Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

State of Ohio v. Dawud E. Spaulding, Case no. 2013-0536
Summit County Common Pleas Court

In the Matter of the Application of Buckeye Wind, LLC, Case no. 2014-1210
Ohio Power Siting Board

Death Penalty

State of Ohio v. Dawud E. Spaulding, Case no. 2013-0536
Summit County Common Pleas Court

Dawud E. Spaulding is appealing his convictions and death sentence for the 2011 Akron murders of his ex-girlfriend, her boyfriend, and another man.

Around 2 a.m. on Dec. 15, 2011, Patrick Griffin was shot in a doorway of an Akron residence and left paralyzed by his injuries. Later that morning, Ernest Thomas and Erica Singleton, who had recently started dating, were shot and killed in the driveway of Thomas’ house. Singleton had two young children with Spaulding.

Woman Reports Threats
According to the state’s brief filed with the Court, in the few years before the 2011 murders Singleton had reported to police a number of instances of threatening behavior by Spaulding. He was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and telecommunication harassment in 2010 and again for domestic violence after a February 2011 incident.

On Nov. 28, 2011, Singleton called 911 stating that Spaulding, armed with a gun and a knife, had climbed through an open window into her house, demanded money, threatened to rape and kill her, and said he had a grave site selected for her. While police were investigating at her home, Spaulding called her, mentioning that it was “real smooth” of her to call the police on him and that he was watching her. Singleton filed a police report and took her kids to a shelter for several days. Spaulding was charged with aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, domestic violence, and kidnapping.

Singleton secured a civil protection order against Spaulding from a court on Dec. 1, 2011. On Dec. 14, she took her children to her mother’s house and went out for the night. The next morning, police were dispatched to the Thomas home and arrived to find Singleton and Thomas dead in the driveway.

Death Penalty Imposed for Murders
Spaulding was indicted for the aggravated murders of Singleton and Thomas, attempted murder of Griffin, violation of a protection order, intimidation of a crime victim, and other offenses. A jury found him guilty of nearly all charges in January 2013 and recommended the death penalty, which the trial court imposed. The Ohio Supreme Court must accept the appeals of cases that sentence someone to death.

In his appeal, Spaulding presents 14 legal claims to try to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn his convictions and death sentence and to give him a new trial.

Spaulding’s Contentions
Among the arguments Spaulding made in his brief to the Court:

  • Given that defendants facing a death sentence have the right to be represented by two attorneys certified to handle death-penalty cases, Spaulding maintains he was denied effective counsel because his attorneys weren’t both present during important parts of his case. For example, he asserts his lead attorney didn’t attend Griffin’s deposition and missed the issuing of the verdicts, and co-counsel didn’t appear at other proceedings. Spaulding contends his lawyers didn’t meet the expectations of capital-certified counsel, and their absences denied him due process.
  • Spaulding raises an issue with Griffin’s identification of him as the shooter. Spaulding points to a detective’s testimony that Griffin, while in the hospital, first chose no one from the photo array he was shown. After being told his friends Singleton and Thomas had died, he picked out Spaulding from a second review of the images. Spaulding argues his attorneys’ use of boilerplate language in a late motion to suppress this testimony constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.
  • Spaulding also takes issue with the jury’s trip to the crime scene without a court reporter, without the judge’s participation, and without his presence as the defendant. His attorneys had a duty to preserve the record, so their waiver of a court reporter to document the events at the “jury view” of the crime scene amounted to ineffective counsel, he argues. It’s a best practice, at the least, for the trial judge to attend the jury view to ensure nothing legally improper occurred, Spaulding asserts. 
  • In his other claims, Spaulding maintains that he repeatedly asked for a lawyer during his interrogation by police but was denied that right; the testimony from magistrates who considered matters related to the protection order was improper; and information given to the jury about his prior convictions back to 2001 was inadmissible and violated his constitutional rights.

