State v. Noling, 1999-1524.

Citation781 N.E.2d 88,2002 Ohio 7044,98 Ohio St.3d 44
Decision Date20 December 2002
Docket NumberNo. 1999-1524.,1999-1524.
PartiesThe STATE of Ohio, Appellee, v. NOLING, Appellant
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio

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781 N.E.2d 88
98 Ohio St.3d 44
2002 Ohio 7044
The STATE of Ohio, Appellee,
NOLING, Appellant
No. 1999-1524.
Supreme Court of Ohio.
Submitted September 17, 2002.
Decided December 20, 2002.

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Victor V. Vigluicci, Portage County Prosecuting Attorney, and Kelli K. Norman, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for appellee.

David J. Bodiker, Ohio Public Defender, Stephen A. Ferrell and Kelly L. Culshaw, Assistant Public Defenders, for appellant.


{¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Tyrone Lee Noling, appeals from an 11th Appellate District judgment upholding his convictions of two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and one count of aggravated burglary. For the following reasons, we affirm Noling's convictions and death sentence.

I. Facts

{¶ 2} On April 5, 1990, in the course of a burglary and robbery, defendant-appellant, Tyrone Noling, shot and killed Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig in Portage County, Ohio. After a 1992 dismissal of charges against Noling, a grand jury reindicted him in August 1995 for the Hartig murders. The state proved the offenses charged through the testimony of police officers and others, including accomplices Butch Wolcott and Joseph Dalesandro.

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{¶ 3} The testimony adduced at trial revealed that in early April 1990, Noling, Gary St. Clair, Dalesandro, and Wolcott stayed at the house of a teenage friend, Johnny Trandifer, in Alliance, Ohio. To obtain money, the group "went car shopping * * * opened up car doors that were unlocked and stole the change * * * radios, phones, whatever."

{¶ 4} Noling then suggested "the idea that old people were getting their * * * Social Security checks early in the month and * * * would be the best target to rob." Noling planned to gain entry into the homes by knocking on the door and pretending to need to use their telephone to call about his disabled car. At that point, the group was armed with a shotgun and a BB gun.

{¶ 5} Noling and St. Clair implemented just such a plan in robbing a Mr. and Mrs. Hughes in their Alliance home, approximately a quarter of a mile from Trandifer's house. Noling told Wolcott that he had knocked on the door, asked to use the phone because his car was broken down, and when he and St. Clair got in, they held the Hugheses up. According to St. Clair, Noling got inside, "kicked the door shut, pulled the sawed off shotgun out," and told Mr. Hughes, "Don't move." They used a pillowcase to carry away a VCR, jewelry, and a .25 caliber pistol.

{¶ 6} Around noon the next day, Noling used this stolen .25 caliber pistol to rob the Murphy family in Alliance. Noling acted alone and said that he had had to fire the weapon while inside the house. Noling stole a VCR, rings, and money from the Murphy residence.

{¶ 7} Around 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. that same day, Dalesandro drove Noling, St. Clair, and Wolcott from Alliance into Portage County. They stopped at the Hartigs' ranch home in Atwater Township. The Hartigs were both 81 years old. When Dalesandro stopped and Noling and St. Clair got out, Bearnhardt Hartig was mowing the grass.

{¶ 8} Noling knocked on the front door, and when Cora Hartig answered, Noling "pushed his way in" and St. Clair followed him. St. Clair had the shotgun, and Noling had a .25 caliber semiautomatic, with one clip in the gun and another clip in his pocket.

{¶ 9} After dropping Noling and St. Clair off, Dalesandro and Wolcott drove around for a while, returned, and parked in the Hartigs' driveway. About 20 to 30 minutes after Noling and St. Clair had entered the Hartigs' home, Wolcott "heard some gunshots, * * * heard a lady scream and then * * * a couple of more gunshots * * * and then a few seconds later [Noling and St. Clair] came running out" and got in the car.

{¶ 10} Noling looked "flabbergasted," and things were hysterical. He told Dalesandro, who was driving, to "[g]et out of here * * * I just killed two old people." Noling said that "he had to do it, just didn't have a choice" because "the old man wouldn't stop, that he kept coming at him." Noling also claimed that the lady "could tell the police who they were." Noling put the .25 caliber pistol in the glove compartment, and Dalesandro drove back to Alliance.

{¶ 11} Once back, Noling was concerned about getting rid of his bloodstained clothes. Noling also told Dalesandro that if Dalesandro said anything about what had occurred, Noling would kill him. That night, Noling also put a gun to Wolcott's head and said that "if [Wolcott] talked he would blow [his] head off."

