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Date: 09-02-2022

Case Style:

State of Ohio v. Justus Woodard

Case Number: 29110

Judge: Welbaum

Court: Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, on appeal from the Court of Common Please, Montgomery County

Plaintiff's Attorney: Montgomery County Ohio Prosecutor's Office

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Dayton, Ohio criminal defense lawyer represented Defendant charged with felonious assault, abduction and domestic violence.

{¶ 2} On February 19, 2020, a Montgomery County grand jury returned an indictment charging Woodard with one count of felonious assault in violation of R.C. 2903.11(A)(1), a felony of the second degree; one count of abduction in violation of R.C. 2905.02(A)(2), a felony of the third degree; and one count of domestic violence in violation of R.C. 2919.25(A), a felony of the fourth degree. The charges stemmed from allegations that, during the early morning hours of February 9, 2020, Woodard went to his estranged wife's home in Miamisburg, Ohio, and became angry after seeing messages from other men on her cell phone. It was alleged that, after seeing the messages,


Woodard pushed his wife down on her bed multiple times and then choked her until she lost consciousness.

{¶ 3} Following Woodard's indictment, the trial court issued a warrant for Woodard's arrest. On March 3, 2020, Woodard was arrested by law enforcement officers in Florida. Woodard was then extradited to Ohio on March 19, 2020, and booked into the Montgomery County Jail.

{¶ 4} On April 22, 2020, the trial court scheduled Woodard's case for a jury trial to commence on August 5, 2020. In doing so, the trial court issued an order extending Woodard's speedy-trial deadline from June 13, 2020, to August 5, 2020. The extension was made in response to COVID-19 concerns, as the trial court's order referenced the passage of Am.Sub.H.B. No. 197 and the Administrative Order of the Supreme Court of Ohio, which tolled speedy-trial deadlines from March 9, 2020 to July 30, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

{¶ 5} After the trial court ordered the speedy-trial extension, Woodard filed a time waiver on July 21, 2020, that waived his constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy trial. Shortly thereafter, the trial court rescheduled Woodard's jury trial for December 16, 2020. Two weeks prior to trial, Woodard and his counsel requested new counsel be appointed to represent Woodard due to the deterioration of their attorney-client relationship. In response, the trial court appointed new counsel for Woodard and continued his jury trial to March 3, 2021.

{¶ 6} The first day of Woodard's jury trial was presided over by Judge Mary Wiseman. However, on the second day of trial, Judge Richard Skelton appeared as the


presiding judge. Judge Skelton explained on the record that Judge Wiseman had been exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19, which, pursuant to health department guidelines, required her to be in isolation for 10 days. Judge Skelton advised that he had offered to cover the trial but wanted to first ask the jurors whether they had any concerns about moving forward with the trial. After considering the matter, the jurors indicated that they were comfortable with the trial going forward as scheduled. The parties also indicated that they had no concerns with the trial moving forward or with Judge Skelton replacing Judge Wiseman. As a result, Judge Skelton presided over the rest of Woodard's jury trial.

{¶ 7} During trial, the State called several witnesses to testify. Among the witnesses was the purported victim of Woodard's offenses-Woodard's wife, J.W. J.W. testified that she and Woodard had been married since July 2, 2016, but had been separated since December 15, 2019. With regard to the incident in question, J.W. testified that around 3 a.m. on February 9, 2020, she awoke to Woodard knocking on her bedroom window. J.W. testified that she went to the back door of her house and saw Woodard standing outside crying. Upon seeing this, J.W. thought that Woodard wanted to reconcile their marriage. J.W. testified that she let Woodard inside her residence and engaged in consensual sex with him. J.W. claimed that Woodard never placed his hands around her neck while they were having consensual sex.

{¶ 8} Continuing, J.W. testified that after she and Woodard had sex, her cell phone alerted to a Facebook message from Woodard's former boss, Tim Stansell. J.W. testified that Woodard grabbed her cell phone, saw the message, and began screaming


at her and accusing her of sleeping with Stansell. Thereafter, J.W. recalled Woodard ordering her to get on the bed and not get up. J.W. testified that she tried to get up from the bed four or five times, but that every time she did so, Woodard would use his arm to push or hit her back down on the bed and tell her to "sit the fuck down." Trial Tr. Vol. I (March 3, 2021), p. 44. J.W. also testified that Woodard threatened to tie her to the bed and to kill her, her mother, and her dog.