State’s Responses
Representing the state, the Summit County prosecutor counters Spauldings arguments:

  • The rule for the appointment of attorneys in death-penalty cases doesn’t require both counsel to be present for every proceeding in the case, only that at least two attorneys be named to represent the accused, the prosecutor argues. The prosecutor also disputes some of the absences noted by Spaulding. The record reflects that both attorneys attended and asked questions during Griffin’s deposition and doesn’t indicate that one wasn’t present when the verdicts were read, the prosecutor points out. Instead, the prosecutor maintains the court’s journal shows that both attorneys were there with Spaulding for the verdicts.
  • The prosecutor notes that the request to suppress the eyewitness identification of Spaulding was untimely, yet the court still held a hearing to consider the request, so Spaulding wasn’t harmed by the late filing. In addition, it’s not reasonably probable that the jury would’ve acquitted Spaulding if jurors hadn’t heard or considered Griffin’s statements identifying him as the shooter.
  • For the jury trip to the crime scene, the prosecutor explains that the court told the jurors they could only talk with the bailiff, and described other restrictions during the visit. No statute requires the trial judge to join the jury view, nor does due process mandate that, the prosecutor argues. The prosecutor adds the accused is permitted to attend a jury view, but may waive such a visit. The record doesn’t indicate that Spaulding’s lawyers waived his presence at the jury view or that Spaulding wasn’t on the trip, the prosecutor asserts. There’s no evidence of improper communications or prejudice from the jury’s trip to the crime scene, the prosecutor concludes.
  • On the other assertions, the prosecutor maintains Spaulding didn’t make a clear and unambiguous request to have his attorney present during his interrogation and, because he didn’t admit any guilt during questioning, the exclusion of the statements was unlikely to have changed the jury’s verdicts. Spaulding’s prior offenses for domestic violence, the charges filed after the November break-in, and the protection order showed Spaulding’s motive for the murder and his intent to keep Singleton from testifying against him for the break-in, the prosecutor contends.

- Kathleen Maloney

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Dawud E. Spaulding: Donald Hicks, 330.762.5500

Representing the State of Ohio from the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office: Heaven DiMartino, 330.643.7459

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Did Changes to Wind Farm Construction Project Require Hearing Before Approval?

In the Matter of the Application of Buckeye Wind, LLC, Case no. 2014-1210
Ohio Power Siting Board


  • Was the Ohio Power Siting Board’s approval of three of five amendments without a hearing to Buckeye Wind’s operating certificate improper?
  • Do changes in Buckeye Wind’s construction staging locations, burial of electric power collection lines, and relocation of property access roads constitute a “material increase in the environmental impact of the facility or a substantial change in the location of all or a portion of such a facility” that requires a hearing before the siting board can approve the changes?

In 2010, Buckeye Wind, a subsidiary of EverPower Wind Holdings, became Ohio’s first wind-powered generation facility to receive a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need from the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB). Several parties, including Champaign County and some county townships, appealed OPSB’s decision, and the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the granting of the certificate in 2012. In 2013, Buckeye Wind requested approval of six amendments to its original certificate. The Champaign County Board of County Commissioners and the boards of trustees of Goshen, Union and Urbana Townships intervened in the matter, which was sent to an OPSB administrative law judge.

The judge determined that three of the requests by Buckeye Wind required a hearing before the agency could approve any amendments while three others didn’t require a hearing. One of the three set for a hearing was withdrawn by the company, and the hearing took place on the other two matters, with the county and townships (collectively “the county”) objecting to the limited scope of the hearing. The OPSB approved all the amendments and the county filed for a rehearing, which was denied by the board.

In 2012, Champaign Wind, another subsidiary of EverPower Wind Holdings, filed for a certificate to build a wind farm adjacent to the Buckeye Wind facility. The OPSB refers to the first project as Buckeye I and the second as Buckeye II. The Buckeye developers told the OPSB the amendments would minimize the environmental impacts of the property while taking advantage of jointly constructing and operating twin wind farms. The county claims this is the first time the company has acknowledged the two projects were related and the first instance to reveal the two would be constructed at the same time. The county contends that it’s reasonable to expect a material increase in the environmental impact on Champaign County because of the joint construction plan and that the impacts should be explored through a hearing.

It appealed to the Supreme Court. Because the OPSB is an administrative agency, the Court is bound to hear the appeal.

Hearing Would Determine Impact of Amendments
The county notes that R.C. 4906.09(B) requires the OPSB to conduct a hearing on an amendment to an operating certificate if there is a “material increase in the environmental impact of the facility or a substantial change in the location of all or a portion of such a facility,” but that there is very little guidance for wind projects on what would trigger a hearing. The county argues the three changes will significantly impact the county in ways that weren’t foreseeable when the project was initially approved and the judge didn’t provide sufficient details of the findings that the OPSB could base its approval.

