620 N.E.2d 50 (Ohio 1993), 91-13, State v. Grant

Docket Nº:91-13.
Citation:620 N.E.2d 50, 67 Ohio St.3d 465, 1993-Ohio-171
Opinion Judge:PFEIFER, J.
Party Name:The STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. GRANT, Appellant.
Attorney:James A. Philomena, Mahoning County Pros. Atty., and Kathi McNabb Welsh, Asst. Pros. Atty., for appellee. James A. Philomena, Mahoning County Prosecuting Attorney, and Kathi McNabb Welsh, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee., S. Adele Shank, for appellant., MOYER, C.J., A.W. SWEENEY, DOU...
Judge Panel:MOYER, C.J., and A. WILLIAM SWEENEY, DOUGLAS and FRANCIS E. SWEENEY, Jr., JJ., concur.
Case Date:October 27, 1993
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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620 N.E.2d 50 (Ohio 1993)

67 Ohio St.3d 465, 1993-Ohio-171

The STATE of Ohio, Appellee,

v.

GRANT, Appellant.

No. 91-13.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

October 27, 1993

Submitted May 25, 1993.

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GUILT PHASE EVIDENCE

On April 1, 1983, [67 Ohio St.3d 465] at 6:11 a.m., appellant, Rosalie Grant, called the Youngstown Fire Department to report a fire at 3127 Orrin Avenue, the house where she resided with her two infant sons, Joseph, two years old, and Donovan, one year old. A Youngstown police officer, John Mazzeo, was first on the scene. He saw Grant come out of the house next door, and Grant told him that her house was on fire and her children were inside. Mazzeo attempted a rescue, but was rebuffed by the intense smoke after opening the front door. [67 Ohio St.3d 466]

When fire fighter Terrance Paige arrived, Grant told him that "[t]he babies are in back." Fire fighters crawled into the smoke-filled house and worked their way to the children's bedroom, the only room in the house that was engulfed in flames. In five to ten minutes, the fire fighters extinguished the blaze, and were able to commence the grisly task of recovering the babies' bodies. They found Joseph first, his head still on fire. They found Donovan in a corner soon after. According to the coroner, the children died from shock and asphyxia due to their extensive burns and inhalation of smoke. The children also suffered thermal skull fractures, which occur when the brain boils and cracks the skull.

Outside the house stood Rosalie Grant, with unsinged hair, no soot on her face or eyes, and fully dressed in pants, jacket, shoes and socks. An ambulance attendant testified that Grant showed no signs of smoke inhalation. Other than her claim to a detective that she had tried to get into the children's room, there was no evidence presented that Grant had attempted to put out the fire or to save the children. Arson investigators determined that the door to the bedroom remained closed during the early and hot stages of the fire, prior to the arrival of the fire fighters.

At 7:00 a.m., Coroner's Investigator Angelo Kissos observed the two severely burned corpses at the hospital. Then Kissos spoke to Grant in the hospital's grief room. Grant told Kissos she had put the children to bed around 8:00 p.m., gave them some juice and water around 11:30 p.m., and then went to bed around 1:00 a.m. Grant asserted that the child Joe at times played with matches and had turned on the kitchen stove the night before .

Fire fighters noticed the unusual nature of the blaze early on. The fire was suspicious in that it was confined to only one room of the house, the babies' bedroom, and there was an unusual explosive flash after the fire was under control. Fire fighters and other investigators testified that while there was only minimal smoke damage in the other rooms, the children's bedroom was completely gutted.

Around 9:30 a.m. on the morning of the fire, John Zamary, a Youngstown fire department inspector, and Thomas Naples, an arson squad investigator, began to inspect the fire scene. Zamary discovered unusual deep burn patterns on the bedroom floor--there was a hole burned in and around the heat register beneath the bedroom window, and a hole burned in the cold-air return next to the door. Several other deep burns were found in the floor between the door and the window. Both Zamary and Naples smelled a flammable liquid or a petroleum-type odor throughout the bedroom. Zamary eliminated electrical or heating problems as a cause and concluded that the fire had been intentionally set and that a liquid accelerant had been used. [67 Ohio St.3d 467]

In searching the basement of the house, Naples found remains of several previous fires. A table and a door and frame in the basement had burned, there was evidence of a fire in a crawl space, and the basement fuse box had charred paper and liquid in it. Zamary and Naples noticed that the liquid had the same petroleum-type odor as the bedroom.