{¶ 9} J.W. testified that, after Woodard made these threats, he began searching through her cell phone. In doing so, Woodard discovered a different message from one of his co-workers, Jeremy, which, according to J.W., "set [Woodard] off." Id. at 45. J.W. testified that Woodard accused her of sleeping with Jeremy and threw her phone against the bathroom wall. J.W. testified that Woodard then sat on her stomach with his legs straddled around her while she was lying on her back on the bed. J.W. then recalled Woodard whispering: "[T]here's no cameras here to show what's * * * happening to you." Id. at 46. The next thing J.W. remembered was Woodard putting both of his hands around her neck and her not being able to breathe. J.W. testified that she blacked out and eventually woke up on the floor to Woodard performing CPR on her.

{¶ 10} Once she regained consciousness, J.W. went to the bathroom to get her cell phone to see if she could call the police. J.W. testified, however, that Woodard jerked her phone out of her hand, threw it in the toilet, and said "you're not calling nobody bitch." Id. at 48. J.W. testified that she then attempted to leave her house but ultimately stayed because Woodard threatened to burn it down if she left. J.W. also recalled Woodard begging her to not contact the police for 48 hours so that he could have time to


run. J.W. testified that just before Woodard left her house that morning, he looked at her and said: "[I]f I have to do any prison time over this, bitch, I will be back to kill you and your family." Id. at 50.

{¶ 11} J.W. testified that after Woodard left her house, she drove to a friend's house to call the police. J.W.'s friend and the responding police officer appeared at trial and testified regarding J.W.'s emotional state and the visible injuries they observed to J.W.'s neck and chest. The attending physician who examined J.W. following the incident also testified regarding J.W.'s injuries. Specifically, the physician testified that J.W. had bruising on her right lateral and left lateral neck and small cuts to her fingers. The State also admitted photographs into evidence that depicted bruising on J.W.'s neck, chest, face and arms. See State's Exhibit 14-24.

{¶ 12} After the State rested its case, Woodard testified in his defense. During his testimony, Woodard admitted that he went to J.W.'s residence on the night in question after drinking two pitchers of beer. Woodard claimed that he just wanted to sleep on J.W.'s couch, but that J.W. wanted to first talk about their relationship. Woodard testified that J.W. told him that she was aware he had a new girlfriend and that she wanted to know if he would come back to her and reconcile their marriage. Woodard testified that he answered no and told J.W. that she needed to move on without him. Woodard, however, claimed that J.W. did not want to move on and told him that God wanted them to be together. In response, Woodard testified that he told J.W. he wanted a divorce.

{¶ 13} After having this conversation, Woodard claimed that J.W. wanted him to go to her bedroom so that they could have sex. Woodard testified that he did not want


to have sex with J.W., but that he went to the doorway of J.W.'s bedroom anyway. During that time, Woodard claimed that J.W. rubbed her hand on the bed and said "it sure is lonely over here." Trial Tr. Vol. II (Mar. 5, 2021), p. 308. Woodard testified that he was adamant about not having sex with J.W. and turned around to leave; however, Woodard testified that J.W. followed him, took ahold of his shirt, and pulled him down on the couch while saying "please don't go, please don't go." Id. at 309. Woodard testified that J.W. continued to tell him that God told her that they were going to be together and that if he was going to divorce her "the least [he] could do is have sex with [her] one last time." Id. at 310. Woodard testified that J.W.'s reasoning made perfect sense in his drunk state of mind and that he engaged in consensual sex with J.W.

{¶ 14} Woodard further testified that while having sex, J.W. "grabbed [his] hand and put it on her neck" because "she likes to be choked." Id. at 311. Woodard testified that he "was mad that [J.W.] somehow talked [him] into having sex with her[.]" Id. Despite this, Woodard testified that he and J.W. "ended up having sex again." Id. at 312. When they had sex a second time, Woodard testified that J.W. "place[d] [his] hands on her neck again" and "put[ ] her hands around [his hands] and then squeeze[d] * * * tighter than [they've] ever done it before." Id. at 312-313.

