Login | October 21, 2020

7th District affirms convictions in Youngstown shootings

Legal News Reporter

Published: September 30, 2020

The 7th District Court of Appeals has affirmed the convictions in two fatal Youngstown shootings.
Gregory James was convicted by a Mahoning County jury of two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault, one count of aggravated burglary, one count of intimidation of a witness and seven firearm specifications.
On March 8, 2017, Ronald Lewis reported that his half-brother, Javel Bates, had been shot outside Lewis’ home in the victim’s car.
Bates died several weeks later, but his injuries were so severe that detectives could never interview him. However, eventually Lewis told police that Bates told him James was one of the people who shot him.
On the same day Bates died, Lewis made a threatening post on Facebook.
Two days later, Lewis was asleep in bed with his wife, Tracey, at their home when they saw two masked men standing in their bedroom doorway holding guns. Ronald died after sustaining 17 gunshot wounds; Tracey suffered 13 but survived.
Another woman sleeping in the home downstairs but was not shot.
Youngstown Officers Colleen Villio and Jeff Kay discovered the couple and heard Tracey faintly say she was dying. They also saw that the kitchen door to the outside was propped open with a garbage can and the window by the kitchen sink was also open. They also saw a ladder near the kitchen sink window.
DNA at the scene belonged to James and a man named Jordan Kennedy who was in jail awaiting trial on an unrelated charge.
James was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 30 years and an additional 12 years for the firearm specifications.
On appeal, he argued the trial court erred by allowing the state to introduce unfairly prejudicial hearsay statements of the victim and his brother-in-law.
There are three sets of statements admitted at trial that James argued violated his right under the Confrontation Clause or otherwise constituted inadmissible hearsay: Bates’ statements to Lewis; Lewis’ statements to Detectives David Sweeney and Ronald Barber at Lewis’ house, and Lewis’ statements to Sweeney and Barber at the Youngstown Police Department.
The appellate panel first examined whether each statement violated James’ right under the Confrontation Clause.
In his 3-0 opinion, 7th District Judge Gene Donofrio said two of the statements did not violate the clause.
However, the panel determined Lewis’ statement to the detectives at the police station to give his official statement was in violation.
“After Detectives Sweeney and Barber completed their investigation at the house, they asked Ronald to come to the Youngstown Police Department to give an official statement,” Donfrio said. “Ronald’s statement to the detectives at the Youngstown Police Department was testimonial in nature. Detectives Sweeney and Barber had already investigated at the house. They were aware of the details surrounding Javel’s shooting by the time Ronald gave this statement. They were not attempting to resolve an ongoing emergency. Instead, they were attempting to establish or prove a past act. As such, the admission of this statement violated appellant’s confrontation rights.
However, the admission of Lewis’ statement to detectives at the station that James was one of the people who shot his half-brother was found to be harmless error because it was identical to his statement to the detectives at his home.
Next, the panel examined the admissibility of these statements under the Ohio Rules of Evidence.
The panel noted that the victim’s statement that appellant shot him met two exceptions to the hearsay rule because it qualified as both an excited utterance and a present-sense impression.
“In this case, at the time Javel made the statement to Ronald, Javel had just recently been shot. Javel’s statement to Ronald was about the startling event of him being shot while Javel was still under the stress of being shot. Therefore, Javel’s statement to Ronald qualified as an excited utterance,”’ Donofrio wrote. “Moreover, Javel made this statement soon after being shot while he was still bleeding and had yet to be transported to the hospital. Thus, the statement also qualified as a present-sense impression.”
Seventh District judges Carol Ann Robb and David D’Apolito concurred.
The case is cited State v. James, 2020-Ohio-4289.