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Date: 07-10-2019

Case Style:


Case Number: 17CA14

Judge: Matthew W. McFarland


Plaintiff's Attorney: Brigham M. Anderson, Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney, and W. Mack Anderson, Lawrence County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney

Defendant's Attorney: Darren L. Meade


In June of 2015, the State charged Appellant with aggravated
murder that included a firearm specification.1 On April 16, 2016, Appellant
agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter with a firearm
specification. However, at the sentencing hearing he requested to withdraw
his plea. The trial court informed Appellant the request should have been in
writing, and then sentenced Appellant to eleven years for voluntary
manslaughter and three years for the firearm specification, to be served
{¶4} On appeal, we reversed the trial court’s judgment to the extent
that it overruled Appellant’s request to withdraw his plea and remanded the
matter with instructions to conduct a hearing that complied with due process
standards. See State v. Elkins, 4th Dist. Lawrence No. 16CA15, 2016-Ohio
8579. On February 6, 2017, the trial court granted Appellant’s motion to
withdraw his plea. The court also restored the original indictment, finding
1 The procedural history of this case is taken from our decision in State v. Elkins, 4th Dist. Lawrence No. 16CA15, 2016-Ohio-8579, as supplemented by the trial transcript.
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 4
that it had been dismissed based on the parties’ agreement that Appellant
pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
{¶5} At Appellant’s July 2017 jury trial, Terry Elkins (“Elkins”),
Appellant’s wife, testified that she and Appellant had been married for 21
years and that she had known the victim, Rick Crager, as long as she had
known her husband. Elkins testified that several weeks before Appellant
shot and killed Crager, while she, Crager, and Appellant were at Appellant’s
home, she had performed oral sex on Appellant and then on Crager, and that
afterwards Crager slept overnight with her and Appellant in their bed.
{¶6} Elkins testified that on May 15, 2015, she was home alone when
she texted Crager asking him to bring some weight loss pills, which she said
was a stimulant. Elkins testified that she was drunk when Crager arrived
and stated that she texted Appellant, who was fishing, and asked him to
come home because Crager was coming over. She testified that both she
and Crager texted Appellant to come home. After not getting any response
from Appellant, Elkins texted Appellant that she was going to have sex with
Crager. However, she testified that because she was drunk she had no
independent recollection of whether she had sex with Crager or not. Elkins
testified that Appellant responded, texting: “I’m going to come home and
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 5
kill you both.” Elkins testified that she blacked out on the porch until
Appellant arrived home. Elkins testified that she and Crager were on the
porch when she saw Appellant approaching with a gun in his hand, which
was pointed at Crager, who was standing behind Elkins. She testified that
Appellant shot under her arm at Crager, then shot Crager again, and then
when Elkins attempted to grab the gun, fired a third shot in the air. She
testified that Appellant walked into the house, retrieved another gun, and
said “I’m going to take him out and then when I’m done with him I’m
coming after you.” Elkins then called 911.
{¶7} On redirect, the prosecutor asked Elkins if it was the first time
that Appellant shot someone in their home. Appellant’s counsel objected,
but the court summarily overruled the objection and provided no limiting
instruction. Elkins then testified that thirteen years ago Appellant and his
son, Willie, got into an argument after Willie caused “quite a bit of
commotion.” Elkins said that Appellant “told his son * * * ‘if you don’t
think I won’t shoot you in the ass you’ve got another thing coming,’ and
after Willie kept ‘pushing [Appellant’s] buttons,’ Appellant said ‘I’ll take
you and your whore wife too outside and beat the hell out of both of you.’ ”
Elkins testified that Appellant then went and “got his .38 and stepped into
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 6
the kitchen while Willie was getting him a glass of tea and he shot Willie in
the butt.”
{¶8} Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Bryant testified
that on May 15, 2015, he responded to a shooting at Appellant’s home.
When he arrived he saw a body on the front porch, who he later determined
was Crager, and then saw Appellant inside the house with a hand gun. After
deputies apprehended Appellant, they retrieved the hand gun that Appellant
had tossed on the porch, another hand gun in Appellant’s back pocket, a
knife, and some marijuana. Deputy Bryant testified that they found Elkins
locked in the bathroom.
{¶9} Proctorville Police Officer Randy Thompson testified that he
helped secure Appellant. Officer Thompson testified that when he asked
Appellant to identify the body, Appellant told him it was Crager. Appellant
also told Officer Thompson: “What would you do if you came home and
found someone fucking your wife?”
{¶10} Lawrence County Detective Aaron Bollinger testified that he
spoke to Appellant after he had been arrested and hand cuffed. Detective
Bollinger read Appellant his Miranda rights, and Appellant signed a waiver
of his rights as well. Detective Bollinger testified that the evidence indicated
that Appellant shot Crager in the arm, then, after the gun jammed and
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 7
Appellant cleared the chamber, he shot the victim in the chest. Detective
Bollinger testified that neither Appellant nor Elkins were bleeding, although
Elkins had some blood on her shirt.
{¶11} Detective Bollinger also detailed the chronology and content of
the text messages exchanged between Appellant, Elkins, and Crager on May
15, 2015. At the time Elkins sent the first text, Appellant was fishing about
25 minutes from home and Elkins was at home.
 7:56 p.m. Elkins to Appellant: Hi habibi! (wife’s name for Appellant) can rick (Crager) come out here an talk to us? really hep c he needs to

