Login | April 21, 2019

Murder defendant’s Miranda waiver voluntary despite alcohol consumption

Legal News Reporter

Published: May 11, 2018

The 7th District Court of Appeals has affirmed the convictions in a Youngstown murder case in which the defendant argued his Miranda rights waiver was involuntary because he was under the influence of alcohol.

Theodore Alexander was found guilty by a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court jury of murder and felonious assault in the Sept. 29, 2013 stabbing death of Ivan West.

Alexander was then sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

On appeal, Alexander claimed statements he made to police on the night of the incident and several weeks later should have been suppressed since he did not knowingly waive his Miranda rights.

According to court records, the victim’s body was found in the dining room of Alexander’s Hilton Avenue apartment with one stab wound to the chest around 1:20 a.m. that day.

Youngstown Officer Anthony Congemi testified he found West lying face down on the floor but that he appeared to be alive.

Alexander told Detective Sgt. Ronald Rodway that he had not seen West for a week before he knocked on his door the day of the murder, holding his chest.

The appellant claimed West told him he had been stabbed “down the street” and then collapsed. Alexander called 911 and waited for emergency personnel.

Cathy Howell, Alexander’s live-in girlfriend, confirmed the victim had come to the apartment looking for help. However, she told Rodway West had been at the apartment just two days earlier.

Rodway brought Alexander – who reportedly appeared “nervous” at the scene -- in to make a formal statement based on the conflicting statements as to the last time he had seen West.

Alexander said he wasn’t sure if West had spent the night at his apartment two days earlier because he had been at another house putting up drywall. He refused to give Rodway information about the homeowners of that property, and then changed his story to say he was in the other bedroom with his girlfriend the night she told police West spent the night.

Three weeks later, Alexander told the detective he sent West upstairs alone while he went to a neighbor’s for help.

After he was charged with murder, his defense attorney filed a motion to suppress statements Alexander made to officers, as well as evidence collected from his apartment, his shirt and his cell phone the day of the incident.

The trial court denied all requests to suppress at a hearing except for the cell phone evidence.

The court determined Alexander knowingly waived his Miranda rights prior to making the statements and that the evidence gathered from his apartment were properly obtained.

However, Alexander claimed he drank beer before the incident, and that his physical appearance in the videotaped interview proved he was intoxicated.

However, 7th District Judge Cheryl L. Waite noted in her 3-0 opinion that the mere presence of alcohol or drugs in a person’s system does not make a confession inadmissible. She cited State v. Foden, 7th Dist. No. 08 CO 44, 2009-Ohio-6532.

“Appellant’s assertion that he was sufficiently impaired by alcohol on the night of the incident is not borne out by the evidence in the record,” Judge Waite wrote. “There was no testimony at either the suppression hearing or at trial that Appellant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Three police officers testified at trial. None of them were asked on direct or cross-examination about Appellant’s appearance or whether he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There is nothing in the record to indicate that Appellant consumed any alcohol on the night in question which might impair his ability to waive his Miranda rights.”

The appellate panel also disagreed with Alexander’s argument that the state had no direct eyewitnesses or other direct evidence to link him to the crime.

For instance, the only blood evidence that was found was located in Alexander’s dining area and the kitchen sink near where the victim’s body was found.

A detective testified that there was a knife in Alexander’s kitchen sink that appeared to have droplets nearby, plus knives in two bedrooms.

The DNA profile on the kitchen knife handle was consistent with Alexander’s profile. West’s DNA profile was excluded from the kitchen knife handle and from a bedroom knife.

The doctor who performed West’s autopsy testified the knife found in appellant’s kitchen sink was most consistent with the victim’s death.

Appellate judges Gene Donofrio and Carol Ann Robb concurred.

The case is cited State v. Alexander, 2018-Ohio-1433.