State v. McFeeture

Citation36 N.E.3d 689
Decision Date14 May 2015
Docket NumberNo. 100434.,100434.
PartiesSTATE of Ohio, Plaintiff–Appellee v. Holly McFEETURE, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)

Joseph V. Pagano, Rocky River, OH, for Appellant.

Timothy J. McGinty, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor By: Alison Foy, Assistant County Prosecutor, Cleveland, OH, for Appellee.

Before: JONES, P.J., McCORMACK, J., and KEOUGH, J.

ON RECONSIDERATION1

TIM McCORMACK, J.

{¶ 1} Matthew Podolak died at Parma Community General Hospital in 2006. Dr. Daniel Galita, a medical examiner in the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office, performed an autopsy upon Mr. Podolak. He found Podolak died of chronic intoxication by ethylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze. Six years later, in 2012, Holly McFeeture, Podolak's live-in girlfriend at the time of his death, was indicted for his murder. The matter was tried to a jury. The state alleged that three months prior to his death, McFeeture began poisoning Podolak by putting antifreeze in his iced tea. The defense alleged Podolak committed suicide. The defense's expert testified Podolak suffered from acute poisoning, indicative of suicide. After a lengthy trial, the jury found McFeeture guilty of aggravated murder. Having reviewed the record and applicable law, we affirm.

{¶ 2} At trial, the state presented 15 witnesses—including Dr. Dan Galita, Dr. Thomas Mandat, Podolak's treating physician, several police officers who investigated this matter, and Podolak's family and friends. The defense called two—its expert witness Dr. Robert Bux, and also Dr. Galita.

A. The State's Evidence

{¶ 3} The state's witnesses testified to the following events leading to Podolak's death in 2006.

{¶ 4} Podolak was a healthy, active, 31–year–old man. He worked at Phoenix Industrial Finishes, a company owned by his uncle. He began working there soon after graduating from high school, and worked his way up in the company. His uncle was grooming him to one day take over the business. An outdoorsman, he enjoyed boating, camping, and hunting. He also played softball and hockey in his spare time.

{¶ 5} In 2003, Podolak met McFeeture. They began dating soon after and subsequently moved in together in a Cleveland home. Friends described Podolak as being ecstatic about finding a mate to settle down with and start a family. Within a year, their first child was born, followed by a second child approximately two years later. A third child from a previous relationship of McFeeture's was also part of the family.

1. Friends' Testimony About the Relationship

{¶ 6} One of Podolak's close friends, Dennis Owen, was with Podolak the night he met McFeeture. According to Owen, he had “bad vibes” about the relationship and shared his apprehension with Podolak. However, Podolak continued the relationship.

{¶ 7} By 2005, the relationship turned “argumentative,” “strained,” and “divisive.” Another close friend, Russell Hersey, testified that after the relationship turned, Podolak would spend several nights at a time at Hersey's house. Hersey advised Podolak to end the relationship. Each time, however, Podolak returned to McFeeture. Hersey described Podolak's moods as varying between “very happy” and “angry upset, crying upset, sometimes fearful.” Hersey testified he was aware that Podolak had become depressed during this time. However, Hersey never had any concern about Podolak being suicidal. According to Hersey, Podolak was “too happy over what life would be and he was so looking forward to raising all three children.” Because of the volatile situation, however, Hersey advised Podolak that he needed to protect himself and to remove any guns from the home.

{¶ 8} Owen testified that several weeks prior to Podolak's death, Podolak brought his guns to Owen for him to keep. Owen testified that Podolak was “very confused, scared [and] * * * troubled.”

{¶ 9} Sharon Smith, the plant manager at Phoenix Industries, testified that she urged Podolak to end his relationship with McFeeture.

{¶ 10} Podolak had a 401(k) plan and life insurance through his employment at Phoenix Industries. McFeeture was the beneficiary of both. Hersey, Owen, and Michael Mulhall, another friend, all similarly advised Podolak to remove McFeeture as the beneficiary.

2. Podolak's Deteriorating Health in Spring of 2006

{¶ 11} In the spring of 2006, Podolak's health started to deteriorate. By Memorial Day weekend, Hersey was very concerned about Podolak's physical health. Hersey had enlisted Podolak's help to transfer a motor from one boat to another. Podolak, who in the past was “very strong,” had gained weight, sweated profusely, complained of back pain, and said he had lost his strength. Hersey advise Podolak to seek medical attention and recommended a physician, Dr. Thomas Mandat. Podolak went to see Dr. Mandat on July 26, 2006. Hersey testified that on the day Podolak went to see the doctor, Podolak called him to ask about the location of Dr. Mandat's office. Hersey heard McFeeture in the background yelling at Podolak that he was “too stupid to know where the doctor that [he was] supposed to go see was.”

