What Happened on Remand: Acquittals on Aggravated Murder Charges; Hung Jury on One Murder Count. State v. Ricks.

Case Background

Thomas Ricks and co-defendant Aaron Gipson allegedly visited Chanel Harper and Crystal Pool at the Harper residence in Sandusky, Ohio. Gipson and Ricks were visiting  from Michigan. Although neither of the two women had seen Ricks before that night, Harper’s brother, Calvin, was allegedly involved with Gipson in dealing drugs.

The day after the two men visited Chanel and Chrystal, Calvin Harper was found murdered in his home.

Sandusky police found and questioned Gipson, who was in custody on another matter in Canton, Michigan.  The police became aware that a second suspect, identified only as “Peanut,” was involved. Detectives drove with Gipson to the neighborhood where the second man lived. Gipson saw the man, pointed him out, and identified him to the police as “Peanut.” Once back at the station, detectives were ultimately able to identify “Peanut” as Thomas Ricks.

Ricks’ picture was included in a photo array. Chanel later picked Ricks’ picture from the array, testifying that she was sure that this was the man she had seen in her home with Gipson. Calvin’s neighbor also identified Ricks through a photo array as the man who came to her door the day of the murder.

Gipson and Ricks were tried separately for aggravated robbery and aggravated murder. Gipson did not testify during Ricks’ trial. But at Ricks’ trial, Gipson’s statements inculpating Ricks were allowed into evidence through the testimony of the investigating police officer.

A jury convicted Ricks of two counts of aggravated murder, one count of aggravated robbery, all related firearms specifications, trafficking marijuana, and trafficking cocaine. He received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

On appeal, in a split decision on issues relevant to this appeal, the Sixth District Court of Appeals affirmed Ricks’ convictions on the murder and robbery charges. The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed.

Merit Decision

In State v. Ricks, 2013-Ohio-3712, the Supreme Court of Ohio unanimously held the admission of Gipson’s out-of-court statements through the investigating police officer was improper. However, the court split 4-3 on the reasons for its ruling. The majority found the admission of the statements violated the defendant’s confrontation rights under the state and federal constitutions, and also found this constitutional error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The concurrence found the statements inadmissible only because they violated Evid. R.403. Read the complete analysis of the merit decision here. The court ultimately remanded the case for a new trial.

Case Syllabus

None.

What Happened on Remand

The case was retried to a jury in Erie County beginning May 5, 2015 before Common Pleas Court Judge Roger E. Binette. Aaron Gipson did not testify; the prosecution chose not to call him.  Nor did Gipson’s testimony come in this time through the investigating police officer, or through anyone else.  Ricks, who had not testified in the first trial, did so in the second.

The jury deliberated for five days. Ricks was acquitted of both counts of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, one count of the lesser included offense of murder during an aggravated or attempted aggravated robbery, and related firearms specifications on all charges. The jury was hung on the lesser included offense of purposeful murder with a firearm specification.   According to defense counsel, the prosecution intends to re-try Ricks on that charge.

 

 

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