 8:06 p.m. Elkins to Crager: please come by house. I won’t let you down. I’m saying please, but it’s please p-l-e-z. xoxoxoxox.

 8:27 p.m. Elkins to Crager: Rick please join me xoxo

 8:35 p.m. Elkins to Appellant: (same message as previously sent to Appellant) Hi habibi! can rick come out here an talk to us? really hep c he needs to

 8:39 p.m. Elkins to Appellant: ? he said he was drunk don’t think he will make it really!

 9:22 p.m. Crager to Appellant: Im at ur house

 9:27 p.m. Elkins to Appellant: rick here, we havin sex k?

 9:27 p.m. Appellant to Elkins: i don’t like it at all im still fish’n damnit

 9:29 p.m. Elkins to Appellant: To late im doin it

 9:30 p.m. Appellant to Elkins: no godam’it! I kill the both of u!!
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 8
 9:32 p.m. Appellant to Elkins: hey motherfuckers

 9:34 p.m. Appellant to Elkins: no mothers

 9:34 p.m. Appellant to Elkins: anser me dam u!!

 9:36 p.m. Appellant to Elkins: I kill u both

 9:37 p.m. Elkins to Appellant: To late we r alredy waitin on u

{¶12} Dr. Donald Pojman, Deputy Coroner and Forensic Pathologist
at the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, testified that Crager had three
gunshot wounds from two separate bullets. Dr. Pojman testified that one
bullet went through the back of Crager’s right forearm, just behind the wrist.
Another bullet entered the center of the chest and stayed within the sternum.
Dr. Pojman testified that it appeared that the bullet that went through the arm
is the same one that struck the chest, and it would not have caused
incapacitation or death. Another gunshot wound entered on the left side of
the chest near the armpit and struck the left lung, the left side of the heart,
the right lung and then stopped just underneath the skin on the right side.
Dr. Pojman testified that that was what ultimately caused Crager’s death.
{¶13} At the end of the State’s case, the defense made a Crim.R. 29
motion to dismiss, which the court overruled. Appellant testified on his own
behalf and explained that he met Crager when he was probably 12 years old
and they played guitar and fished together. Appellant stated that
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 9
approximately three to four weeks prior to May 15, 2015, Crager was at his
home and Appellant and Crager were playing music and drinking pretty
heavily. Appellant explained that Elkins had fixed dinner and they ate and
watched videos on TV while Elkins put the dishes away. Appellant stated
that first they were watching an Eagles music video and then they watched a
pornographic movie. Appellant testified that Elkins came into the living
room and they all sat on the couch together and watched the movie and
drank more.
{¶14} Appellant testified that he and Elkins started kissing and “the
next thing I know she was giving me oral sex” while Crager was sitting next
to them on the couch. Appellant stated that Elkins asked “what about your
friend?” and then Crager stood up and unfastened his pants and Elkins
“started giving him oral sex, as well.” Appellant testified that all three went
into the bedroom and went to sleep.
{¶15} On cross-examination, Appellant also admitted that Elkins
wanted Crager to have vaginal intercourse with her that same evening, but
Crager was unable to maintain an erection. Appellant said the next day and
after that, the three did not talk about what occurred and no other sexual acts
occurred between the three of them. Appellant stated that he and Crager
played music and fished together several times after that.
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 10
{¶16} Appellant testified that on May 15, 2015, he was fishing with
his son and a friend, and his phone was in his Jeep. Around 8:45 p.m.,
Appellant stated that he was getting a beer out of his vehicle when he picked
up his phone and saw the messages. Appellant stated that Elkins knew he
did not like another man being at his home when he was not there and he
said his text message saying “I’ll kill you both” was an attempt to try to
“scare the two of them and get him to leave.” Appellant explained that he
packed up his fishing gear, stopped and got gas, and drove home.
{¶17} Appellant testified that when he got home, Elkins and Crager
were on the front porch and they were both naked and “appeared to be
engaged in the sex act on the porch.” Appellant stated that he fired twice
into the air to try to scare them and the gun jammed. He said he “slid the
slide back and put another shell in the chamber.” Appellant said when he
saw the two of them on the porch “I was just beside myself. I just totally
lost it.” Appellant said he told Elkins and Crager, “I told you mother fuckers
what I was going to do.” Appellant stated that he pointed his gun “in Rick’s
direction” and his wife “jumped up and grabbed my gun and the gun went
off and she shoved the gun up in the air and it went off the second time.
* * * Rick fell back on the porch.”
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 11
{¶18} When cross-examined about why Appellant’s version of events
at trial was different than his statement to police on the night of the crime,
Appellant stated that at the scene he was under the influence of whiskey and
Xanax, which he had taken after the crimes. On cross-examination,
Appellant also admitted that on the night of the murder he told Detective
Bollinger that he didn’t know if he made the right decision “by not letting
her be with him.” When asked what that meant, Appellant had explained to
Detective Bollinger, “I said um, if they was going to be together they can be
in hell together.” The State also pointed out that Appellant had told
Detective Bollinger that the night of the murder Appellant had four 10oz
beers, but told the jury he had five Xanax and a quarter of a fifth of whiskey.
Appellant also admitted that there were two other occasions when he and
Elkins engaged in sexual activity with other females.
{¶19} At the end of the defense’s case, defense counsel asked the
court for an instruction on the lesser-included offense of reckless homicide,
which the court overruled. The jury convicted Appellant of aggravated
murder with a firearm specification and the trial court sentenced Appellant
to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus one year for the firearm
specification. This appeal followed.

Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 12



{¶20} In his first assignment of error, Appellant contends the trial
court abused its discretion when it allowed Elkins to testify that Appellant
had shot his son thirteen years ago contrary to Evid.R. 404(B). Appellant
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 13
argues that this evidence does not fit within any of the exceptions listed in
Evid.R. 404(B) and was improperly admitted to show that Appellant had a
propensity for violence, and therefore was prejudicial because it could
persuade the jury that Appellant was a violent person who intentionally shot
{¶21} In response, the State argues Appellant asserted that the
shooting was a mistake in that Elkins “hit Appellant’s arm and caused the
gun to go off.” Therefore, the State argues, the evidence of the prior
shooting was admissible under Evid.R. 404(B) to prove that Appellant’s
shooting of Crager was not an accident.
{¶22} Ohio Evid.R. 402 states that “[a]ll relevant evidence is
admissible,” subject to certain exceptions in the law, including those
provided in other rules of evidence. Ohio Evid.R. 404(B) states that
“[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the
character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It
may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as * * * absence of
mistake or accident.” See also R.C. 2945.59. A trial court has broad
discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude other-acts evidence.
State v. Spaulding, 151 Ohio St.3d 378, 2016-Ohio-8126, 89 N.E.3d 554,
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 14
¶ 110, citing State v. Kirkland, 140 Ohio St.3d 73, 2014-Ohio-1966, 15
N.E.3d 818, ¶ 67. Nevertheless, courts must remember that “[b]ecause R.C.
2945.59 and Evid.R. 404(B) codify an exception to the common law with
respect to evidence of other acts of wrongdoing, they must be construed
against admissibility, and the standard for determining admissibility of such
evidence is strict.” State v. Broom, 40 Ohio St.3d 277, 281-82, 533 N.E.2d
682 (1988), citing State v. Burson , 38 Ohio St.2d 157, 158-159, 311 N.E.2d
526 (1974), State v. DeMarco, 31 Ohio St.3d 191, 194, 509 N.E.2d 1256
(1987). When the purpose of evidence of other acts is to show the absence
of mistake or accident on the part of the defendant in committing the offense
charged, it must be shown that a connection, in the mind of the defendant,
must have existed between the offense in question and the other acts of a
similar nature. The other acts of the defendant must have such a temporal,
modal and situational relationship with the acts constituting the crime
charged that evidence of the other acts discloses purposeful action in the
commission of the offense in question. The evidence is then admissible to
the extent it may be relevant in showing the defendant acted in the absence
of mistake or accident. State v. Burson, 38 Ohio St.2d 157, 159, 311 N.E.2d
526 (1974), citing State v. Moore, 149 Ohio St. 226, 78 N.E.2d 365 (1948).
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 15
{¶23} “This [three-part] requirement merely represents the common
sense conclusion that an act too distant in time or too removed in method or
type has no permissible probative value to the charged crime.” State v.
Morris, No. 88-06-081, 1989 WL 11510, at *4 (Ohio Ct. App. Feb. 13,
1989), quoting State v. Snowden (1976), 49 Ohio App.2d 7, 10.
{¶24} However, even if a court abuses its discretion by improperly
admitting other acts evidence at trial, the court’s decision is still subject to a
harmless error analysis. State v. Morris, 2014-Ohio-5052, ¶ 23, 141 Ohio
St.3d 399, 405, 24 N.E.3d 1153, 1158, State v. Ruble, 4th Dist. Washington
No. 16CA20, 2017-Ohio-7259, 96 N.E.3d 792, 801, ¶ 31. Crim.R. 52(A)
defines harmless error as: “[a]ny error, defect, irregularity, or variance which
does not affect substantial rights shall be disregarded.” “[T]he real issue
when Evid.R. 404(B) evidence is improperly admitted at trial is whether a
defendant has suffered any prejudice as a result. If not, the error may be
disregarded as harmless error.” Morris, 141 Ohio St.3d 399, 2014-Ohio
5052, 24 N.E.3d 1153, ¶ 25.
{¶25} In order to determine when a defendant’s substantial rights are
affected the Supreme Court of Ohio set forth a tripartite analysis that guides
courts that are determining whether error amounts to harmless error: First, it
must be determined whether the defendant was prejudiced by the error, i.e.,
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 16
whether the error had an impact on the verdict. Second, it must be
determined whether the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Lastly, once the prejudicial evidence is excised, the remaining evidence is
weighed to determine whether it establishes the defendant's guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt. State v. Butcher, 4th Dist. Athens No. 15CA3, 2017-Ohio
1544, ¶ 51, citing Morris, 141 Ohio St.3d 399, 2014-Ohio-5052, 24 N.E.3d
1153, ¶ 25, 27, 28, 29, 33.
{¶26} “The State has the burden of proving that the error did not
affect the substantial rights of the defendant,” i.e. the error was harmless.
Morris, 141 Ohio St.3d 399, 2014-Ohio-5052, 24 N.E.3d 1153, ¶ 23 citing
State v. Perry, 101 Ohio St.3d 118, 2004-Ohio-297, 802 N.E.2d 643, ¶ 15.
{¶27} We find the following portions from the testimony and
evidence pertinent in determining whether the trial court abused its
discretion in permitting the State to elicit from Elkins Appellant’s prior
shooting of his son.
{¶28} Direct examination by the prosecutor:
Q: Okay tell me what happened when [Appellant] came to the porch and he had the gun in his hand?

