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Conviction upheld in tampering case


Published: Fri, March 3, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The defendant was sentenced to a year in prison.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- By a 2-1 ruling this week, the 11th District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Stephen J. Cortner on a charge of tampering with evidence, after a gun was fired outside the former 77 Soul nightclub.
"We find nothing in the testimony that would lead us to believe the jury lost its way or created a manifest miscarriage of justice," Judge Diane V. Grendell wrote in the majority opinion supporting Cortner's conviction in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Donald R. Ford concurred, and Judge William M. O'Neill dissented.
The shots were fired Nov. 23, 2003, during a fracas involving 25 to 30 people. Some of those involved, including the man who purportedly fired the 10 shots, left in five vehicles immediately after the shots were fired.
Cortner was a front-seat passenger in one of the vehicles, which police stopped after the disturbance. Police said that as they removed Cortner from the car, they saw a handgun on the seat where Cortner had been sitting.
Conviction
Cortner was sentenced to a year in prison after a jury convicted him of tampering with evidence, but acquitted him of carrying a concealed weapon. During the trial, Cortner testified that the gun found on his seat was the one fired by the driver of the car during the disturbance.
In his appeal, Cortner argued that the trial judge erred by allowing the jury to see a "prejudicial" videotape of the fracas, by letting the prosecutor question Cortner about his prior criminal record and by allowing the conviction to stand "against the manifest weight of the evidence."
The appeals court's majority disagreed, saying the videotape was "highly relevant" to the tampering charge and that the prosecutor is free to question a defendant who takes the witness stand about his prior convictions, which relate to his credibility as a witness.
In his dissent, Judge O'Neill said he couldn't reconcile the jury's innocent verdict on the carrying a concealed weapons charge with its guilty verdict on the tampering charge.
"You cannot have it both ways. In order to tamper with an object, you must, by definition, have it in your possession," he wrote.


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