Detective Michael Landers spoke with Grant about the basement fires. Grant told him that the basement table fire had occurred several months previously while she was in the house, but she did not know how it was started or how it was extinguished. She denied knowing about the other basement fires.

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On April 5, Landers found a new can of charcoal lighter fluid and a partially burned kitchen chair inside a nearby vacant house. Except for the can and the chair, everything in the vacant house was dirty and dusty. The burned chair was of the same design and appearance as those in Grant's kitchen. The can bore her fingerprints. Chromatography analysis of the liquid from the can revealed hydrocarbon liquid very similar to the liquid found in the fuse box. No liquid sample was taken from the children's bedroom, and thus no comparison was made between the suspected accelerant used there and the charcoal lighter fluid.

Fire Chief Donald Cover, an arson expert, inspected the fire scene during a warrantless search on April 5. Chief Cover concluded that the fire had definitely been caused by arson, fueled by a liquid accelerant. His testimony otherwise corroborated the testimony of Naples and Zamary.

On April 14, Lee Brininger inspected the fire scene on behalf of the insuring fire casualty company. Brininger discerned a "penetrating burn pattern into the [bedroom's] wooden floor, which is indicative of a flammable liquid." He found the bedroom fire definitely to be the result of arson.

In their investigation, police discovered that Grant had purchased $5,000 worth of life insurance for each of the boys about two weeks prior to their deaths. She did not choose double indemnity. Grant listed herself as the policy owner and beneficiary, and received the policies on March 17. Contrary to the advice of her insurance agent, Grant did not purchase a policy for herself or for her three-year-old daughter Shylene, who was living with Grant's grandmother, Rosalie Carson, at the time. Grant had told the insurance agent that Carson already had a policy for Shylene, but Carson flatly denied having any insurance on Shylene or telling Grant she did.

In Grant's defense, several persons testified about strange happenings at the house in the month before the fire. On March 14, 1983, patrolman Leonard Bridges responded to Grant's house to investigate a report of a prowler. He found nothing. Grant told Bridges she had previously had problems with her boyfriend, and that someone had earlier burned clothing in her basement. [67 Ohio St.3d 468]

Kitty Carson, Grant's sister, described harassing and threatening calls for Grant that she had overheard or answered herself. One female caller said, "You'd better leave me alone," and "If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to kill both you and your kids." After the fire, the same woman called and said that Grant got what she deserved and that "she was supposed to die with them." Carson admitted that Grant may have known the caller, but there was no evidence that Grant ever told the police about the calls.

Lisa Bray, Grant's best friend, testified that she had suggested Grant to the insurance agent as a potential customer. She also testified that Grant started receiving daily threats a month before the fire. Bray recognized the voice as Marie, Grant's rival in a love triangle. Bray testified that Marie told Grant, "You're dead, bitch" and "I'm going to burn your ass." On the night before the fire, Bray testified, she overheard Marie tell Grant that "she was going to get an April Fool's bomb." Again, Grant did not mention those specific calls to police. Although Bray was interviewed by police after the fire, she never mentioned the threats until her testimony at trial.

SENTENCING EVIDENCE

Rosalie Carson testified that Grant, who she loved, was a good person and took excellent care of her children. When asked about Grant's relationship with her surviving daughter, Carson stated that Grant loved Shylene. Kathleen Carson, Grant's sister, described Grant as grief-stricken over the loss of her sons. Grant's family was deeply hurt by the tragedy, but Kathleen testified that they were standing behind her.

Dr. Jerome G. Miller, President of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, prepared a presentence report on

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Grant. Miller's report indicates that Grant was born in 1960 to Wilma and Charles Grant. Wilma Grant, a prostitute, was described by family members as unpredictable, immature, and at times violent; she had sixteen arrests and several convictions for various offenses. Rosalie had three sisters, Kitty, Karen and Pauline. Wilma and her mother moved and travelled often, at times leaving the children with friends or relatives.

According to the report, when Grant was twelve she told Carson that Wilma had "gone nuts" and had lined up three of her children, told them not to move, and started shooting. They all, however, escaped. On another occasion, Wilma told her children to hang on to their stepfather, Perry Ford, in order to impede his movement toward Wilma, whom he was threatening. As the children clung to Ford, Wilma stabbed him to death.

The report also stated that Wilma and her mother beat and mistreated the children, and that, according to Charles Grant, Rosalie's father saw them only as [67 Ohio St.3d 469] a source of welfare income. Charles is not sure that Rosalie is his biological daughter, but accepted her as such upon the advice of Carson, his mother. In his report Miller stated that Grant had positive...

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