A: Um, I really can’t remember. Much other than I was trying to get the gun out of [Appellant’s] hand because he kept pointing it at [Crager]. I was trying to reach for it to grab it.”

Q: Where was [Crager]?
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 17
A: Behind me. He was using me as a human shield.

Q: Okay. And did [Appellant] fire a shot at [Crager]?

A: Yes, he did. He went underneath my arm . . .

Q: Would you stand up so we can see.

A: He went this way with the gun.

Q: Who’s he?

A: [Appellant].

Q: Okay.

A: Cause I couldn’t reach it. And when my arm was up he came down and he shot the gun * * *.

{¶29} Cross examination of Elkins by Defense Counsel:

Q: Rick was using you as a human shield, correct?

A: Um, um.

Q: And you were trying to fight the gun away from [Appellant]?

A: I was . . . yes. . .

Q: Correct? Okay, so you were wrestling to get it away, or trying to?

A: Where his . . . wherever his hand kept going I went. He kept moving it out of the way so I couldn’t grab it.

{¶30} Re-Direct Examination by the Prosecutor:

Q: You never got the gun away from [Appellant], did you?

Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 18
A: No, sir.

Q: Alright. So when you’re being crossed [sic] examined there it wasn’t that you were wrestling the gun away from [Appellant].

A: I was trying to get the gun from [Appellant].

Q: I understand you were trying to keep him from shooting [Crager], right?

A: Right.

Q: Alright, but you did not actually get the gun at any point?

A: No sir.

Q: Alright, so your hands weren’t on the gun struggling?

A: Not at all.

Q: This wasn’t some accidental shooting was it?

A: No.

Q: [Appellant] intentionally was shooting at [Crager]?

A: Yes.

Later during the Prosecutor’s Re-Direct Examination of Elkins, the
following exchange occurred:
Q: And on May 15, [Appellant] was shooting at [ ] Crager, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Is this the first time that [Appellant] ever shot someone at your home?
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 19
Defense Attorney: Objection your honor. Irrelevant.

Prosecutor: Your honor 404(B), goes to lack of accident, in Defendant’s opening statement in questioning [Elkins] he’s trying to indicate to the jury that this was some sort of accident. This was a prior act of the defendant. That was also intentionally done and I believe it’s completely admissible in Court.

