State v. Rutledge, 2009 Ohio 2478 (Ohio App. 5/26/2009), 2009-CA-0022.

CourtUnited States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
Writing for the CourtGwin
Citation2009 Ohio 2478
PartiesState of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Latoya Rutledge, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 2009-CA-0022.,2009-CA-0022.
Decision Date26 May 2009

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2009 Ohio 2478
State of Ohio, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Latoya Rutledge, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 2009-CA-0022.
Court of Appeals of Ohio, Fifth District, Stark County.
Date of Judgment Entry: May 26, 2009.

Criminal appeal from the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2007CR-1903(C).


John D. Ferrero, Prosecuting Attorney, By: Renee M. Watson, 110Central Plaza South, Ste. 510, Canton, OH 44702, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Matthew Petit, 111 Second Street N.W., Ste. 302, Canton, OH 44702, for Defendant-Appellant.

Judges: Hon. Sheila G. Farmer, P.J., Hon. W. Scott Gwin, J., Hon. William B. Hoffman, J.


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{¶1} Defendant-appellant Latoya Rutledge appeals her convictions and sentences entered by the Stark County Court of Common Pleas, on one count of complicity to aggravated robbery, one count of complicity to aggravated burglary, and one count of complicity to aggravated kidnapping following a jury trial. Each count also included a firearm specification. Plaintiff-appellee is the State of Ohio.


{¶2} On March 13, 2008, the Stark County Grand Jury indicted appellant on one count of complicity to aggravated murder, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(1) and (A)(2) and R.C. 2903.01(B); one count of complicity to aggravated robbery, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(1) and (A)(2) and R.C. 2911.01(A)(1); one count of complicity to aggravated burglary, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(1) and (A)(2) and R.C. 2911.11(A)(2); and one count of complicity to aggravated kidnapping, in violation of R.C. 2923.03(A)(1) and (A)(2) and R.C. 2905.01(A)(2).

{¶3} The matter proceeded to jury trial, commencing on June 24, 2008. The following evidence was presented at trial.

{¶4} In June 2007, Steven Hight, Jr. lived in Canton at 2311 20th Street N.E. He lived with his brother Antwon and his father Steven Sr. Steve Jr. and his brother smoked marijuana and sold marijuana to friends and acquaintances. During May and June of 2007, Steve Jr. and Antwon sold marijuana to a man known to them only as "Kwan." Appellant would frequently drive Kwan to the Hight home in her silver Pontiac Grand Am.

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{¶5} In May and June, Steve Jr. sold marijuana to Kwan once or twice a week. Antwon sold to Kwan 6-7 times within a two-week period. On one occasion, after Kwan and appellant left, appellant returned to the Hight home irate and claiming Antwon had shorted her purchase of marijuana.

{¶6} On the evening of June 20, 2007, Antwon and Steve Jr. decided to go night fishing. They left their house between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. The boys asked Steve Sr. if he wanted to go, but he declined.

{¶7} That same evening, Raymond Byrd received a phone call from Zabe Jenkins. Jenkins told Byrd to come and meet him at Kwan's girlfriend's apartment at the Chips Townhouses. He took his shotgun with him tucked inside his pants and walked the five minutes to the meeting place.

{¶8} When Byrd arrived, he went into the apartment with Jenkins, Michael Hall and Kwan. The men planned a robbery at the Hight home. All of them dressed in dark clothing. Byrd noticed Jenkins had a .9-millimeter chrome handgun. When they left the apartment, appellant was outside waiting for them in her silver Grand Am. Byrd, Kwan, Jenkins and Hall all got into the car. Appellant drove them to the Hight neighborhood and past the Hight home. The others pointed to the house and told Byrd, "that's the house right there." Appellant then parked the car around the corner from the house. The men got out of the car and tied black bandanas over their faces. Byrd gave appellant his cell phone and wallet before walking to the Hight home because he did not want to risk dropping them at the crime scene.

{¶9} Byrd, Jenkins, and Hall knocked on the door at the Hight home. When Steve Sr. opened the door, they rushed inside. The men used duct tape to bind Steve Sr.'s

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hands and feet together. They then ransacked the house for marijuana, money and other items. The men were getting ready to leave when they heard a knock at the door. Byrd and Jenkins decided to rob whoever it was and told Hall to go back to the car.

{¶10} A few minutes earlier, Ryan Rider was at Bob Hight's house. Bob Hight is Steven Sr.'s brother. Around midnight, Rider was outside smoking a cigarette when Bob came out and said Steve Sr. was being jumped by some men and somebody needed to go help him. Rider and Bob got into Bob's car and drove to Steve Sr.'s house five minutes away.

