State v. Hancock

Decision Date01 February 2006
Docket NumberNo. 2003-2099.,2003-2099.
Citation108 Ohio St.3d 57,2006 Ohio 160,840 N.E.2d 1032
PartiesThe STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. HANCOCK, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

David H. Bodiker, Ohio Public Defender, Joseph E. Wilhelm, Chief Counsel, Death Penalty Division, and Kelly L. Culshaw, Supervisor, Death Penalty Division, for appellant.

Rachel Hutzel, Warren County Prosecuting Attorney, and Andrew L. Sievers, and Mary K. Hand, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for appellee.


{¶ 1} Appellant, Timothy Hancock, was an inmate at the Warren Correctional Institution in Lebanon, Ohio, serving a life sentence for a 1990 aggravated-murder conviction. On November 13, 2000, within hours after Jason Wagner became Hancock's cellmate, Hancock strangled him to death. Hancock appeals his aggravated-murder conviction and his death sentence.

The Murder of Jason Wagner

{¶ 2} On November 13, 2000, Hancock and Wagner were housed in the protective custody ("PC") unit at Warren Correctional Institution. Hancock was in a "segregation" cell within the PC unit. These cells are generally used to discipline PC inmates for violating rules. They may hold either one or two inmates.

{¶ 3} A policy of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("DRC") required that before any inmate in the segregation unit could be placed in the same cell as another inmate, the inmate's file had to be reviewed to determine whether he had a "separation" from his prospective cellmate. The term "separation," although not explained at trial, appears to mean a document or notation in an inmate's file indicating that he is not to be assigned to the same cell as another inmate.

{¶ 4} Around noon on November 13, 2000, Sergeant Joseph Gross was ordered to move Wagner to a segregation cell. According to Gross, he "checked all the files and everything to make sure [Wagner] didn't have [any] separations from other inmates in the segregation unit." Wagner's file did not contain a separation from Hancock. Only three other segregation-unit inmates other than Hancock lacked cellmates, but Gross considered them unsuitable to share a cell with Wagner, so Hancock's cell was the only feasible place to put Wagner.

{¶ 5} The shift supervisor, Captain Daniel Dane, went to the segregation unit and spoke with Hancock and Wagner. According to Dane, Hancock said he had no objection to sharing a cell with Wagner. Hancock spoke rationally, responded reasonably to questions, and did not appear to be acting abnormally. Nor did Wagner express any objection to sharing a cell with Hancock. Dane reviewed the unit file and the master file and found no separation notation for Wagner and Hancock. Wagner was then placed in Hancock's cell.

{¶ 6} At approximately 10:30 p.m., Corrections Officer David Kohlhorst began to conduct his first head count of the third shift. When he checked Hancock's cell, the cell light was off. Hancock told Kohlhorst that Wagner was asleep. Kohlhorst shined his flashlight into the cell and asked Hancock to lift the towel from Wagner's head so he could see Wagner. Hancock complied. After a brief conversation with Hancock, Kohlhorst moved on.

{¶ 7} At about 11:45 p.m., Kohlhorst began the second head count of the shift. As he entered the PC unit, he heard a banging noise. Kohlhorst assumed that the noise was coming from an inmate named Jones, who had created a disturbance earlier. Kohlhorst said: "Jones, * * * [d]o you need a nurse again?" Hancock replied, "No, we don't need a nurse, we need a coroner. I killed this child molesting m* * * * * f* * * * *." Approaching Hancock's cell, Kohlhorst saw Wagner lying on the top bunk, bound hand and foot, with a strip of bedsheet around his neck. Kohlhorst set off his "man down" alarm and left the area.

{¶ 8} Highway Patrol investigators were summoned to the prison at 12:30 a.m., November 14. When they examined Wagner's body, they found a cloth ligature wrapped around his neck and knotted over his throat. There was a mark on the top of Wagner's head where it had been pressed against the headboard of the bed.

{¶ 9} The investigators also examined the bindings that secured Wagner to the bed. A long strip of cloth had been tied around Wagner's right wrist, pulled under the bed, and threaded up through a hole in the bottom of the bed so that it ran directly underneath the mattress from right to left. It had then been threaded down through another hole in the bottom of the bed and pulled up over the left side, where it was tied around Wagner's left wrist. Wagner's ankles were tied to the bed in the same way.

{¶ 10} An autopsy showed that Wagner had died of ligature strangulation. The ligature had been wrapped at least three times around his neck and knotted twice. When tightened, it left an abrasion, or "ligature furrow," around Wagner's neck. The angle of the furrow indicated that Wagner had been strangled from above. Wagner also had bruises on his face, neck, and scalp.

