State v. Tucker, 031819 OHCA12, CA2017-12-172

Docket Nº:CA2017-12-172
Opinion Judge:M. POWELL, J.
Party Name:STATE OF OHIO, Appellee, v. WILLIAM R. TUCKER, Appellant.
Attorney:Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, Michael Greer, Government Services Center, for appellee Michele Temmel, for appellant
Judge Panel:RINGLAND, P.J., and PIPER, J., concur.
Case Date:March 18, 2019
Court:Court of Appeals of Ohio
 
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2019-Ohio-911

STATE OF OHIO, Appellee,

v.

WILLIAM R. TUCKER, Appellant.

No. CA2017-12-172

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

March 18, 2019

CRIMINAL APPEAL FROM BUTLER COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS Case No. CR2017-01-0028

Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, Michael Greer, Government Services Center, for appellee

Michele Temmel, for appellant

OPINION

M. POWELL, J.

{¶ 1} William Tucker appeals his convictions in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas for aggravated arson and murder. For the reasons described below, this court affirms Tucker's convictions.

{¶ 2} This case stems from the death of firefighter Patrick Wolterman, who died in the line of duty on December 28, 2015, while attempting to extinguish a fire at the home of Tucker's uncle, codefendant Lester Parker. The state alleged that Parker arranged for Tucker to set fire to Parker's home while Parker was away, in exchange for oxycodone tablets. Parker's motive was to collect insurance proceeds.

{¶ 3} A Butler County grand jury indicted Tucker with two counts of aggravated arson, violations of R.C. 2909.02(A)(1) and (A)(2), and one count of felony murder, a violation of R.C. 2903.02(B). In the same indictment, the grand jury charged Parker with identical counts.

{¶ 4} The matter proceeded to a joint, 9-day, jury trial. The jurors found both men guilty as charged. The court sentenced each to 15 years to life in prison. Tucker appeals, raising five assignments of error.

{¶ 5} Assignment of Error No. 1:

{¶ 6} THE EVIDENCE WAS INSUFFICIENT TO SUPPORT APPELLANT'S CONVICTIONS AND THE VERDICT WAS AGAINST THE MANIFEST WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE.

{¶ 7} Tucker argues that the state's evidence was legally insufficient to convict him of the aggravated arson counts as the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial. Tucker further argues that his convictions were against the weight of the evidence.

{¶ 8} The concept of legal sufficiency of the evidence refers to whether the conviction can be supported as a matter of law. State v. Everitt, 12th Dist. Warren No. CA2002-07-070, 2003-Ohio-2554, ¶ 10. In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, an appellate court must examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, would convince the average mind of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Jenks, 61 Ohio St.3d 259 (1991), paragraph two of the syllabus. The relevant inquiry is whether, after reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact would have found all the essential elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Id.

{¶ 9} To determine whether a conviction is against the manifest weight of the evidence, a reviewing court must look at the entire record, weigh the evidence and all reasonable inferences, consider the credibility of the witnesses, and determine whether in resolving the conflicts in the evidence, the trier of fact clearly lost its way and created such a manifest miscarriage of justice that the conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered. State v. Bradbury, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2015-06-111, 2016-Ohio-5091, ¶ 17. An appellate court will overturn a conviction due to the manifest weight of the evidence only in extraordinary circumstances when the evidence presented at trial weighs heavily in favor of acquittal. Id. at ¶ 18. A finding that a conviction is supported by the manifest weight of the evidence is also dispositive of the issue of sufficiency. State v. Jones, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2012-03-049, 2013-Ohio-150, ¶ 19.

{¶ 10} The trial evidence revealed that Parker, who lived with his wife Bertha at 1310 Pater Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio, had debts exceeding $143, 000. On the day of the fire, approximately $60, 000 of those debts were past due. Shortly before Christmas Eve 2015, Parker began moving various items out of 1310 Pater Avenue. Items removed included framed family photographs, decorative objects and mementos, and important documents. On December 27, 2015, Parker and Bertha went to Las Vegas on a planned vacation.

{¶ 11} Tucker, originally from Hamilton, Ohio, resided in Richmond, Kentucky at the time of the fire. During the evening hours of December 27, 2015, Kim Brooks, one of Tucker's girlfriends, requested that Courtney Basinger drive to Richmond to bring Tucker back to Hamilton. Basinger understood that she was bringing Tucker to Hamilton so that he could obtain oxycodone tablets. Basinger understood that she would be compensated for transporting Tucker with gas money and oxycodone.

{¶ 12} Basinger was accompanied by Brooks, Basinger's two children, and the children's teenaged babysitter. Basinger met Tucker at a CVS Pharmacy in Richmond. Tucker was carrying a gym bag. Upon their return to Hamilton, Basinger dropped off the children and the babysitter and she, Tucker, and Brooks drove to the east side of Hamilton.

{¶ 13} Tucker instructed Basinger to park on Grand Boulevard between Pater Avenue and Allstatter Avenue. Basinger testified that Tucker exited the vehicle with the gym bag and walked towards Pater Avenue. Tucker then turned onto Pater Avenue and disappeared from her view as he continued up the street. Basinger estimated that Tucker returned to the vehicle approximately 20 minutes after leaving. As he approached the vehicle, he was breathing heavily, carrying the gym bag, a gas can, and a padlock. Basinger's vehicle was confirmed to have been in the vicinity of 2400-2510 Grand Boulevard on December 28, 2015 at 12:45 a.m. based upon a police cruiser license plate reader report. Google GPS data taken from Basinger's cellular phone records indicated that her phone was stationary between 12:41 a.m. and 12:52 a.m.

{¶ 14} At 1:05 a.m. on December 28, 2015, Officer Brian Gleason of the Hamilton Police Department was dispatched to 1310 Pater Avenue in reference to an intrusion alarm. Upon arrival he discovered smoke coming from the home. He conducted a perimeter sweep and noted that the rear cellar doors to the home were open. It was later determined that the cellars doors had been secured by a hasp and padlock. Based on damage to the hasp, detectives believed that it had been broken off with a pry tool.

{¶ 15} The fire department responded at 1:15 a.m. Firefighter Wolterman entered the home through the front door. By then, however, an arson fire set in the home's basement had severely...

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