{¶11} When Ryan pulled in the driveway at Steve Sr.'s house, he saw three people run through the backyard. Bob stayed in the car and Ryan Rider went to the door and knocked. He saw the kitchen light go out and heard the door lock. Ryan started yelling for Steve Sr. As he did, Byrd came up behind him, pointed the shotgun at Ryan's head and ordered him to go to the back of the house. Ryan turned when he heard Byrd's voice and saw a second black male, dressed in black, pointing a gun at Bob's head through the car window.

{¶12} As Ryan walked to the rear of the house at gunpoint, Steve Sr. came charging out the side door and grabbed the barrel of the shotgun. He and Byrd momentarily battled for possession of the weapon, causing it to discharge into the roof of the carport. Ryan Rider ran. Steve Sr. managed to gain possession of the weapon. As Steve Sr. attempted to pump the weapon, Byrd threw a pair of shoes he had stolen from the home at Steve Sr. and fled.

{¶13} As Byrd ran back to appellant's car, he heard shots. A few minutes later, Jenkins showed up at the car. Appellant drove all the men back to Chips. Once back at

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Chips, the men split up the marijuana they had stolen from the Hight home. Appellant was given a portion for her participation. She then gave Byrd a ride back home.

{¶14} Canton Police Department crime scene detective Robert Smith was dispatched to the Hight home in response to a "shots fired" call. Upon arrival, Smith observed a man later identified as Steven Hight Sr. lying dead in a pool of blood in the driveway. Smith and other Canton officers collected numerous pieces of evidence from the driveway, home and surrounding area.

{¶15} Dr. P.S. Murthy performed an autopsy on Hight's body. He determined the manner of death was homicide and the cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

{¶16} Canton Police Detective Sergeant Victor George also responded to the crime scene on the night of the murder. He canvassed the neighborhood to determine whether anyone had seen anything useful to his investigation. Detective George spoke with Jason Ramey who lived near the Hight home on 22nd Street N.E. Ramey said he heard shots at approximately 12:25 a.m. The noise caused him to look out the window. When he did, he saw two people running through the yard toward the road where a Pontiac Grand Am was parked. He watched as they jumped into the car and the driver sped away.

{¶17} Detective George went to the spot where Ramey said the Grand Am was parked. He noted that the car was parked 450 feet from the rear of the Hight home. From that vantage point, one would be able to see clearly, what was taking place in the carport area of the Hight home. There was a light on in the carport area the night of Hight's murder. Further, from that distance, one would be able to hear gunshots and

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see muzzle-flash from the gun. Through continued investigation, Detective George determined that appellant was the driver of the Grand Am and that "Kwan" was Elvis Wooten.

{¶18} Approximately seven months later, the appellant, age twenty (20), was home in her pajamas when police arrived at her home with a tow truck threatening to tow her vehicle and seeking a statement about her involvement with the events of June 21, 2007. The detectives advised appellant they had information that she knew something about the Hight murder. After approximately thirty minutes of conversation at her residence, the appellant was driven to headquarters by the officers in a police cruiser. She was not handcuffed, threatened or restrained in any way either in the cruiser or at the police department.

{¶19} Once at the police department, appellant was provided with her Miranda warnings. Detective George went over the warnings with her verbally and in writing. Appellant signed a form indicating she understood and was waiving her rights and agreed to speak with the detectives, and gave the officers a taped statement.

{¶20} Appellant denied that she had any knowledge of what was to take place at the Hight home before driving the men to the residence. Appellant indicated that Wooten told her what was going on after she parked the car around the corner from the Hight residence. Appellant told the officers there had been no phone calls between herself and Wooten the evening of Hight's murder. She claimed that for approximately thirty minutes, the men nagged her for a ride "around the corner" and she finally relented. She denied seeing any weapons, even though Byrd's shotgun, which was recovered at the scene, was 37 inches long. She claimed none of the men covered their

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faces. Appellant told the officers that she thought the trip was suspicious, but claimed Hall told her not to worry about it and just go park the car. She claimed that she and Wooten stayed with her car and that she and Wooten argued about the reason they were there. Appellant said when the other men came back to the car, the only thing they told her was "Drive. Get out of here." The detectives released appellant and provided her a ride home at the conclusion of the interview.

{¶21} After speaking with appellant, Detective George obtained cell phone records for both Wooten and appellant's phones. Between 10:00 p.m. and 12:40 a.m. on the night of Hight's murder, there were six phone calls between appellant and Wooten. During the approximate time appellant claimed Wooten was standing outside her car arguing with her, Wooten called appellant...

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