State v. Jells

Decision Date08 August 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-1187,89-1187
Citation559 N.E.2d 464,53 Ohio St.3d 22
PartiesThe STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. JELLS, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. There is no requirement for a trial court to interrogate a defendant in order to determine whether he or she is fully apprised of the right to a jury trial. (Crim.R. 23[A] and R.C. 2945.05, construed and applied.)

2. A lay witness may be permitted to express his or her opinion as to the similarity of footprints if it can be shown that his or her conclusions are based on measurements or peculiarities in the prints that are readily recognizable and within the capabilities of a lay witness to observe. (Evid.R. 701, construed and applied.)

On April 18, 1987, at about 10:30 to 11:00 p.m., the victim Ruby Stapleton and her four-year-old son Devon Stapleton were kidnapped in front of several witnesses at the intersection of Lakeview and Euclid Avenues in Cleveland. Three witnesses to the kidnapping and Devon identified appellant Reginald Jells as the kidnapper. Also, the witnesses identified the victim as the woman the appellant picked up and threw into a van. Moreover, the witnesses identified the van used by the appellant during the kidnapping.

Owen Banks, a witness to the abduction, testified that while he was a passenger in a car driven by his daughter, Camila Banks, he heard a woman's screams and saw the victim and appellant "tussling." He also noted that the van used to abduct the victim and her child had a sign which read "Keep on Trucking," although the van which was linked to the appellant was found to display a sign which read "Keep on Vannin'." During the abduction, Owen jumped out of the car and told his daughter to write down the license plate number of the van because he "sensed something was wrong." Furthermore, Owen observed appellant pick up a little boy, later identified as Devon, and put him into the van.

Owen approached appellant, who told him that the victim was drunk. Owen stated that he had a good look at appellant, since Owen was at the driver's side of the van looking straight at him. At trial, Owen identified a photograph of the victim as the person who was struggling with appellant, and identified appellant as the perpetrator.

Camila Banks, another witness to the abduction, testified that she was driving her father home when she heard a woman screaming "help me." She observed the appellant as he dragged a woman, whom she later identified as the victim, to the van and "shoved her inside." Next, she saw appellant pick up a little boy (Devon) and put him inside the van. Camila testified that the woman was trying to fight off the man.

Camila recorded the license number of the van, "149 MJV." Although the license number was listed in the name of "Reginald Gills," appellant later acknowledged ownership of the van. At trial Camila identified the van from a photograph, and she identified the appellant as the kidnapper.

Edward Wright, a third witness to the abduction, testified that at about 11:00 p.m., as he was concluding his shift as a security guard at Hough Bakery, he heard a woman scream. He walked to where he heard the screaming and observed a man with his arm around the waist of the screaming woman. He then saw the man throw the woman and the child into the van. Wright gave the Cleveland police a partial license number, "Y 169 or 165." He was able to pick the appellant out of a lineup, and identify him at trial. Further, he identified Devon Stapleton and a photo of the victim.

The testimony of Devon Stapleton, the son of the victim, indicates that he and his mother had entered appellant's van and later they exited the van. It is not clear from his testimony exactly how they initially came to be in the van or how they later came to be out of the van at Lakeview and Euclid Avenues. He further testified that appellant put Devon's mother back into the van, and that while they were in the van appellant hit the victim on the right side of her face with a circular object, causing her to bleed. Devon also stated that his mother was knocked out by the blows. As a result of the attack upon his mother, the hood and sleeve of Devon's coat were wet with blood.

Devon explained that appellant took his mother to a junkyard. There appellant removed his mother's body from the van, carried her into the junkyard, and abandoned her. Then appellant drove to a gas station, purchased gas, and dropped off Devon at another junkyard. Later, Clyde Smith found Devon at this junkyard crying for his mother, so he picked him up and took him to his house and called the police.

On April 26, 1987, appellant was arrested by Cleveland police. The van was identified by the license plate number that was given to police by Camila Banks. An examination of the van revealed appellant's fingerprints. A transmission jack found in the van matched marks found on the victim's body. A tennis shoe print was found on the inside of the van's windshield. The shoe print was compared with the victim's left tennis shoe and was believed to have been made by the shoe.

