State v. Nelson, 2021CA00112

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtDELANEY, J.
Citation2022 Ohio 4170
PartiesSTATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee v. TAHI ANTONIO NELSON Defendant-Appellant
Docket Number2021CA00112
Decision Date22 November 2022

2022-Ohio-4170

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
v.

TAHI ANTONIO NELSON Defendant-Appellant

No. 2021CA00112

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Stark

November 22, 2022


CHARACTER OF PROCEEDING: Appeal from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2020CR0921

For Plaintiff-Appellee: KYLE L. STONE STARK COUNTY PROSECUTOR TIMOTHY E. YAHNER

For Defendant-Appellant: D. COLEMAN BOND

JUDGES: Hon. W. Scott Gwin, P.J. Hon. Patricia A. Delaney, J. Hon. Craig R. Baldwin, J.

OPINION

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DELANEY, J.

{¶1} Defendant-Appellant Tahi Antonio Nelson appeals his September 20, 2021 conviction and sentence by the Stark County Court of Common Pleas. Plaintiff-Appellee is the State of Ohio.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Indictment

{¶2} On July 27, 2020, the Stark County Grand Jury indicted Defendant- Appellant Tahi Antonio Nelson on one count of Murder, an unclassified felony in violation of R.C. 2903.02. (A)/(D) and R.C. 2929.02(B), with a firearm specification per R.C. 2941.145(A); and one count of Having a Weapon Under Disability, a third-degree felony in violation of R.C. 2923.13(A)(2)(B).

{¶3} Nelson entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. He waived his right to a jury trial on the second count.

Jury Trial

{¶4} A jury trial on the murder count began on September 7, 2021.

The following facts were adduced at trial.

The Relationship between the Victim and Nelson

{¶5} The victim in this case was R.R., a 42-year-old woman and mother of four adult children. R.R.'s mother testified that R.R. had been in an off-and-on-again romantic relationship with Nelson for approximately ten years. R.R. purchased her first home in March of 2019, which was located on Coventry Boulevard in Canton, Ohio. R.R. lived alone, but in late 2019, Nelson moved into the Coventry Boulevard home with R.R.

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R.R. and Nelson were at the Brick City Bar

{¶6} A security guard for the Brick City Bar testified that he saw R.R. and Nelson at the bar on March 7, 2020. The security guard testified that weapons are not permitted in the bar. Before patrons can enter the bar, the security guard searches them for weapons.

{¶7} A female witness who knew both Nelson and R.R. testified that she saw them together at the Brick City Bar in the late evening hours on March 7, 2020. The witness observed that Nelson appeared to be drunk while at the bar, but not out of control. Nelson's ex-girlfriend was also at the bar, and it appeared to the witness that R.R. was upset by her presence.

{¶8} Brick City Bar usually closes at 2:00 a.m. On March 7, 2020, daylight savings time began at 2:00 a.m., moving the clocks forward to 3:00 a.m. Before the bar closed, Nelson got into a verbal argument with a bar employee, after which bar security asked Nelson to leave the bar. The female witness convinced Nelson to leave the bar and she walked out of the bar with Nelson and R.R. Before they left the bar, R.R. paid her bar bill with her credit card. The credit card receipt showed the time was 1:57 a.m. The female witness saw R.R. and Nelson get into R.R.'s car, a Saturn Vue, with R.R. in the driver's seat and Nelson in the passenger's seat.

R.R. Found Dead in Her Car

{¶9} Officer Robert Huber with the City of Canton Police Department was working the midnight shift on March 7, 2020. At 3:23 a.m. on March 8, 2020, Officer Huber was dispatched to the 2300 block of Harmont Avenue in Canton, Ohio. The 2300 block of Harmont Avenue was approximately four to five minutes away from the Brick City Bar and

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a half-mile from Coventry Boulevard. A witness had called 911 after he found R.R. slumped over the driver's seat of her vehicle, which was stopped in the middle of Harmont Avenue. The witness observed the body in the stopped vehicle between 3:15 and 3:23 a.m.

{¶10} Upon Officer Huber's arrival to the scene, he observed a Saturn Vue sitting directly in the northbound lane of the 2300 block of Harmont Avenue. The vehicle's lights were on, but the brake lights were not illuminated. All the vehicle's doors were shut. Officer Huber approached the driver's side and the driver's side door was locked. He walked around the front of the car and saw a bullet hole in the front windshield. He approached the passenger's side door and found it was unlocked. He opened the passenger's side door and observed R.R. unconscious in the driver's seat, with a large volume of blood coming from the back of her head and pooling on the floorboard. Officer Huber checked her vitals and determined she was not breathing and there was no movement in her chest.

