body. In addition, the victim's blood was found on the passenger seat and on Jones's shorts. The cell-tower record also supported the state's claim that Jones picked up Laster in ...

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