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State v. Garcia-Toro

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

December 26, 2019

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CARLOS GARCIA-TORO, Defendant-Appellant.

          Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CR-17-621593-A


          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, and Maxwell M. Martin and Joanna Lopez-Inman, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for appellee.

          John P. Parker, for appellant



         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant Carlos Garcia-Toro ("Garcia-Toro") appeals from his convictions and sentence for aggravated murder and attempted murder. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         Procedural and Substantive History

         {¶ 2} On March 9, 2016, 22-year-old victim Jose Reyes ("Jose") was shot and killed upon leaving work shortly after 6 p.m. Jose and his 15-year-old nephew, Efrain Garcia, Jr. ("Efrain") worked at an auto shop on West 43rd Street in Cleveland, Ohio. Jose and Efrain left work together on the date of the incident because Jose was going to give Efrain a ride home. When Jose's car would not start, Efrain got out of the car to check its battery while Jose remained in the driver's seat. As Efrain started to get back into the vehicle on the passenger side, he noticed a man wearing black clothing and a ski mask approach the car. The man fired multiple shots into the car, killing Jose and shooting Efrain in the leg. The shooter fled on foot southbound on West 43rd and then turned east onto Newark Avenue, running into the yard located at 4221 Newark Avenue, Garcia-Toro's grandmother's house.

         {¶ 3} Efrain's father, Efrain Garcia, Sr. ("Efrain, Sr.") also worked at the auto shop with Jose and was still there when Jose and Efrain left that day. He heard gunshots and screams and saw Jose start to run and then collapse to the ground.

         {¶ 4} Officers responded to the scene and observed one deceased victim, Jose. Officers proceeded to talk to Efrain and other people at the scene in an attempt to identify a possible suspect. Detective Timothy Entenok ("Detective Entenok") was the detective assigned to the case. He spoke with various people at the scene and eventually obtained cell phone video footage of the presumed shooter fleeing the scene after the shooting, as well as video surveillance footage from two nearby houses.

         {¶ 5} Jadiris DeJesus ("Jadiris") is Efrain's mother and Jose's sister. Shortly after Jose's murder, Garcia-Toro's sister, Noemi Garcia ("Noemi") reached out to one of Jadiris's other brothers, Edwin Reyes, via Facebook Messenger. Jadiris then reached out Noemi within a week of Jose's murder. Noemi claimed to know the name of the person who killed Jose, and Jadiris made plans over Facebook Messenger to meet Noemi in person. Jadiris and Noemi met in the parking lot of a Walmart store. Jadiris recorded the half-hour conversation and subsequently sent the recording to the Cleveland Police Department.

         {¶ 6} Subsequently, Garcia-Toro reached out to Jadiris himself. On one occasion, Garcia-Toro called Jadiris, and the rest of their communications took place through Facebook. Garcia-Toro sent Jadiris photos of himself, and subsequently the two video chatted on Facebook messenger. Garcia-Toro used a Facebook account under the name Gabriel Ruiz. At one point, police arrested Garcia-Toro's brother for Jose's murder; during a call with Jadiris, Garcia-Toro said police "had the wrong guy." Police subsequently secured an arrest warrant for Garcia-Toro, and he was arrested on September 14, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. At the time, Garcia-Toro was using the alias Edwin Sayan.

         {¶ 7} On September 25, 2017, the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury indicted Garcia-Toro on one count of aggravated murder, one count of murder, four counts of felonious assault, one count of attempted murder, and one count of having weapons while under disability. With the exception of having weapons while under disability, each of the counts carried one- and three-year firearm specifications.

         {¶ 8} On July 23, 2018, the state filed a motion in limine to exclude expert testimony from Amanda Hubbard ("Hubbard"). Hubbard was a private investigator hired by Garcia-Toro to review all of the social media and digital evidence collected by the state in connection with his case. On August 2, 2018, the court held a hearing on the state's motion in limine to exclude Hubbard's expert testimony. The court granted the motion in part, finding that Hubbard was precluded from testifying with respect to her opinions as to circumstantial evidence linking Garcia-Toro to social media accounts, but she would be permitted to testify as to the facts of her investigation.

