State Of Ohio v. Brenson

Decision Date28 September 2010
Docket NumberCase No. 08-CRI-04- 0207A,Case No. 09-CA-18
Citation2010 Ohio 4645
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee v. JAMES BRENSON Defendant-Appellant
CourtOhio Court of Appeals

APPEARANCES: For Plaintiff-Appellee DAVID A. YOST DELAWARE PROSECUTING ATTORNEY BY: KYLE ROHRER

For Defendant-Appellant WILLIAM T. CRAMER

JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. John W. Wise, J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J.

CHARACTER OF PROCEEDING: Appeal from the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas,

JUDGMENT: Affirmed in part, Reversed in part Remanded Gwin, P.J.

{¶1} Defendant-appellant, James Brenson, appeals his convictions for one count of aggravated murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.01(A), one count of aggravated murder, in violation of R.C. 2903.01(B), murder with repeat violent offender specification in violation of R.C. 2903.02(B), kidnapping with repeat violent offender specification in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(2), kidnapping with repeat violent offender specification in violation of R.C. 2905.01(A)(3), aggravated robbery with repeat violent offender specification in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(1), and one count of aggravated robbery with repeat violent offender specification in violation of R.C. 2911.01(A)(3). Plaintiffappellee is the State of Ohio.

STATEMENT OF THE FACTS AND CASE

{¶2} On June 11, 2000, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Norman "Duck" Herrell was at his home talking on the telephone with his ex-wife, Phyllis Gaskins. A knock on the door at Herrell's house interrupted the conversation. Herrell told Gaskins that he would call her back, but he never called.

{¶3} The next morning, Herrell did not report to work at his furniture store, J&D furniture. His son, Michael Herrell, became concerned, and tried repeatedly to call his father throughout the day. When he still could not reach Herrell by the afternoon, Michael went to Herrell's house to check on him.

{¶4} Michael testified at trial that when he arrived at Herrell's house, the door was unlocked and there were blankets hanging over the windows in the living room. Michael stated that his father was an immaculate housekeeper and that when he entered the home on June 12th, the house was a mess, it appeared to have beenransacked, and Herrell's gun cabinet was open and his guns were missing. Michael found his father lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood in the basement. He called 911.

{¶5} The arriving officers searched the house for additional victims or suspects. No one else was found to be in the residence. They also checked for, but did not find, evidence of a forced entry.

{¶6} After determining that Herrell's death was a homicide, the Delaware Police Department contacted the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (B.C.I.) for assistance in processing the crime scene.

{¶7} While processing the scene, officers recovered several pieces of evidence. They recovered two knives, including a small brown knife from the love seat in the basement, which appeared to have blood on it. After DNA tests were run on the knife, it was determined that, the blood present on the knife was that of Herrell.

{¶8} Officers also recovered a pair of brown cloth gloves, which were saturated with blood. DNA recovered from those gloves matched both Herrell's DNA and subsequently that of Brenson's co-defendant William Allen. Additionally, authorities recovered a long-sleeved, blue shirt that later was determined to possess the DNA of Allen, as well as his wife, Silvy Allen1.

{¶9} Officers also recovered a guest receipt from a Meijer store in Oregon, Ohio, which is near Toledo. They were able to determine that a person who identified himself as K.W. Yowpp made the purchase and a return on June 9, 20002. K.W. Yowpp is a known alias of Brenson. Brenson's fingerprint was retrieved from the receipt.

{¶10} Brenson's fingerprint was also recovered from an envelope at Herrell's house containing a dog tag.

{¶11} While searching Herrell's home, authorities observed that many items in the house had been disturbed, including pictures taken off walls, chairs moved from the kitchen to rooms that had blankets over the windows, rooms that had been ransacked, as if the intruder(s) were looking for something. They also observed a large quantity of illegal fireworks in the basement of the house.

{¶12} Several days following the initial search of Herrell's house, authorities returned to the house after learning that Herrell had a safe hidden in the house. Herrell's family had not disclosed to the authorities that the safe existed, but after authorities asked about the safe, Herrell's daughter, who was the only person besides Herrell with the combination to the safe, opened it for them. Contained within the safe were silver coins, old stopwatches, a deed to rental property owned by Herrell, and some jewelry.

{¶13} Franklin County Deputy Coroner, Dorothy Dean, testified that Herrell had been stabbed fifty-one times. Three of the stab wounds were potentially fatal.