On April 28, 1987, an off-duty Cleveland police officer found the victim's body partially concealed by a barrel in a junkyard at East 84th and Grand Avenue in Cleveland. The body was partially nude with the pants and panties pulled down and the blouse in disarray.

A piece of cardboard with a muddy shoe print was found near the body. The shoe print matched appellant's right shoe.

The coroner testified that the victim died as a result of multiple blunt impacts to the head, neck, trunk and extremities with multiple injuries to the brain and other internal organs. Altogether the victim suffered over ninety separate blows to her body.

A three-judge panel found appellant guilty of aggravated murder with a kidnapping specification in violation of R.C. 2929.04(A)(7), and two counts of kidnapping in violation of R.C. 2905.01. For the crime of aggravated murder the panel imposed a sentence of death. Appellant was sentenced to five to twenty-five years each on the two counts of kidnapping. The court of appeals affirmed the convictions and the sentence of death.

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

John T. Corrigan, Pros. Atty., and Carmen M. Marino, Cleveland, for appellee.

Randall M. Dana, Public Defender, David C. Stebbins and Joann Bour-Stokes, Columbus, for appellant.

HOLMES, Justice.

Appellant has raised fourteen propositions of law. Each has been thoroughly reviewed and for the reasons stated below we find them without merit, and uphold the appellant's convictions and death sentence.


In his first proposition of law appellant argues that his waiver of his right to trial by jury was constitutionally insufficient because the trial court did not conduct a more thorough inquiry to determine whether the waiver was intelligent, voluntary and knowing. See Crim.R. 23(A); R.C. 2945.05. We note initially that this proposition of law was not raised in the court of appeals and hence the plain error standard of review of Crim.R. 52(B) is applicable to our consideration. Plain error does not exist unless it can be said that but for the error, the outcome below would clearly have been otherwise. See State v. Long (1978), 53 Ohio St.2d 91, 7 O.O.3d 178, 372 N.E.2d 804, paragraph two of the syllabus; State v. Greer (1988), 39 Ohio St.3d 236, 252, 530 N.E.2d 382, 401.

Under R.C. 2929.03(C)(2)(a) and R.C. 2945.06 a defendant in a death penalty prosecution may waive his right to a trial by jury and have his case heard before a three-judge panel. R.C. 2945.05, the general statute concerning jury waivers, prescribes language that should be used in waiving a jury trial. 1 In the case at bar, the waiver form signed by the appellant conformed to the language contained in R.C. 2945.05. Specifically, the form stated:

"I, REGINALD JELLS, the defendant in the above cause, hereby voluntarily waive and relinquish my right to a trial by jury, and elect to be tried by three judges of the court in which said cause may be pending. I fully understand that under the laws of this State, I have a constitutional right to a trial by jury."

The statement was signed by appellant and two of his attorneys as witnesses.

Appellant asserts that the inquiry conducted by the court was inadequate to determine whether an intelligent, voluntary, and knowing waiver was made. Appellant points to the following colloquy:

"THE COURT: Reginald, is that your signature?

"THE DEFENDANT: Yes, it is, sir.

"THE COURT: You did this of your own free will?


"THE COURT: Nobody forced you to do this?


"THE COURT: All right.

"MR. HUBBARD [defense counsel]: I have witnessed his signature, your Honor.

"THE COURT: This will be made part of the record."

Appellant cites this court's opinion in State v. Ruppert (1978), 54 Ohio St.2d 263, 271, 8 O.O.3d 232, 237, 375 N.E.2d 1250, 1255, certiorari denied (1978), 439 U.S. 954, 99 S.Ct. 352, 58 L.Ed.2d 345, as authority for his position that the trial court in this case failed to determine whether his waiver was properly made. We find Ruppert not to be on point. In Ruppert the defendant was misinformed by the trial judge that if he waived a jury trial the three-judge panel would have to unanimously find him guilty when all that was required was a majority decision. The court held that since the defendant was misinformed his waiver was not intelligent, voluntary, and knowing. Id. at 272, 8 O.O.3d at 237, 375 N.E.2d at 1255-1256. Here, there is no allegation by the appellant that the trial court misinformed him of his rights concerning the execution of the waiver form.

There is no requirement in Ohio 2 for the trial court to interrogate a defendant in order to determine whether he or she is fully apprised of the right to a jury trial. The Criminal Rules and the Revised Code are satisfied by a written...

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