Defense Attorney: Prejudicial effect your honor is going to [sic] far outweigh any probative value to this. That’s totally irrelevant to this case.

Court: Overruled, I’m going to allow it.

{¶31} Elkins was then permitted to testify that Appellant had shot his
son thirteen years earlier.
{¶32} While Appellant’s counsel claimed in opening argument that
this shooting was either reckless or negligent, but not intentional, there was
simply no evidence or testimony from Elkins that she ever touched the gun
or otherwise caused Appellant to accidently discharge his gun. On multiple
occasions, she testified that she was never able to physically touch the gun.
Moreover, just prior to asking Elkins about Appellant’s prior shooting on re
direct examination, the prosecutor had just elicited testimony from her
stating that Appellant’s shooting of Crager was in fact not accidental, but
was intentional.
{¶33} Accordingly, we find no evidence or testimony had been
introduced, let alone admitted, that could be construed as indicating that
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 20
Appellant’s shooting of Crager was accidental, prior to the prosecutor asking
Elkins about Appellant’s prior shooting of his son. Absent such evidence,
there was no basis under Evid.R. 404(B) for the trial court to admit the prior
shooting as evidence that Appellant did not accidently shoot Crager in this
{¶34} Moreover, Appellant shot his son 13 years prior to Appellant’s
shooting of Crager. Therefore, we find also that this incident is too remote
in time from the current shooting. See generally State v. Wright, 4th Dist.
Washington No. 00CA39, p. 15, quoting Snowden, 49 Ohio App.2d at 10,
359 N.E.2d at 91. (“A prior act which is * * * too distant in time or too
removed in method or type has no permissible probative value.”).
{¶35} For the aforementioned reasons, we find that the trial court
abused its discretion in overruling Appellant’s objection to Elkins testifying
about Appellant’s shooting his son 13 year ago.
{¶36} However, that does not end our analysis. We must still
determine whether the admission of the prior shooting was nevertheless
harmless error.
{¶37} Under the first prong of the Morris test, we find nothing in the
“record” that affirmatively indicates that the jury verdict was impacted by
the admission of the prior acts evidence. Morris, 141 Ohio St.3d 399, 406,
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 21
2014-Ohio-5052, 24 N.E.3d 1153, ¶ 27. Moreover under the second and
third prongs of the Morris test, we are persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt
that the error was harmless, because irrespective of Appellant’s prior
shooting, there is overwhelming evidence supporting Appellant’s aggravated
murder conviction. Id., at ¶ 29, citing State v. Rahman, 23 Ohio St.3d 146,
151, 492 N.E.2d 401 (1986).
{¶38} Notably, we begin with the Appellant’s text message expressly
threatening to kill both Crager and his wife after Appellant learned they
were having sex. In fact, he reiterated that he would kill them both later, in a
second text message. And despite having time to contemplate his threat
during the approximately 20-minute drive home from his fishing expedition,
when he arrived, he exited his vehicle, drew his handgun from his pocket
and proceeded to shoot Crager, not once, but twice, despite pleas from
Elkins and Crager for Appellant to not shoot.
{¶39} Appellant testified explaining that his text threatening to kill
Crager and his wife was merely intended to scare them. Yet, on cross
examination, Appellant admitted that while Crager was “pleading for his
life,” Appellant said “I told you mother fuckers what I was going to do.”
This admission bolsters that the initial threat to kill both Crager and Elkins
was indeed a threat, and not just an attempt to scare them.
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 22
{¶40} This conclusion is also supported by Elkins’ testimony that
Appellant was pointing the gun at Crager and that the shooting was not an
accident, but rather an intentional act.
{¶41} Accordingly, because the admission of the other acts evidence
was harmless in light of the overwhelming evidence that Appellant acted
with prior calculation and design beyond a reasonable doubt in shooting
Crager, Appellant’s first assignment of error is overruled.
{¶42} In his second assignment of error, Appellant asserts that he was
denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States and comparable provisions of the
Ohio Constitution because trial counsel failed to object to evidence of other