{¶11} While looking inside the vehicle, Officer Huber noticed the vehicle was still in drive, but the ignition was off, and the keys were in the ignition. The passenger's seat was reclined in a far back position. There was a green neon sock on the ground outside the car and a matching green neon sock inside the car, leading Officer Huber to believe that someone else had been in the passenger seat of the car and knocked the sock out of the car. There was no space in the backseat of the car for someone to sit because it was covered in personal items.

{¶12} Officer Huber then noticed a spent shell casing on the passenger floorboard of the vehicle. The spent shell casing was collected as evidence. Upon examination, the

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spent shell casing found on the passenger floorboard was determined to be manufactured by Aguila and .380 caliber.

{¶13} DNA swabs were taken from the vehicle and the car keys. Fingerprints were also pulled from the interior of the car.

{¶14} The bullet hole in the windshield was examined and determined to have been caused by a bullet shot from a firearm inside the vehicle.

Autopsy Evidence

{¶15} The Stark County Coroner determined R.R.'s cause of death was a homicide. R.R. had been shot in the back of the head, with the bullet traveling through her skull and brain, stopped by the sphenoid bone at the bottom of the base of her brain. Because of R.R.'s hair, it could not be determined how far the muzzle was from R.R.'s head when she was shot.

{¶16} The bullet was recovered and preserved as evidence.

Bullets and a Gun found at R.R.'s Home

{¶17} On March 8, 2020, detectives with the City of Canton Police Department informed R.R.'s mother that R.R. had died. R.R.'s mother told the detectives that Nelson was R.R.'s boyfriend. R.R.'s mother provided the detectives with a key to R.R.'s home after they informed her they were going to get a search warrant for the home.

{¶18} The detectives obtained a search warrant for R.R.'s home and requested SWAT assistance in executing the warrant. The detectives had attempted to contact Nelson as a person of interest and could not locate him. When they entered the home, the officers found it was very cluttered. They collected two cell phones as a result of the

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search but there wasn't any useful evidence on the cell phones. The officers returned the house keys to R.R.'s mother.

{¶19} R.R.'s mother took responsibility of R.R.'s home. R.R.'s children and mother visited the home after R.R.'s death. On April 6, 2020, R.R.'s mother attempted to clean her daughter's house for the first time after her daughter's death. While she was cleaning R.R.'s bedroom, R.R.'s mother found a plastic bag on the ground, in the corner of the room next to a dresser. She looked in the bag and found three boxes of bullets. She put the bag back where she found it and called the police. The police came and collected the plastic bag containing the three boxes of bullets.

{¶20} On April 12, 2020, R.R.'s mother and child were doing yardwork at R.R.'s home. While R.R.'s mother was using an edger around a shed in the backyard, she discovered a gun partially sticking out from under the shed. R.R.'s mother got a plastic grocery bag and used the bag to pick up the gun. She placed the plastic bag containing the gun in R.R.'s garage. Because it was Sunday, R.R.'s mother waited until Monday to call the police to report the gun. The police came and collected the plastic bag and gun.

Analysis of the Gun and Bullets

{¶21} The bag containing three boxes of bullets found by R.R.'s mother in R.R.'s bedroom was determined to contain .380 caliber bullets manufactured by Aguila.

{¶22} The gun found under the shed at R.R.'s home was determined to be a .380 caliber Jimenez semiautomatic firearm. It was tested and found to be operable. There was a spent shell casing still inside the chamber of the gun, which was not properly ejected from the weapon the last time it was fired. The gun contained a cartridge

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magazine with four live rounds, all .380 caliber. Two of the rounds were manufactured by Aguila and the other two rounds were manufactured by TulAmmo.

{¶23} The .380 Jimenez firearm found under the shed was compared to the spent shell casing located on the floor of R.R.'s vehicle. The spent shell casing was identified as being manufactured by Aguila and .380 caliber. Larry Mackey with the Canton Stark County Crime Laboratory opined to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the spent shell casing recovered from the floorboard of R.R.'s vehicle was fired from the .380 Jimenez semiautomatic firearm recovered from under the shed of R.R.'s home. Mackey also opined to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the bullet recovered from R.R.'s brain was also fired from the .380 Jimenez firearm found under the shed of R.R.'s home.

Nelson Found Hiding in a Shower

{¶24} The detectives attempted to contact Nelson by telephone, but they could not reach him. R.R.'s mother said that Nelson did not contact her or attend R.R.'s funeral services. On May 14, 2020, a Canton City police detective responded to a call at an apartment regarding an unrelated female suspect. He searched the apartment upon permission of the occupant and discovered Nelson in the bathroom shower, wearing shorts and slides. The bathroom lights were off,...

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