The county contends adjusting the construction staging areas for use by both Buckeye Wind I and II at the same time could increase construction traffic and road wear in a significant way. Burying more than 41 miles of electric lines rather than using overhead lines as originally proposed and the relocation of two access roads on the property that end at public right-of-ways could also impact government-owned roads. Because Buckeye I was the first approved project by the OPSB, it did not include a Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA), the county notes, while indicating that in Buckeye II and most other subsequently approved wind project certificates, the OPSB has made the road use agreement a standard condition.

“Therefore, Appellant County and Townships believe it would also be reasonable for Appellee OPSB to review the conditions of the Certificate approved in 2010 for Buckeye I to ascertain if there were modifications necessary at the current time, with additional information gleaned and legislation enacted after the approval of Buckeye I in 2010,” the county’s brief states.

The county also argues its due process rights were violated because the OPSB denied a hearing on the amendments and that prevented the county sheriff and engineer as well as several other township, city, and county officials from providing relevant testimony on both the positive and negative impacts of the proposed changes.

Board Finds Changes Lessen Environmental Impact
The OPSB argues the evidence presented by Buckeye demonstrated the amendments to the certificate will lessen the impact on the environment and the local community, primarily from eliminating the overhead electric collection lines in favor of underground lines. The board notes the revision on the power lines would reduce total collection lines from 65 miles to 42 miles and then would bury 40 miles of those lines mostly on private property.

The OPSB notes the relocation of the staging areas were made at the request of landowners and are within the same parcels of land as the original. The relocation makes it possible to use the staging areas for both Buckeye wind projects, which they contend will reduce the impact of the facilities on the environment.

“These changes avoid redundant impacts that would result if the two projects were constructed and operated as originally proposed under the current certificates,” the OPSB brief states. “Because these changes allow both projects to use the same substation and staging areas as well as the same locations for the majority of the collection line systems, environmental and other impacts will be significantly reduced, not increased, as (the county) claims.”

Discretion to Conduct Hearings
In addition to its position that the findings presented to it by the judge and its staff indicated the project will lessen the impact on the environment, the OPSB also argues it has discretion to manage its docket and determine when a hearing is necessary. The board contends the county fails to present any explanation of how the board abused its authority by not requiring a hearing,

The board presents several responses to the alleged impacts, including the fact that no RUMA exists for the Buckeye I project. The OPSB argues the original certificate had language similar to a RUMA to protect against road damage, and set the same condition for burying power lines even though the request at the time was to bury fewer lines. The board argues the county had a full opportunity to challenge the burial requirements and construction methods in the original case and the matter was resolved.

The board concludes the standard for the Court to overturn the board’s decision not to conduct a hearing is that the aggrieved party must show it will suffer harm that warrants a reversal of the board’s decision.

“No harm has been demonstrated. It is well settled that the Court will not reverse an order of the (board) unless the party seeking reversal shows that it has been or will be harmed or prejudiced by the order,” the board states in its brief.

The board further notes the harm cannot be generalized, but must specifically impact the county and the townships. It concludes the government bodies can’t demonstrate any harm because the changes the board approved without a hearing were made to aspects of the facility located on private property or leased from landowners cooperating with Buckeye.

Buckeye Intervenes to Support Board
The Court permitted Buckeye to intervene in the case and file a brief in support of the OPSB. The company argues the county hasn’t provided the necessary evidence to demonstrate the board’s decision was unreasonable and that government bodies forfeited their claims by waiting too long to raise their concerns.

“Finally, the reality is that the record fully supports the Board’s factual determination that the three amendments did not require a hearing,” the Buckeye brief maintains. “The record is replete with ample evidence that the three amendments were an indisputable improvement in the project that reduced its scope and impact and that will not result in a material environmental impact or substantial change in all or a portion of the facility.”

- Dan Trevas

Docket entries, memoranda, briefs (including amicus briefs), and other information about this case may be accessed through the case docket.

Representing Champaign County and Goshen, Union, and Urbana Townships: Jane Napier, 937.484.1900

Representing Ohio Power Siting Board from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office: Werner Margard, 614.466.4397

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These informal previews are prepared by the Supreme Court's Office of Public Information to provide the news media and other interested persons with a brief overview of the legal issues and arguments advanced by the parties in upcoming cases scheduled for oral argument. The previews are not part of the case record, and are not considered by the Court during its deliberations.

Parties interested in receiving additional information are encouraged to review the case file available in the Supreme Court Clerk's Office (614.387.9530), or to contact counsel of record.