State v. Eley, 96-285

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Citation672 N.E.2d 640,77 Ohio St.3d 174
Docket NumberNo. 96-285,96-285
PartiesThe STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. ELEY, Appellant.
Decision Date18 December 1996

On August 26, 1986, defendant-appellant, John Jeffrey Eley, shot and killed Ihsan "Easy" Aydah during a robbery of the Sinjil Market in Youngstown, Ohio. Eley confessed to the killing, and was subsequently convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, and sentenced to death.

During the early afternoon of August 26, 1986, Eley was visiting Melvin Green at the home of Green's girlfriend in Youngstown. According to Eley, he and Green were just sitting around when Green suggested that they go down to the "Arab store." Eley and Green left the house and proceeded down a path through the woods leading to the Sinjil Market. Along the way, Green showed Eley a "Black Snub nose gun," and told Eley he "was going to take the Arab off." Since the proprietor of the store, Ihsan Aydah, knew Green's face, Eley agreed to go in alone and rob the store while Green waited outside.

Eley entered the store and told Aydah to put his hands up and to turn and face the wall. Green had told Eley that Aydah had a gun under the store counter, so when Aydah lowered his hands and went under the counter, Eley fired a shot. Eley claimed that he aimed at Aydah's shoulder. However, the shot hit Aydah on the right side of his head, approximately four inches above the earlobe. Aydah died the next day of shock and hemorrhage due to a gunshot wound to the head.

Just before Eley fired the gun, Green entered the store. After the shot, Green ran behind the counter and got into the cash register. He took Aydah's wallet while Aydah lay wounded on the floor. As the two left the store, Green gave Eley a brown paper bag with the money and wallet. According to Eley, they went up the street, "got to the path and ran up the woods."

Around 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. that day, Cheryl E. Cooper left home for the Sinjil Market with her three children. Cooper saw Melvin Green and another man enter the path to the store "walking fast in front of us." Cooper saw the pair turning the corner heading to the store, and noticed that neither man was carrying anything at that time. Shortly thereafter, Cooper saw Melvin Green and the other man, who was carrying a brown paper bag, come around the corner, passing them halfway on Davis Lane. When Cooper arrived at the Sinjil Market, she saw magazines and cigarettes strewn all over the floor. She looked over the counter and saw Aydah lying on the floor.

Christopher Cretella lived half a block from the Sinjil Market, and around 2:30 p.m. that day was outside washing a car in his driveway. He saw Melvin Green and "another fellow" walking away from the store, and then running toward the path, right into the woods. Cretella noticed the pair holding a bag and passing something back and forth. Two weeks before the murder, Cretella had seen Green and Aydah "[having] some words," and "Easy told him to get out and not to come back."

Several days after the murder, Eley was arrested by Youngstown police at the residence of his cousin's girlfriend, Carlotta Skinner. After his arrest, Eley told police that he and Green had split the money taken in the robbery, which was around $700. However, Eley later gave the money back to Green "because he said it was all on him and he had to get out."

After apprehending Eley, Lt. Robert Kane, Detective Joseph Fajack, and Detective James Pasquale of the Youngstown Police Department brought Eley into the roll call room at police headquarters. There, Eley was given his Miranda rights, and signed two forms. In the first form, Eley waived his Miranda rights; in the second, Eley indicated that he could read and write English and reiterated the waiver of Miranda rights and his desire to make a voluntary statement.

Eley told the detectives that he wanted to talk about his involvement in the Aydah murder. Although there were tape-recording and video-equipment devices available nearby, Fajack stated that he and the officers present "did not have access" to them. Therefore, Fajack conducted his interview with Eley by writing down each of the questions asked. Below each question, Fajack transcribed Eley's response verbatim.

In his voluntary statement Eley admitted that he and Green had robbed the Sinjil Market, and that he shot Aydah. Fajack testified that Eley did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the interview and was "very calm" and "passive."

The grand jury indicted Eley on one count of aggravated murder with a specification that the murder was committed during, or immediately after, the commission of an aggravated robbery (R.C. 2929.04[A] ), and that Eley was the principal offender. This count also carried a firearm specification. In addition, Eley was indicted on one count of aggravated robbery (R.C. 2911.01[A] and ) and one count of conspiracy (R.C. 2923.01[A] ). Each count carried a firearm specification.