{¶ 12} On April 7, 1990, James Davis, the son of neighbors of the Hartigs, noticed that the Hartigs' garage door was open and that the lawn tractor had been

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sitting in the yard for two days. He checked on the Hartigs and found them lying on their kitchen floor. Davis called the police.

{¶ 13} The police found the bodies fully clothed in the kitchen and noticed a strong smell, apparently from decaying flesh. Detectives found ten Winchester .25 caliber shell casings near the bodies, and recovered eight .25 caliber bullets from the crime scene and autopsies. Nancy Bulger, a firearms expert, concluded that a single .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol had ejected all of the shells found and that a single weapon had fired all eight bullets recovered. Bulger testified that the ammunition clip for most .25 caliber semiautomatics carries six or seven rounds, but extended magazines for .25 caliber firearms, although not common, do exist.

{¶ 14} In the Hartigs' master bedroom, detectives found open dresser drawers as well as seven empty ring boxes. In the living room, police found a metal box with a lock and key.

{¶ 15} Dr. Elizabeth Balraj, the Cuyahoga County Coroner, supervised and observed the autopsies. She testified that Cora Hartig had been shot five times and had died "as a result of * * * gunshot wounds to her chest with internal injuries." Bearnhardt Hartig, shot three times, died from "gunshot wounds to [his] right chest with multiple visceral injuries." Dr. Balraj found no evidence of stippling or gunpowder residue; therefore, Dr. Balraj concluded, the shots had been fired from a distance greater than one and one half to three feet.

{¶ 16} On the day that police discovered the Hartigs' bodies, Noling and his cohorts had a party at Trandifer's house. At the party, Noling was acting drunk and bragging about the Alliance robberies, but not about the Atwater Township murders. After a police cruiser drove by, Noling grabbed Wolcott, started screaming, and said that "he was going to kill him, he better not have told." Noling also asked Robyn Elliot if she "had heard anything on the police scanner about two old people getting shot in Atwater." When she said no, Noling was "just laughing and acting like a big shot." In fact, the first television news reports about the Hartig murders did not air until the evening of the next day.

{¶ 17} Two days after the discovery of the Hartigs' bodies, Alliance police arrested Noling and his accomplices in connection with the Alliance robberies. While in police custody with Noling, St. Clair asked Alliance police officers the identity of two out-of-town detectives who wanted to interview them. After being told their names, St. Clair asked, "Is it about the two old people who were killed in Atwater?" Noling immediately told St. Clair, "Keep your mouth shut about that, don't say another word, keep quiet."

{¶ 18} Noling admitted his involvement in the Hartig murders to two fellow jail inmates. He told inmate Paul Garner that he "didn't mean to do it. Just happened. The lady said; I know who you are." St. Clair had "said his name, and so they had to kill both of them." Noling also described the murders to jail inmate Ronnie Gantz. Noling told Gantz that St. Clair was the shooter, but then subsequently recanted, claiming instead that he was the shooter because St. Clair "was too weak to shoot anyone." Noling told Gantz that he shot Bearnhardt with a .25 caliber automatic because "the man tried to be a hero." St. Clair denied any involvement in the murders to Gantz.

{¶ 19} Noling told Corrections Officer Lawrence Kouri that St. Clair was "trying to frame" Noling for the Hartigs' murder.

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On May 4, 1990, Noling also told Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley that Wolcott and St. Clair had committed the murders, but Noling "knew where the firearm involved" was and knew about a bloody shirt and stolen stereo. Noling talked about two semiautomatic .25 caliber weapons. Based on the information from Noling and from a man named Chico, police recovered the .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol that Noling had fired during the Murphy robbery. Police never recovered the weapon used to kill the Hartigs.

{¶ 20} Noling later told Anthony Travise, a fellow inmate, how St. Clair, Dalesandro, Wolcott, and Noling had robbed several people. Noling admitted that he was a suspect in the Hartig murders, but never admitted to Travise that he was responsible for their deaths. Noling also told Travise that if he ever testified against Noling, "he would get [him] one way or another."

{¶ 21} At trial, St. Clair described a somewhat different version of events. St. Clair testified that the group had stolen items from unlocked cars and that Noling had suggested robbing elderly people in their homes by asking to use a telephone. St. Clair also described how he and Noling had robbed the Hughes family and what he knew about Noling's robbery of the Murphy family.

{¶ 22} St. Clair admitted that he had pled guilty to aggravated robbery and aggravated murder in connection with the Hartig murders, and that he had received a sentence of 20 years to life. St. Clair denied, however, that Noling or he had been in Atwater Township...

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