No new trial for E. Liverpool man

By Michele C. Hladik

Trial court errors were not necessarily the reason for the reversal, the high court said.

COLUMBUS – A Columbiana County man convicted of aggravated burglary will not get a new trial.

The Ohio Supreme Court has reversed the 7th District Court of Appeals decision to grant Timothy Wamsley a new trial based on jury instruction errors.

Wamsley, of East Liverpool, was convicted of aggravated burglary in the 2004 beating of his former girlfriend, Janet Stoddard, at her apartment. He was sentenced to serve four years in jail. Wamsley appealed to the appellate court which vacated both the conviction and sentence and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial. The state appealed the matter with the Ohio Supreme Court.

“After reviewing the record, we conclude that the instructions in this case did not necessarily render the trial so fundamentally unfair that it could not be a reliable vehicle for the determination of the defendant’s guilt or innocence,” wrote Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton in the high court’s decision. The vote was 6-1.

Justice Stratton wrote the trial court did err in its jury instructions, but those errors were not necessarily reason for reversal and the appellate court should have considered the complete jury instructions in its decision.

The focus on the high court’s decision was on whether the errors committed by the trial court were considered “structural errors.”

“Because we hold that the error was not structural and the court of appeals failed to properly conduct a plain-error analysis, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the cause to that court for further proceedings,” Justice Stratton wrote.

During oral arguments before the high court last November, Wamsley was represented by assistant Public Defender Katherine Szudy. Szudy argued there were several errors during jury instructions negatively impacted the outcome of the trial and led to the conviction and sentence. She said the jury should have been allowed to consider whether Wamsley knew he was trespassing at the time of the incident and the trial judge should have given the jury a definition of assault.

Columbiana County Assistant Prosecutor Tammie Jones argued those problems with the jury instructions were not valid reason for ordering a new trial. She pointed out Wamsley’s defense attorney’s during the trial had a chance to object to jury instructions and didn’t.

“The trial court failed to inform the jury that to be guilty of trespass, the defendant must act either knowingly, recklessly, or negligently,” Stratton wrote. “Accordingly, the trial court committed error. The defendant did not object. The question at issue is whether the reviewing court should treat the error as a so-called structural error or as a possible plain error.”

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