In May 1987, Eley waived his right to a jury trial and opted for a trial before a three-judge panel. Eley pled not guilty to the charges against him, thereby withdrawing a prior plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In May 1987, the trial court rejected Eley's motion to suppress his confession and found that Eley had made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his rights at the time of the confession.

Trial was held before a three-judge panel on May 11-12, 1987, but the defense chose not to present any evidence. The panel found Eley guilty of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, the felony-murder capital specification, and two of the three firearm specifications, but not guilty of conspiracy.

During the mitigation hearing, several family members testified on Eley's behalf. Eley's mother, Cecilia Joseph, divorced Eley's father when Eley was seven or eight years old, and stated that Eley had "not much" of a relationship with his father. Joseph testified that on Christmas night 1964, her second husband had been drinking and began choking her and her daughter. At that time, Eley stabbed the second husband with a knife in order to stop him. Joseph testified that Eley dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, but later entered the Job Corps and learned to be a welder. Eley sent money home to his mother during this time, and gave her money to help her finish paying for nursing school. Joseph stated that while Eley has had problems with drugs and alcohol, he is a better person when he is not under the influence. She characterized Eley as "church oriented," and believed he had been "born again."

Eley's sister, Susan Laury, testified that Eley had helped the family financially while he was in the Job Corps, and that Eley is normally a "quiet, sweet, gentle person that wouldn't hurt anybody."

Dr. Douglas Darnall, a clinical psychologist, found Eley to be of borderline intelligence, and ranked him in the twelfth percentile on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Test. According to Darnall, Eley has a history of chronic alcohol and polysubstance abuse, but exhibited "no evidence of psychosis or major defective disorder." In addition, Darnall testified that Eley understands the difference between right and wrong. Darnall found Eley to be remorseful, but Eley never mentioned that he felt remorse for the victim. However, two police officers who witnessed Eley's confession testified that Eley was remorseful before he made that statement. Eley made a short unsworn statement at the mitigation phase that consisted of several biblical quotations from the Book of Romans.

After deliberation, the panel unanimously found that the aggravating circumstance outweighed the mitigating factors beyond a reasonable doubt, and sentenced Eley to death. Upon appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the convictions and sentence of death.

The cause is now before this court upon an appeal as of right.

James A. Philomena, Mahoning County Prosecuting Attorney, and Michele G. Cerni, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

David H. Bodiker, Ohio Public Defender, Linda E. Prucha and Cynthia A. Yost, Assistant Public Defenders, for appellant.

ALICE ROBIE RESNICK, Justice.

In this appeal, Eley has raised eighteen propositions of law. Finding none meritorious, we affirm his convictions. In addition, we have independently reviewed the record, weighed the aggravating circumstance against the mitigating factors, and compared the proportionality of the death sentence in this case to the penalty imposed in similar cases. Upon a complete review of the record, we affirm Eley's convictions and sentences.

I Suppression Issues

In Proposition of Law III, Eley contends that his confession to police was the product of his drug and alcohol intoxication, as well as psychological coercion and the manipulative actions of Youngstown police officers. Eley asserts that because of his intoxication at the time of his arrest, he lacked the capacity to comprehend the nature of his right against self-incrimination and the consequences of waiving it. In addition, Eley argues that he lacked the intelligence to voluntarily waive his constitutional rights.

During the suppression hearing, both Eley and Carlotta Skinner, with whom he was staying at the time of his arrest, testified that Eley had consumed large quantities of Valium, sleeping pills and alcohol during the two-day period leading up to his arrest. As a result, Eley claims to remember very little about the events subsequent to his arrest when he confessed to the crimes.

Defense witness Dr. Russell Morrison, a physician, testified that combining alcohol with the drugs Eley allegedly ingested would prolong the effect and deepen one's state of sedation. However, Morrison also stated that ingesting the quantity of alcohol and drugs allegedly consumed by Eley could put a person near death.

The testimony of the three officers who interrogated Eley weakens defense arguments...

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