Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
Criminal Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common
Pleas Case No. CR-87-223820-ZA
Micahel C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting
Attorney, and Christopher D. Schroeder, Assistant Prosecuting
Attorney, for appellee.
Timothy Young, Ohio Public Defender, and Kimberly S. Rigby
and Erika M. Lahote, Assistant State Public Defenders, for
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
A. JONES, SR, JUDGE.
In 1988, defendant-appellant Melvin Bonnell
("Bonnell") was sentenced to death after a jury
found him guilty of two counts of the aggravated murder of
Robert Bunner ("Bunner") with felony murder and
firearm specifications, one count of aggravated burglary with
firearm and aggravated felony specifications, and recommended
a death sentence to the trial court.
2} In the years since, as will be set forth below,
Bonnell has been challenging his convictions and sentence,
without success. The record shows (and has been conceded by
the state through the years) that some evidence from the
crime scene was either not collected or preserved, including
blood droppings from the back porch and its railing; vomit
located near Bunner's body; certain fingerprints;
substances on Bonnell's hands; the contents of
Bonnell's car; and some of the clothes Bonnell was
wearing on the night of the murder. The failure to collect
and preserve the evidence has been a central challenge made
by Bonnell throughout the years.
3} Relative to this appeal, in January 2018, Bonnell
filed a motion for leave to file a motion for a new trial,
contending that he had new evidence. In January 2019, the
trial court denied his motion for leave without a hearing,
and adopted plaintiff-appellee's, the state of Ohio,
unopposed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.
For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's
4} The following facts are summarized from the
direct appeal, State v. Bonnell, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga
No. 55927, 1989 Ohio App. LEXIS 4982 (Oct. 5, 1989).
5} As mentioned, the victim was Bunner. He lived
with Ed Birmingham ("Birmingham") and Shirley Hatch
("Hatch") in the upstairs portion of an apartment
on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland. On November 27, 1986, Bunner,
Birmingham, and Hatch began drinking in their apartment at
noon. Bunner and Hatch continued drinking into the early
morning hours of the following day; Birmingham, who was
intoxicated, went to bed at 8:30 p.m. Id. at 2.
6} At approximately 3:00 a.m., on November 28, Hatch
heard a knock on the back door. She looked through the
peephole on the door, but could not identify who was there;
the person outside identified himself as "Charlie."
Hatch then asked Bunner to help; Bunner opened the door.
7} When Bunner opened the door, Hatch saw Bonnell
standing there with his hands in his coat pocket. Bonnell
walked into the kitchen, uttered an expletive, and fired
twice at Bunner at close range. Hatch testified that Bonnell
then turned to her, but she was able to run to
Birmingham's bedroom. Bonnell, 8th Dist.
Cuyahoga No. 55927, 1989 Ohio App. LEXIS 4982.
8} Hatch woke Birmingham up, and Birmingham went
into the kitchen where he saw Bonnell sitting on top of
Bunner and striking him repeatedly in the face. Id.
at 2-3. Birmingham intervened, pulling Bonnell off Bunner;
Birmingham then threw Bonnell out the door and down the back
steps. Hatch called the police. Id. at 3.
9} Two of the downstairs tenants testified at trial.
They heard a commotion at the time in question, and at about
the same time they heard the commotion, they also heard what
they believed was someone falling heavily to the floor. One
of them also testified that it sounded like someone had
fallen down the back steps. The neighbors testified that they
did not see a car, but heard the sound of car wheels
"squealing." Immediately after hearing the
"squealing," one of the neighbors saw a police car
with its lights on pass by the apartment. Id.
10} Meanwhile, two Cleveland police officers were
patrolling on Bridge Avenue when, at approximately 3:40 a.m.,
they saw a blue Chevrolet without headlights on travelling
backward on the street. The police attempted to stop the car,
but the driver, later identified as Bonnell, sped away and a
chase ensued. Bonnell eventually crashed into a funeral home.
Bonnell, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 55927, 1989 Ohio
App. LEXIS 4982.
11} One of the officers at the crash scene received
an emergency call about the murder at the apartment and left
to respond to that scene. Upon arriving at the scene, the
officer got a description of the assailant and realized that
it matched the person who had crashed the blue Chevrolet into
the funeral home, that is, Bonnell. Bonnell was transported
to the hospital, where Birmingham identified him as the
assailant. Id. at 3-4.
12} The police searched the crash area and found a
.25 automatic pistol. Test firings of the pistol revealed
that it fired the bullets that were removed from Bunner's
body. Id. at 4.
Bonnell presented witnesses on his behalf. The witnesses
corroborated a statement Bonnell had made to the police, that
on the day of the incident, he had been out drinking with a
friend, Joe Popil. In his statement, Bonnell maintained that
Popil owned the gun and was driving the blue Chevrolet.
According to Bonnell, Popil stopped at the Bridge Avenue
address and entered the apartment alone with the weapon. When
Popil returned to the car, he put the gun in the glove
compartment. Bonnell stated that he (Bonnell) passed out from
the drinking and did not remember anything thereafter until
he woke up in the hospital. According to Popil, he had been
out with Bonnell, but he maintained that he was driven home
at 11:30 p.m., whereupon he got sick from drinking.
Bonnell, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 55927, 1989 Ohio
App. LEXIS 4982 (Oct. 5, 1989).
14} As mentioned, this case has been extensively
litigated in the years since Bonnell was convicted and
sentenced. The following is a summation of the prior history.
15} In his direct appeal to this court, Bonnell
raised 30 assignments of error challenging his convictions
and sentence. The alleged errors included challenges to the
sufficiency and weight of the evidence, allegations that the
state failed to provide exculpatory or favorable evidence
prior to trial, and an allegation that the trial court erred
by denying his motion to suppress an unnecessarily suggestive
line-up. This court found the alleged errors, with the
exception of one, without merit and affirmed the convictions
but remanded for resentencing solely on the aggravated
burglary conviction. Id. at 42.
to Ohio Supreme Court
16} Bonnell appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court,
where he presented 29 propositions of law. The court found
the "evidence of [Bonnell's] guilt to be
overwhelming," and affirmed his convictions and
sentence. State v. Bonnell, 61 Ohio St.3d 179, 183,
187, 573 N.E.2d 1082 (1991).
Appeal to United States Supreme Court
17} Bonnell attempted to appeal to the United States
Supreme Court, but the court denied his petition for a writ
of certiorari. Bonnell v. Ohio,502 ...