         {¶ 9} Garcia-Toro waived his right to a jury trial as to the having weapons while under disability count, and the case proceeded to a jury trial on the remaining seven counts on September 24, 2018. The state called 12 witnesses. Responding Officer Dymphna O'Neill and paramedic Michael Bank testified as to their response to the crime scene. Detective Darren Robinson testified as to his documentation of the crime scene and collection of evidence from the scene. Efrain and Efrain, Sr. both testified as to their accounts of the murder. Jadiris testified that she received a call about the murder and came to the scene. Jadiris also testified at length about her communications with an individual she believed to be Garcia-Toro following Jose's murder. One of Jadiris's brothers, Jonathan "J.D." DeJesus ("J.D."), testified as to his communications with this individual as well. Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph Felo ("Felo") testified as to Jose's manner and cause of death, and Cuyahoga County Forensic Scientist Lisa Przepyszny testified as to the trace evidence report that was prepared in this case.

         {¶ 10} Ron Mansour ("Mansour") testified that he was at a friend's house near the scene of the murder on March 9, 2016, when he heard gunshots. Shortly thereafter, Mansour heard emergency vehicles arrive at the scene, and he observed a Hispanic male who appeared to be in his early twenties running down the street. Mansour testified that from where he was on his friend's porch, he heard this young man tell someone that he had to stop and "get rid of the gun." Edwin Rivera testified that he was friends with Jose and used to work at the auto shop. On the date of the murder, shortly after Jose and Efrain left the shop, Rivera stopped by to talk to Efrain, Sr. He was at the shop when he heard gunshots and witnessed Efrain running back to the shop saying that Jose had been shot. Finally, Detective Entenok testified as to his investigation in this case, including his investigation of communications between Jadiris, J.D., and the individual they believed to be Garcia-Toro.

         {¶ 11} Garcia-Toro called Hubbard and Brian Juzman ("Juzman"), a pastor at a church in Connecticut, as witnesses. The state made an oral motion to dismiss the charge of having weapons while under disability, and the court granted that motion.

         {¶ 12} On October 4, 2018, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all seven counts and corresponding specifications. The court held a sentencing hearing on November 1, 2018. The court stated that it had reviewed the presentence investigation report and heard from the prosecutor, defense counsel, Garcia-Toro, and several members of the victims' family. Counts 1, 2, 3, and 4 merged for sentencing, and Garcia-Toro received a sentence of 33 years to life on Count 1 (aggravated murder). Counts 5, 6, and 7 merged for sentencing, and Garcia-Toro received a sentence of 14 years on Count 5 (attempted murder). The court ordered the sentences to be served consecutively for an aggregate term of 47 years to life.

         {¶ 13} Garcia-Toro appeals, presenting the following assignments of error for our review:

I. The appellant was denied conflict-free counsel under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth amendments of the federal Constitution and Art. I Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution.
II. The prosecutor improperly elicited testimony about the timing of the Notice of Alibi in violation of the [Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth] Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution.
III. The State failed to authenticate the Facebook account of Gabriel Ruiz as belonging to or being utilized by the appellant in violation of the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and State v. Gordon, 2018-Ohio-2292 (par. 69-72) and it otherwise contained improper other acts evidence contrary to Evid.R. 404(B) and the Fourteenth Amendment.
IV. Hearsay testimony and improper argument about a meeting between Jadiris DeJesus and alleged sister of appellant deprived appellant of Due Process and a fair trial under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
V. The admission of gruesome photos of the decedent violated the Fourteenth Amendment and Evidence Rules 401-403.
VI. Defense counsel were ineffective under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
VII. Consecutive sentences were improper under Ohio law.
VIII. The evidence supporting the identity of the shooter violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
IX. The convictions are against the weight of the evidence.
X. The cumulative errors in the trial denied appellant due process under the Ohio and ...

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