bad acts contained in the recording of Appellant’s interview with the
detective. Specifically, Appellant alleges that during Detective Bollinger’s
questioning of Appellant regarding the Crager shooting, Appellant alluded to
a previous discussion with a sheriff’s deputy about Appellant’s firearm
collection and a drug investigation of Appellant.
{¶43} “To establish constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel,
an accused must establish that (1) his counsel's performance was deficient,
and (2) such deficient performance prejudiced the defense and deprived the
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 23
accused of a fair trial.” State v. Jensen, 4th Dist. Pickaway No. 07CA21,
2008-Ohio-5228, ¶ 8, citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 80
L.Ed.2d 674, 104 S.Ct. 2052 (1984).
{¶44} “In order to show deficient performance, the defendant must
prove that counsel's performance fell below an objective level of reasonable
representation. To show prejudice, the defendant must show a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's error, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” State v. Canterbury, 4th Dist. Athens No. 13CA34,
2015-Ohio-1926, ¶ 66, quoting State v. Conway, 109 Ohio St.3d 412, 2006–
Ohio–2815, 848 N.E.2d 810, ¶ 95. Courts may not simply assume the
existence of prejudice, but must require the defendant to affirmatively
establish prejudice. State v. Clark, 4th Dist. Pike No. 02CA684, 2003-Ohio
1707, 2003 WL 1756101, ¶ 22, citing State v. Tucker, 4th Dist. Ross No.
01CA2592, 2002 WL 507529 (Apr. 2, 2002). “Failure to establish either
element is fatal to the claim.” State v. Fox, 4th Dist. Washington No.
14CA36, 2015-Ohio-3892, ¶ 28, citing State v. Jones, 4th Dist. Scioto No.
06CA3116, 2008–Ohio–968, ¶ 14.
{¶45} “When considering whether trial counsel's representation
amounts to deficient performance, ‘a court must indulge a strong
presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 24
professional assistance.’ ” State v. Adams, 4th Dist. Lawrence No. 15CA2,
2016-Ohio-7772, ¶ 90, citing State v. Pickett, 4th Dist. Athens No. 15CA13,
2016-Ohio-4593, 2016 WL 3483653, ¶ 38, quoting Strickland v.
Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 689, 80 L.Ed.2d 674, 104 S.Ct. 2052. A trial
counsel's failure to object is generally viewed as trial strategy and does not
establish ineffective assistance. State v. Teets, 4th Dist. Pickaway No.
16CA3, 2017-Ohio-7372, ¶ 71, citing State v. Roby, 3rd Dist. Putnam No.
12-09-09, 2010-Ohio-1498, ¶ 44; State v. Eason, 7th Dist. Belmont No. 02
BE 41, 2003-Ohio-6279, ¶ 133 (finding trial counsel's failure to object to a
potential Doyle violation fell within the gambit of trial strategy), see also
State v. Foust, 105 Ohio St.3d 137, 153, 2004-Ohio-7006, 823 N.E.2d 836,
¶ 93. “ ‘ ‘A competent trial attorney might well eschew objecting * * * in
order to minimize jury attention to the damaging material.’ ’ ” Canterbury,
4th Dist. Athens No. 13CA34, 2015-Ohio-1926, ¶ 70, quoting State v.
Topping, 4th Dist. Lawrence No. 11CA6, 2012-Ohio-5617, ¶ 80; quoting
State v. Mundt, 115 Ohio St.3d 22, 2007-Ohio-4836, 873 N.E.2d 828, ¶ 90;
quoting United States v. Payne, 741 F.2d 887, 891 (7th Cir. 1984), see also
State v. Franklin, 97 Ohio St.3d 1, 2002-Ohio-5304, 776 N.E.2d 26, ¶ 42
(stating that “[a] reasonable attorney may decide not to interrupt his
adversary's argument as a matter of strategy”); State v. Clay, 7th Dist.
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 25
Mahoning No. 08MA2, 2009–Ohio–1204, ¶ 141 (stating that [l]imiting
objection during closing is a trial tactic to avoid trying to draw attention to
the statements.”).
{¶46} Appellant complains that his trial counsel failed to object to
Appellant’s references to a Georgia warrant for his arrest and to an
investigation into Appellant regarding illicit drug activity under Evid.R.
404(B). In order to understand the context in which these issues were
discussed, we cite the relevant portions from the transcript of Detective
Bollinger’s questioning of Appellant.
{¶47} During the interview, Appellant, on his own initiative, brought
up that he was concerned how the news would talk about his firearm
collection. Later in the interview, Appellant also brought up the drug
{¶48} After Detective Bollinger handed Appellant a consent-to
search-property form, the following conversation occurred:
Appellant: You’re probably going to look through it anyway. The reason I was telling you about the guns was I probably had what they would call a small arsenal in there. Cause I had some shells . . .