{¶14} During the investigation of Herrell's murder, officers discovered that Herrell and Brenson spent several months in prison together at Marion Correctional Institution in 1981. Herrell's children were also familiar with Brenson, having seen him with Herrell before. Herrell's children identified Brenson as "Muhammad."

{¶15} Sometime in 2001, officers learned that Ohio Highway Patrol Trooper Brandon Spaulding stopped Brenson during the evening hours of June 11, 2000, on U.S. 23 South in the area of Bucyrus, Ohio. Trooper Spaulding testified at trial that hewas running license plates on vehicles at a rest area, when he ran the license plate on Brenson's red Ford F-150 at approximately 8:51 p.m. The truck was registered to Mustafa Muhammad, which is Brenson's son. At that time, Trooper Spaulding believed that the license plate on the truck actually belonged on a different vehicle. The trooper pulled his cruiser up behind Brenson's vehicle and got out of his cruiser to approach Brenson. Upon approaching Brenson, Trooper Spaulding noted that Brenson was sitting in the vehicle alone.

{¶16} Trooper Spaulding determined that he had conveyed one of the letters on the license plate incorrectly to the dispatcher, and started to explain the mistake to Brenson. Brenson became angry and began swearing at the trooper, claiming that the trooper was harassing him because of his race. Trooper Spaulding noticed that Brenson's front license plate was in the dashboard. He warned Brenson to attach the license plate to the front of the vehicle. Eight minutes after he initiated the stop, Trooper Spaulding cleared the call and left the rest stop.

{¶17} According to Brenson3, he then went to the next exit to obtain materials to attach the license plate to the front of the truck. Brenson testified in 2002 and 2008 before the Delaware County grand jury that he was on his way to Delaware, Ohio, to purchase fireworks from Herrell. He also stated in his 2008 grand jury testimony that he purchased zip ties to secure the license plate to the front of the truck4.

{¶18} In March 2001, the police recovered Brenson's truck, and found no blood in the truck. They did find that his front license plate was attached to the front of the truck with a coat hanger.5

{¶19} At trial, Phyllis Gaskins testified that when she was speaking on the phone with Herrell on the night of June 11, 2000, he told her that two "white guys" were at the door. She later retracted her statement, claiming that Herrell would not have called the men "white guys." Brenson later told authorities that he saw a van with "two white guys" come up to Herrell's house as he was leaving. He claimed they were in a white van with Cuyahoga County license plates on it.

{¶20} Brenson told the grand jury that he left Herrell's house that night and returned to Toledo, arriving home around 11:00 or 12:00 that night6.

{¶21} Brenson also testified before the grand jury that he and Allen had been friends since 1979, that they both lived in Toledo, and that they had taken numerous trips together over the years. At trial, the prosecution called numerous friends and family members of Brenson to testify that they had seen Brenson with Allen multiple times throughout the years.

{¶22} In October 2005, Allen became linked to Brenson through an informant. Allen reported being the victim of a felonious assault. As a result, the police obtained a blood sample from Allen. Subsequently, police were able to link Allen's DNA to the shirtfound in Herrell's kitchen. Allen was also found to have a 1-in-30 chance of being a contributor to the DNA found on the blood soaked cloth gloves in Herrell's kitchen.

{¶23} Prior to being informed that his DNA was found at the scene of a crime, during an interview with the police in 2005 when he was the victim of a felonious assault, Allen informed the police that he was good friends with Brenson, whom he identified as "Muhammad." When the police showed Allen a photograph of Herrell, his demeanor changed and he looked at the picture and stated that he did not know him.

{¶24} A car dealer in Toledo testified at trial that in April 2000, Allen purchased a car for $600 and then sold it back in July 2000 for $200. Shanica Masadeh, Silvy Allen's daughter, testified at trial that Silvy and Allen suddenly moved to Florida in July 2000, and that Silvy gave custody of her to Silvy's grandmother because Silvy could not support her. The police obtained records from Florida that Allen and Silvy both worked for a temporary agency from August 8, 2000, to December 20, 2000.

{¶25} Brenson's first defense attorney, Thomas Beal, testified at trial that he had a conversation with the Delaware County Prosecutor on December 3, 2000, that the indictment against Brenson would be dismissed, most likely by December 15, 2000. Allen then returned to Ohio in late December, 2000.

{¶26} Brenson was originally indicted for the murder of Herrell in Delaware County Common Pleas Case Number 00-CR-I-07-01...

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