State v. CEPEC, 2013–0915.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation75 N.E.3d 1185,2016 Ohio 8076,149 Ohio St.3d 438
Docket NumberNo. 2013–0915.,2013–0915.
Parties The STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. CEPEC, Appellant.
Decision Date13 December 2016

149 Ohio St.3d 438
75 N.E.3d 1185
2016 Ohio 8076

The STATE of Ohio, Appellee,
CEPEC, Appellant.

No. 2013–0915.

Supreme Court of Ohio.

Submitted July 13, 2016.
Decided Dec. 13, 2016.

75 N.E.3d 1195

Dean Holman, Medina County Prosecuting Attorney, and Matthew A. Kern and James M. Price, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for appellee.

Nathan A. Ray, Akron, and Adam M. Van Ho, Euclid, for appellant.


149 Ohio St.3d 439

{¶ 1} This is an appeal as of right from an aggravated-murder conviction and death sentence. A Medina County jury convicted appellant, Steven E. Cepec, of the aggravated murder of Frank Munz, as well as other offenses, and unanimously recommended a sentence of death. The trial court accepted the recommendation and sentenced Cepec accordingly.

{¶ 2} We affirm Cepec's convictions and sentence.


{¶ 3} The state called 37 witnesses to testify at trial. The defense did not present any witnesses during the trial phase. The evidence that follows was presented to the jury.

The Evidence at Trial

Events leading to Munz's murder

{¶ 4} In May 2010, a hearing officer for the Ohio Adult Parole Authority ordered Cepec to complete a halfway-house drug-treatment program as a sanction for a parole violation. On May 28, the day he was admitted to the program after transfer from the Lorain Correctional Institution, he left to go to the hospital and did not return. He was declared absent without leave just after midnight on May 29, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

{¶ 5} During the next few days, Cepec and his girlfriend, Michelle Palmer, stayed with various acquaintances in Cleveland and in a recreational vehicle in a barn in Medina County owned by Palmer's father. The barn is located near the residence of Frank Munz and his nephew, Paul Munz.

{¶ 6} Cepec had been to the Munz house several times to make phone calls. At least once after Cepec left the halfway house, Paul had heard Cepec phoning people from Frank's telephone, asking for money.

{¶ 7} On June 3, Palmer's sister, Renee, and her family delivered Cepec to the barn in Medina at noon, while Palmer went to Parma to see her children. Before the trip, Cepec had borrowed two or three dollars and a pair of shoes from Renee's boyfriend. At Cepec's request, Sarah Styverson visited the barn with two others around 1:30 p.m., when Cepec asked them to drive him to Medina. They spoke with him for about ten minutes but refused to drive him to town.

9–1–1 call and arrest

{¶ 8} About an hour later, Paul heard Frank and Cepec talking in the Munz house and then heard "two loud thumps." Paul heard Frank shout, "Cut it out, asshole." Paul next heard someone "choking, then silence, and then someone panting pretty heavily." Paul locked himself in a bedroom. He heard footsteps

149 Ohio St.3d 440

in the hall and around the other bedrooms. He also heard someone running the bathroom faucet and "dumping tin cans full of change out." When he heard someone try

75 N.E.3d 1196

to open his door, he called 9–1–1. In the 9–1–1 recording, Paul described what he had heard and identified Cepec as the person talking to his uncle.

{¶ 9} At 2:37 p.m., the Medina County Sheriff's Office dispatched officers to the Munz house for a burglary in progress. Deputy Steven Herte saw Cepec in the garage. Herte ordered him to "get down on the ground." Cepec acted as though he would comply, but instead took off through the woods. Officers found him in the brush in a nearby field and arrested him.

The investigation

{¶ 10} Upon entering the house, officers discovered Frank lying face down on the kitchen floor with major head trauma. He was not wearing a shirt. The only other occupant was Paul, who was in the locked bedroom.

{¶ 11} Bureau of Criminal Investigation ("BCI") Agent Mark Kollar testified that the center of the kitchen floor was saturated with blood and that there was blood spatter throughout the room. Based on the blood spatter, he determined that the victim had received more than one blow and that at least three to seven minutes had elapsed between an initial and subsequent impact.

