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9th District affirms Akron gang initiation murder convictions

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 16, 2020

The 9th District Court of Appeals recently affirmed the convictions of two brothers involved in multiple random Akron shootings that were part of a gang initiation.
The incidents occurred during the early morning hours of July 7, 2018 at three separate locations -
Schiller Avenue, a parking lot on South Arlington and an alleyway near 6th Avenue and Minordy Place.
Donyea and Orlando Tyus were tried together before a Summit County jury.
Donyea Tyus was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of murder, two counts of felonious assault, and one count of having weapons while under disability. Firearm specifications accompanied the aggravated murder and murder counts.
Donyea’s half-brother, Orlando Tyus, was also charged in relation to the crimes. They were both sentenced to life in prison without parole.
A confidential informant, B.H., stated the crimes were part of a gang initiation and that each person had to kill someone to be a part of the gang. B.H. believed that the killings were random.
The facts
B.R. and his brother were visiting family on Schiller Avenue in Akron on the evening of July 6, 2018 for a blessing ceremony to offer support for an ill family member. Around 3:30 a.m. on July 7, 2018, B.R. and his brother walked to B.R.’s car which was parked along the street. B.R. approached the driver side and B.R.’s brother went towards the passenger side.
Two men approached them saying, “[G]ive me your money.” B.R.’s brother turned around and saw an African-American man in an army-type hat near him. The other man near B.R. shot B.R., and B.R.’s brother then took off running towards the house.
The evidence supports that the man near B.R.’s brother tried to shoot B.R.’s brother but the weapon misfired. B.R. was shot multiple times and died from his injuries.
B.R.’s brother told police that the men fled on foot towards Tallmadge Avenue.
An autopsy revealed B.R. had four gunshot wounds, one to the back of the head, one to the face, one to the neck, and one to the left upper arm. The gunshot wound to the back of the head was fatal.
The appellate panel then described the second crime scene in an opinion written by 9th District Judge Donna J. Carr.
Around 6 a.m. on July 7, 2018, Akron police received a 911 call reporting that an African- American man had been found dead in a parking lot near 5th Avenue and South Arlington. He had been shot in the head. The victim was later identified as R.M., a homeless drug user who squatted in abandoned houses. An autopsy showed the bullets were fired from two different weapons.
The victim in the third crime scene at 6th Avenue and Minordy Place was C.H., a C.H. was a long-time drug addict who supported her habit through prostitution.
According to appellate records, an African-American male grabbed her and pulled her into an alley after offering her drugs to try.
C.H. said she then saw another African-American man and a white blond woman who pointed a gun at her. C.H. said one of the men held a gun to her head and tried to shoot her, but the bullets kept falling out. She was able to run away and escape.
Initially, B.H. told police she believed that the female culprit, Cheyenne James, was being held against her will by the Tyus brothers during the crime spree. Later, B.H. called James was a willing participant.
James, a 20-year-old heroin addict, told police about the crimes.
Donyea Tyus
James, who received a plea deal in exchange for her truthful testimony, said the brothers told her she had to kill someone or they would kill her. On appeal, Donyea argued the jury was unreasonable in failing to discount James’ testimony.
However, the appellate court disagreed.
“While James was shown to have lied about certain things and to have not told police all the details she revealed at trial, her overall testimony was consistent with other significant portions of the evidence,” Carr wrote.
Donyea also argued that “gruesome” autopsy photos of R.M. that were submitted into evidence were prejudicial.
“Exhibit 48B depicts the interior of R.M.’s skull with the brain removed,” Carr wrote. “Exhibit
48C depicts the same area except that a portion of the base of the skull bone was removed to locate where the bullet lodged. In addition, Exhibit 48C includes a metal rod to demonstrate the path of the bullet. As discussed above, the bullet that killed R.M. did not directly penetrate his brain and instead entered his body near his right eye, passed through his sinuses, and lodged in the base of his skull. Understandably, how this could occur could have been confusing to the jury.
“The images presented by the medical examiner, including Exhibits 48B and 48C, would have helped illustrate the medical examiner’s testimony and eliminate any confusion as to how R.M.’s fatal injury occurred. Given the foregoing, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting these two photographs. The trial court could have reasonably concluded that the probative value of the photographs was relatively high as compared to the possible prejudicial effect.”
The panel also rejected Donyea’s argument that the trial court erred by admitting two photographs depicting him pointing a gun at the viewer/camera. Those photos were found on a phone when he was arrested.
Appellate judges Lynne Callahan and Thomas Teodosio concurred. The case is cited State v. Tyus, 2020-Ohio-4454.
Orlando Tyus
Orlando Tyus first argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to sever his trial from his brother’s because one of the state’s witnesses testified with respect to out-of-court statements made by Donyea.
Specifically, Orlando took issue with B.H.’s discussing a conversation the brothers had with her at her home several weeks after the shootings in which Donyea concern about C.J’s recent arrest and whether she would keep silent.
“Donyea’s statements were made in an informal setting to an acquaintance with no connection to law enforcement,” 9th District Judge Lynne Callahan said in her opinion. “Like statements made to a friend while incarcerated or to a fellow inmate, these statements were not testimonial in character.”
Orlando also argued the trial court erred by admitting autopsy photographs that showed the path of the bullet that caused the death of R.M.
“The trial court acknowledged the gruesome nature of the photographs, but admitted them because they were relevant to demonstrating the cause of R.M.’s death,” Callahan wrote. “Although gruesome, State’s Exhibits 48B and 48C served to illustrate the testimony of Dr. Lisa Kohler, the chief medical examiner who testified about the autopsy of R.M.’s body. Dr. Kohler testified that R.M. was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head. She noted that the bullet entered ‘just on the inside angle of the right eye’ and travelled through the sinus and the base of skull to where it lodged. Dr. Kohler explained that the bullet never entered the brain cavity, but that R.M.’s death was caused by a combination of blood loss and injury to the brain caused by ‘concussive forces’ that resulted from the trajectory of the bullet.”
The panel also rejected Orlando’s claims that his counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the photos of his co-defendant holding a firearm with the muzzle pointed toward the camera.
Appellate judges Julie Schafer and Thomas Teodosio concurred that the convictions should stand. The case is cited State v. Tyus, 2020-Ohio-4455.