Bollinger: That doesn’t shock me at all, okay Bill? I’ve got a lot of friends that have a small arsenal.

Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 26
Appellant: I live up here on a hill. I got four and a half acres and my house is situated in about the middle of it. Which allows me to not have any neighbors. And I like it that way.

Bollinger: It’s nice to have some privacy.

Appellant: Well I go out and shoot my guns whenever I want to. And Jeff Lawless was here and told me personally, he said you can shoot as many guns as you want to. And I told him that there’s a pistol in my glove box and he said, I don’t have a problem with that but he said, what I do have a problem with, he said they have a warrant out for your arrest in the state of Georgia. When I went to get one of my guns back from Mack & Dave’s where I pawned it, they denied me to have my gun back. They said I was a . . . (Emphasis added.)

Bollinger: Because of the warrant?

Appellant: . . . fugitive from justice, and that they had transferred from Georgia to Ohio. And Sheriff Lawless told me, he said, cause I was in the house. He come to the front door. If I’d been doing anything wrong would I have said come on in?

Bollinger: No. No.

Appellant: I said come on in. He come inside and I told him, you know, I said I think I know what you’re here about. He said what’s that? I said it’s about that damn loitering ticket from Georgia. And he said no, that’s not what I’m here about. He said I’m here to inquire about your suspicious traffic and drug activity in your home. With an anonymous letter. I’m pretty sure I know where that letter come from. But . . . (Emphasis added.)

Bollinger: It wasn’t true right?

Appellant: Pardon me?

Bollinger: It wasn’t true right?
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 27
Appellant: At one time it was. {¶49} The discussion regarding the warrant and the sheriff’s
investigation are topics that are not probative of Appellant’s aggravated
murder charge. However, while both address possible violations of the law
by Appellant, one is for loitering and the other merely discusses an
investigation. And neither addresses a violent offense. Moreover, neither
issue was elicited by Detective Bollinger’s questioning. Rather, Appellant
raised these issues on his own. Most importantly however, we presume that
Appellant’s counsel purposely failed to object to either to avoid unnecessary
attention to relatively innocuous issues. Canterbury, 4th Dist. Athens No.
13CA34, 2015-Ohio-1926, ¶ 70.
{¶50} However, even if we had concluded that Appellant’s counsel
was deficient for failing to object to these issues, we find the language in
State v. Twitty, 2002-Ohio-5595, ¶ 99, instructive:
“Even assuming arguendo that defense counsel performed deficiently by failing to object to some of the unnecessary and highly emotional testimony discussed in the fourth assigned error, given the overwhelming evidence of Defendant's guilt on these offenses, we cannot say that but for defense counsel's failure to object there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of this trial would have been different. No prejudice has been demonstrated.”

{¶51} Similar to Twitty, we find that even if Appellant’s counsel’s
failure to object to Appellant’s references to the Georgia warrant and the
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 28
drug investigation was deficient, it was nevertheless insufficient to result in
prejudice because of the overwhelming evidence of Appellant’s guilt that we
reviewed in resolving Appellant’s first assignment of error.
{¶52} Accordingly, Appellant’s second assignment is overruled.
{¶53} In his third assignment of error, Appellant asserts that even if
the court finds the first and second assignments of error harmless on their
own, the court should still rule in favor of Appellant because the errors in
this case, taken together, have the cumulative effect of depriving Appellant
of a fair trial.
{¶54} Pursuant to Appellant’s first proposition of law, we held that
the trial court abused its discretion in permitting Elkins to testify about
Appellant shooting his son 13 years ago, but we held that it was harmless
error because it did not result in prejudice to Appellant. However, pursuant
to Appellant’s second assignment of error, we held that his trial counsel was
not deficient for failing to object to Appellant’s references to the Georgia
warrant for his arrest and regarding the drug investigation. Accordingly,
because there is no cumulative error, Appellants’ third assignment of error is

Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 29
{¶55} In Appellant’s fourth assignment of error, he asserts that his
conviction for aggravated murder was against the manifest weight of the
evidence because the State failed to prove that he acted with prior
calculation and design in killing Crager.
{¶56} In considering whether a verdict is against the manifest weight
of the evidence, “a reviewing court asks whose evidence is more
persuasive—the state's or the defendant's?” State v. Wilson, 113 Ohio St.3d
382, 2007-Ohio-2202, 865 N.E.2d 1264, ¶ 25. “[A] reviewing court's duty is
to weigh the evidence and all reasonable inferences, consider the credibility
of witnesses and determine whether the trier of fact clearly lost his or her
way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction
must be reversed.” State v. Garrow, 103 Ohio App.3d 368, 370-371, 659
N.E.2d 814 (4th Dist.1995), citing State v. Brown , 38 Ohio St.3d 305, 528
N.E.2d 523(1988), see, also, State v. Banks, 78 Ohio App.3d 206, 604
N.E.2d 219 (1992); State v. Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d 172, 485 N.E.2d 717
(1st Dist.1983).
{¶57} “The reviewing court sits, essentially, as a ‘thirteenth juror’
and may disagree with the fact finder's conclusions regarding conflicting
testimony during trial.” State v. Varney, 4th Dist. Hocking Nos. 07CA19,
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 30
07AP19, 2008-Ohio-4038, ¶ 20, citing State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio St.3d
380, 387, 1997-Ohio-52, 678 N.E.2d 541 (1997). “ ‘However, this review is
tempered by the principle that questions of weight and credibility are
primarily for the trier of fact.’ ” Id., quoting Garrow at 371, 659 N.E.2d 814.
{¶58} “If the prosecution presented substantial evidence upon which
the trier of fact could reasonably conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that
the essential elements of the offense had been established, the judgment of
conviction is not against the manifest weight of the evidence.” State v.
Picklesimer, 4th Dist. Pickaway No. 14CA17, 2015-Ohio-1965, ¶ 8, citing
State v. Eley, 56 Ohio St.2d 169, 383 N.E.2d 132 (1978), syllabus. “ ‘ ‘A
reviewing court should find a conviction against the manifest weight of the
evidence only in the ‘exceptional case in which the evidence weighs heavily
against the conviction.’ ’ ” State v. Taylor, 4th Dist. Ross No. 13CA3419,
2016-Ohio-1231, 62 N.E.3d 591 ¶ 31, quoting State v. Thompkins, 78 Ohio
St.3d at 387, quoting Martin, 20 Ohio App.3d at 175.
{¶59} In an aggravated murder case, the State must prove a defendant
acted with “prior calculation and design” in killing the victim. R.C. 2903.01.
“There is no ‘bright-line test that emphatically distinguishes between the
presence or absence of prior calculation and design.’ Instead, each case
turns on the particular facts and evidence presented at trial.” State v. Walker,
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 31
150 Ohio St.3d 409, 2016-Ohio-8295, 82 N.E.3d 1124 (2016), ¶ 20, citing
State v. Taylor, 78 Ohio St.3d 15, 20, 676 N.E.2d 82 (1997), State v.
Braden, 98 Ohio St.3d 354, 2003-Ohio-1325, 785 N.E.2d 439 (2003),
¶ 61, State v. Maxwell, 139 Ohio St.3d 12, 2014-Ohio-1019, 9 N.E.3d 930,
(2014), ¶ 148. The Supreme Court “traditionally [has] consider[ed] three
factors in determining whether a defendant acted with prior calculation
and design: ‘(1) Did the accused and victim know each other, and if so, was
that relationship strained? (2) Did the accused give thought or preparation to
choosing the murder weapon or murder site? and (3) Was the act drawn out
or ‘an almost instantaneous eruption of events?’ ” Taylor, 78 Ohio St.3d at
19, quoting State v. Jenkins, 48 Ohio App.2d 99, 102, 355 N.E.2d 825 (8th
Dist.1976). “Evidence of an act committed on the spur of the moment or
after momentary consideration is not evidence of a premeditated decision or
a studied consideration of the method and the means to cause a death.” State
v. Phillips, 4th Dist. Scioto No. No. 18CA3832, 2018-Ohio-5432, ¶ 28,
citing Walker, 150 Ohio St.3d 409, 2016-Ohio-8295, 82 N.E.2d 1124, ¶ 18.
{¶60} Appellant and Crager had known each other since childhood.
When Appellant read his wife’s text that “[Crager] here, we havin sex k?,”
Appellant responded: “I don’t like it at all im still fish’n damit.” Based on
Appellant’s text, there was strain between Appellant and Crager.
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 32
Appellant’s wife then responded “to [sic] late im doin it.” Appellant’s
response elevated to an expressed threat: “no godam’it! I kill the both of u!!”
When his wife did not respond, Appellant followed with: “hey
motherfuckers” and later with “anser [sic] me dam u!!” Appellant also sent
another text that he was going to kill both of them. At this point, at least
from Appellant’s perspective, the relationship between Appellant and Crager
was stressed to the point of Appellant threatening to kill Crager and his wife.
{¶61} Moreover, Appellant had sufficient time during his
approximate 25-minute drive home from fishing to contemplate his threat to
kill, yet when he arrived at his house he carried out that threat – by drawing
his gun, approaching the porch, and shooting Crager twice.
{¶62} We hold that this evidence is sufficient to constitute prior
calculation and design under R.C. 2903.01. See State v. Phutseevong, 2005
Ohio-1031, ¶ 30 (“The defendant’s decision to shoot [the victim], although
quickly conceived, was sufficiently removed in time from the threats and
confrontations * * * to permit prior calculation and design.”).
{¶63} Therefore, we find that the jury did not lose its way in
concluding that Appellant acted with prior calculation and design in
shooting Crager, so Appellant’s conviction for aggravated murder is not
Lawrence App. No. 17CA14 33
against the manifest weight of the evidence. As such, Appellant’s fourth
assignment of error is overruled.

Outcome: Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

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