{¶ 12} Kollar discovered four empty coffee cans in one bedroom, with loose change scattered nearby, and a sleeping bag that appeared to have been removed from its storage bag in another bedroom. A storage bag was located near the front door.

{¶ 13} In the living room, a lamp with its cord either cut off or ripped out was lying on the floor, and a number of bags were on the floor near the front door. Two bags contained change with a combined value of over $300. What looked like a sleeping-bag storage sack contained a BB gun, a blood-stained claw hammer, a blood-stained black t-shirt, blood-soaked socks, a bloody lamp cord, a partial roll of duct tape, duct tape that was fashioned in a circle, a white shirt torn down the back, chewing gum, a dime, and an assortment of wet, bloody towels and washcloths.

{¶ 14} BCI tested the bags and their contents for the presence of blood. Also tested were the blue jeans and borrowed shoes that Cepec had been wearing when he was arrested. Lynda Eveleth, a forensic scientist at BCI, testified that DNA testing established that the blood on the electric cord, bag, claw hammer, coffee can, and duct tape all was consistent with Frank's DNA. The white shirt also contained blood DNA from Frank.

{¶ 15} A cutting from the black t-shirt in the bag contained DNA from both Frank and Cepec and an additional individual. Cepec's blue jeans and shoes also

149 Ohio St.3d 441

contained blood from Frank and another individual. Eveleth determined that Paul's DNA was not consistent with the DNA on any of the items tested.

{¶ 16} Frank's autopsy revealed multiple skull fractures and brain injuries. Dr. Andrea McCollom, the deputy medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, testified that the lacerations and fractures were consistent with impacts from and removal of the dual prongs of a claw hammer. She also indicated that Frank had an eight-inch furrow across the front of his neck, with an associated fracture of the thyroid cartilage.

{¶ 17} She identified two independent causes of death: "Blunt impact to head, trunk, and extremity with skeletal and brain injuries" and "asphyxia by strangulation." Either was sufficient to result in death, and Frank was alive when each injury occurred.

{¶ 18} Curtiss Jones, supervisor of the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office trace-evidence department, identified

75 N.E.3d 1197

duct-tape residue on Frank's wrists and watch that was consistent with his wrists being bound with duct tape.

{¶ 19} The morning after the murder, James Bradley, then a patrol officer with the Spencer Police Department, inspected the cruiser in which Cepec had been temporarily placed after his arrest. Bradley discovered a set of keys under the driver's seat. A second set of keys was found in the same cruiser the following day, during a more detailed inspection. Detective J. Tadd Davis of the Medina County Sheriff's Office determined that the first set of keys fit the Munz home's garage door and Frank's Saturn. The second set included keys for Frank's Saturn, S–10 pickup truck, and white van, as well as for a door into the Munz house.

Cepec's statements

{¶ 20} During the course of his arrest and the subsequent investigation, Cepec made a number of statements to law enforcement.

{¶ 21} On June 3, after Cepec's arrest and while he was detained in the police cruiser, Cepec made spontaneous statements to a detective that he "didn't do it." After a detective read Cepec his Miranda rights from a form and informed Cepec that there was a witness, he repeated, "I didn't do it. Paul did it."

{¶ 22} Later that night in a Medina County sheriff's department interview room, Detective Davis reread Cepec his Miranda rights. Cepec continued to deny any involvement. Specifically, Cepec maintained that he had entered the house and found Frank already on the floor, bleeding.

{¶ 23} On June 4, Cepec asked to speak with Detective Davis again. During that meeting, Detective Davis again read Cepec his Miranda rights. After he did so, Cepec confessed that he had burglarized the Munz residence and had killed Frank while robbing him.

149 Ohio St.3d 442

{¶ 24} Cepec also claimed that Palmer had planned the crime and had convinced him to do it. He said that he had intended only to rob Frank, but that he and Frank had struggled after Frank broke free from the duct tape, and Cepec ended up hitting Frank with a hammer and...

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