Appeals Court hears murder case

ELHS hosts judges school program

Seventh District Court of Appeals judges (from left) Mary DeGenaro, Cheryl L. Waite, Gene Donofrio and Carol Ann Robb visited East Liverpool High School Wednesday morning, allowing students in government classes the chance to hear actual appeals cases being argued. The four judges represent eight counties, including Columbiana. Appeals court judges are elected to six-year terms in even numbered years and must have practiced law in Ohio at least six years prior to serving. All four judges are Youngstown State University graduates. Waite and DeGenaro earned their law degrees at Cleveland State's Marshall School of Law, while Robb and Donofrio earned theirs at the University of Akron. Prior to being elected to the appeals court, Robb served as a Columbiana County Municipal Court judge. (Photo by Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert)

EAST LIVERPOOL — Whether or not Christopher Miller bludgeoning Matthew Bailey and striking him more than 30 times in a back field constituted aggravated murder was one of the points contended by attorneys in front of three appeals court judges.

The hearing was held Wednesday at East Liverpool High School as part of the Seventh District Court of Appeals’ Back to School Program.

Appellant attorney Katherine Ross-Kinzie argued there were several errors in the way the case was presented to the jury in November 2014 when Miller, now 38, was found guilty of aggravated murder, murder and tampering with evidence.

Ross-Kinzie questioned the actions of the prosecutor, who she said used a hammer during closing arguments to illustrate the bludgeoning of Bailey and stated that it was most likely done with a hammer. She noted no murder weapon had been found and a doctor testifying in the case indicated it may have been done with a hammer. She pointed out the doctor also testified it could have been something else or multiple people.

The injuries to Bailey were both round and straight edge, according to Assistant County Prosecutor Tammie Riley Jones, who said the hammer was an explanation that made sense as to the different types of injuries from the same weapon.

Ross-Kinzie started her presentation by questioning some of the background of Miller, which came up during the questioning of Patty Colon, who was Miller’s girlfriend at the time. She questioned prosecutors asking leading questions about why they drove on the back roads and offering the suggestion that they went that way because his license was suspended. Additionally, she said questions toward the girlfriend led to the jury learning Colon and Miller had arguments which had turned physical in the past.

“You make a fair point,” said Judge Mary DeGenaro. “Some of these questions, this particular prosecutor has a tendency to go just a smidge too far.”

However, DeGenaro also questioned that even if the answers to those questions were thrown out, was there not enough forensic evidence for the jury to have convicted him anyway.

Ross-Kinzie called it a pattern, which caused a cumulative issue with the chance for Miller to receive a fair trial.

Judge Gene Donofrio questioned Jones about the prior bad acts the jury learned about, noting the physical altercation in the past between Miller and Colon could have shown the jury he has a history of violence.

Jones answered that Colon was an adverse witness and the questions asked of her was more so the jury would be able to weigh the testimony she was giving, understand their relationship and her unwillingness to cooperate.

Besides problems with some of the questions asked, Ross-Kinzie said most of the other evidence was circumstantial and it was a jail informant who testified that Miller confessed to him he was the one who committed the crime.

“In that testimony he specifically says that, Mr. Miller said it went too far and he didn’t mean for it to go that far. I just saw red,” Ross-Kinzie said as she recounted the testimony.

From that, Ross-Kinzie, said this shows the murder was not something which was pre-calculated or designed, which is required to be found guilty of aggravated murder. To that end, she said, there did not appear to be any adversity at the time between Miller and Bailey, who had spent the night at Miller’s home and the two had been seen leaving cordially together in the morning.

She said she believes the court should have never allowed the jury to consider the aggravated murder charge.

Jones said when the judges look at the manifest weight of the total evidence of the case, she believes the convictions of both aggravated murder and murder charges were warranted.

Jones described the brutal assault of Bailey, which included blood spatter in the trees near the field, the fact there was no defensive marks and that his head and face were so badly beaten it was difficult for someone to identify him. More than 30 blows was not a simple gunshot, but took time to commit. She further noted the location where the beating occurred and the body was found was far from the roadway, which also took pre-calculation.

All four appeals court judges were in attendance Wednesday, but only three hear each case. Those three met at the conclusion of the hearing and are expected to reach a decision and release it on a later date.