{¶ 12} Dr. Mandat testified at trial. Dr. Mandat reported that Podolak complained of flank pain, which was pain in the lower back. After an examination, Dr. Mandat determined Podolak had kidney stones

and prescribed medicine to help with the passing of the stones and associated pain.

3. The Day Before Podolak's Death

{¶ 13} Podolak died on July 31, 2006, a few days after he saw Dr. Mandat. The day before he died, Podolak's father talked to Podolak over the phone in the afternoon. Podolak had bought his daughter a fishing rod, and wanted the three of them to go fishing together. Podolak was excited about this family outing and looking forward to it.

{¶ 14} That evening, Podolak was at a get-together with friends, including Hersey and Owen. Hersey testified that Podolak “appeared in grave physical condition.” He had gained even more weight, was sweating profusely, and had to steady himself to even walk. Podolak also complained of extreme back pain. Hersey further testified about Podolak's declining physical condition that evening. Both Hersey and Owen again advised Podolak to remove McFeeture as the beneficiary on his 401(k) plan and life insurance policy.

{¶ 15} Later that evening, McFeeture called Podolak's father to tell him that something was wrong with his son and that she had called 911. Podolak's father was able to speak with his son over the phone briefly, finding him confused and distressed. Podolak was soon transported by an ambulance to the hospital.

{¶ 16} At the hospital, the doctors determined that Podolak's kidneys were failing. Dr. Mandat was part of the medical team that treated Podolak at the emergency room. The doctors found Podolak to exhibit metabolic acidosis

, which meant that his blood was very acidic. The doctors were concerned about toxic ingestion of methanol or antifreeze. McFeeture was questioned at the hospital as to whether Podolak had ingested either antifreeze or rubbing alcohol. She stated that he had not. Podolak passed away the day after he went to the hospital.

{¶ 17} According to Dr. Mandat's testimony, metabolic acidosis

is usually related to respiratory problems, but that was not the case here. Dr. Mandat explained that ethylene glycol can also cause metabolic acidosis.

4. Testimony Regarding McFeeture's Demeanor After Podolak's Death

{¶ 18} A friend of McFeeture's, Rebecca Vega, testified that she reached out to McFeeture to support her in the days following Podolak's death. She went to the funeral home with McFeeture to make arrangements. Vega found it curious that McFeeture did not show “emotions whatsoever one way or the other. Not * * * anger, not a tear.”

{¶ 19} Several other witnesses testified to McFeeture's demeanor and behavior at Podolak's services. Podolak's father testified that at the wake, he had to ask McFeeture to come into the room where the casket was to receive visitors. She acted as if she had “no feeling in her.” Hersey described McFeeture as acting like it was a party and like “nothing had happened.”

{¶ 20} Two weeks after Podolak's death, Vega went to McFeeture's house. She saw what appeared to be cleaning solvents out in the open in the kitchen. Vega found it concerning, given the young age of the children in the home, and asked McFeeture about it. McFeeture responded that one of the items was antifreeze and explained that Podolak used it to winterize his boat. Podolak's best friend, Russell Hersey, however, testified that Podolak did not have a working boat since 2004 or 2005, when the boat's engine failed.

{¶ 21} Michael Jakyma, a Cleveland police officer, knew McFeeture since 2002. McFeeture baby-sat his children. He would go to her house to have coffee and talk. He typically called ahead because he did not want to “interrupt another man's house.” One day he called McFeeture to see if he had “caught her at a bad time.” She responded that he “did not have to worry about that anymore.” She said, “oh, Matt died last week,” sounding very casual about it. She told him Podolak had issues with his kidneys and has been in pain from playing hockey.

{¶ 22} A month and a half after Podolak's death, McFeeture became involved in a relationship with Charles Lipscomb, another Cleveland police officer. When they first started dating, McFeeture told Lipscomb that Podolak had passed away due to kidney failure

. When the autopsy results were released in January 2007, McFeeture became “worried” and told Lipscomb that maybe Podolak had committed suicide, or an angry coworker had poisoned him, or he was exposed to something at work. McFeeture told Lipscomb that she did not even know what antifreeze was.

{¶ 23} McFeeture told another acquaintance, Sean Walsh, that Podolak had died from an industrial accident.

5. Jamison Kennedy's Involvement and His Testimony

{¶ 24} Jamison Kennedy met McFeeture in late 2007 at the bar where she bartended. They began dating in the spring of 2008. H...

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