Hancock's Statements to Investigators

{¶ 11} Hancock confessed several times to killing Wagner. On November 14, 2000, he was questioned by State Troopers Nelson Holden and Jim Slusher. He told Holden and Slusher that he was not supposed to have a cellmate, had angrily resisted Wagner's assignment to his cell, and had acquiesced only after Sergeant Gross threatened him with Mace. He said that he had decided to beat up Wagner in order to force his removal from the cell. However, he also claimed that he had attacked Wagner and tied him to the bed only after Wagner made a sexual advance toward him. Even then, Hancock claimed, he had not been planning to kill Wagner. But Hancock lost his temper and choked Wagner to death after Wagner "started talking shit," as Hancock put it. (Hancock claimed that he could not remember what Wagner had said to provoke him.)

{¶ 12} According to Hancock, before the assault, Wagner had told him about molesting a little girl and hiding her in an attic without food or water for three days. But Hancock admitted that this was not his real reason for assaulting Wagner: "I think I more or less used her [Wagner's victim] as a crutch or excuse to just let my hands * * * fly loose because in my mind I'm thinking to myself, `I bet they don't put another m* * * * * f* * * * * * [cellmate] in my house from now on.'"

{¶ 13} On November 16, Hancock discussed the murder with Chae Harris, the institutional investigator at Warren Correctional Institution. Hancock told Harris a story different from what he had told Holden and Slusher. In this version, Hancock said that he decided to kill Wagner because Wagner had boasted about raping the little girl.

{¶ 14} Hancock also admitted to Harris that he had tricked Wagner into submitting to restraints. Hancock told Wagner that he wanted "to get his status increased" to obtain a transfer to another institution. Hancock therefore proposed that he pretend to take Wagner hostage, tie him to the bed, and choke him until the guards intervened. According to Hancock, Wagner agreed to help stage this scene in exchange for Hancock's sweat suit.

{¶ 15} Around 7:00 p.m., Hancock and Wagner began to tear bedsheets into strips. They laced the strips through the holes in the bottom of the bed, as described above. Wagner then got into bed, and Hancock tied his feet and left hand, leaving his right hand free. When Officer Kohlhorst conducted his first head count, he asked Hancock, "Where's your [cellmate]?" Hancock lifted the towel from Wagner's head, Wagner waved his free hand, and Hancock replaced the towel.

{¶ 16} After Kohlhorst moved on, Hancock secured Wagner's hand. Hancock then wound a sheet around Wagner's neck. Wagner said, "You're not going to kill me, are you?" Hancock said, "No." He then began strangling Wagner, instructing him to signal by tapping on the bed if the sheet was too tight. When Wagner tapped, Hancock initially loosened the sheet. But then he tightened it again and strangled Wagner for about ten minutes until Wagner stopped moving.

{¶ 17} When Hancock loosened the sheet a second time, Wagner gasped. Hancock hit him eight or nine times in the windpipe. Then he checked Wagner for a pulse. Finding none, Hancock sat down to have a cigarette and a cup of coffee. Then he got up and told the inmate in the next cell what he had done.

{¶ 18} On November 17, Hancock told the highway patrol troopers essentially the same story he had recounted to Harris. Hancock admitted to Trooper Holden and Sergeant Jim Ertel that he had begun to plan the murder about four or five hours before committing it. He explained how he had tricked Wagner, but also admitted that he had assaulted Wagner before proposing the hostage enactment and that Wagner's fear was what made him agree to cooperate when Hancock tied him up.

{¶ 19} Hancock said that Wagner's boasting was "pretty much" the reason he had killed him. However, he also made a vague reference to "other things going on in my life" and said, "I just get frustrated."

Charges and Plea

{¶ 20} Hancock was indicted on one count of aggravated murder under R.C. 2903.01(A) (prior calculation and design). Two death specifications were attached: R.C. 2929.04(A)(4) (murder by inmate under detention) and R.C. 2929.04(A)(5) (prior murder conviction).

{¶ 21} Hancock pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. At trial, the defense conceded that Hancock had tied up Wagner and strangled him to death. In addition to pursuing the insanity defense, the defense contested the state's evidence of prior calculation and design.

Evidence on Sanity

{¶ 22} At trial, Hancock presented the testimony of Dr. Glenn Weaver, a forensic psychiatrist, to prove his insanity plea. Weaver testified that there was "[n]o question whatsoever" that Hancock had a long-standing, ongoing, and serious mental illness....

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