{¶ 15} Woodard testified that when he and J.W. were finished having sex, J.W. laid her cell phone next to him on the bed; the cell phone alerted to a message 15 minutes later. Woodard testified that J.W asked him to hand her the phone and that when he did, he noticed the message was from his former boss, Stansell. Woodard testified that when he saw the message he became infuriated because he believed that J.W. had been


having an affair. Woodard testified that he messaged back and forth with Stansell on J.W.'s phone while he was upset.

{¶ 16} After messaging Stansell, Woodard testified that J.W. received another message on her cell phone from a different person. Woodard testified that the message said: "[W]hen I say that I love you, you know I mean it, right[?]" Trial Tr. Vol. II (Mar. 5, 2021), p. 317. Woodard testified that he became very upset after seeing this message and angrily threw J.W.'s table lamp into a mirror. Woodard also admitted to putting his hands on J.W.'s "upper shoulder * * * to hold her down" while asking her who the message was from. Id. Woodard testified that J.W. told him the message was from a man named Jeremy. Woodard testified that the Jeremy in question was his best friend and coworker, but that J.W. insisted it was a different person.

{¶ 17} Thereafter, Woodard testified that he threw J.W.'s cell phone into the bathroom, which caused the phone to break. Woodard testified that J.W. began crying because she claimed that she could not afford another phone. Woodard recalled that J.W. was "crying heavily to where she couldn't possibly * * * talk at the same time" and noted that "it's hard for [J.W.] to catch her breath at the same time when she cries." Id. at 319-320. Woodard testified that he felt bad about breaking J.W.'s phone because J.W. had just told him that she had lost her job. As a result, Woodard claimed that he began consoling J.W. and held her in his arms while she was sitting on the edge of the bed crying.

{¶ 18} Woodard testified that while he was holding J.W., J.W.'s "body kind of went limp a little bit" and "leaned to the left." Id. at 321. Woodard testified that J.W. then


"dove" towards the floor. Id. Woodard testified that he was able to catch J.W. before she fell all the way to the floor and that J.W. did not respond when he asked her what she was doing. Although Woodard believed that J.W. was putting on a "fagade," Woodard testified that he attempted to administer CPR on J.W. Id. at 324. Woodard testified that after giving J.W. five chest compressions and blowing into her mouth, J.W. "cough[ed] up air like it choked her or something." Id. at 324.

{¶ 19} Woodard testified that, shortly thereafter, J.W. sat back up on the bed and once again asked him to reconcile their marriage. Woodard testified that he and J.W. continued talking with each other until he left J.W.'s house at 7 a.m. During that time, Woodard testified that J.W. told him she would not press charges against him if he would reconcile with her. Woodard testified that he then grabbed his cell phone and tried to video record their conversation. The video was admitted into evidence, but it showed nothing more than J.W. staring at Woodard in her bedroom doorway and Woodard talking to the camera. The audio accompanying the video was not played for the jury. Woodard testified that after taking the video, J.W. told him that she was going to tell her brother that Woodard had choked her and that she was going to ruin his life.

{¶ 20} After the foregoing testimony and evidence was presented at trial, the jury deliberated and found Woodard guilty as charged in the indictment. Following the guilty verdict, Woodard's trial counsel moved to withdraw his representation of Woodard due to the deterioration of their attorney-client relationship. The trial court granted counsel's motion and appointed new defense counsel to represent Woodard for the limited purpose of sentencing and possibly filing an appeal.


{¶ 21} On April 27, 2021, Judge Wiseman returned to preside over Woodard's sentencing hearing. While sentencing Woodard, Judge Wiseman merged Woodard's felonious assault and domestic violence offenses as allied offenses of similar import. Judge Wiseman declined, however, to merge Woodard's abduction offense with the felonious assault. The State then elected to have Woodard sentenced for felonious assault, for which Judge Wiseman imposed an indefinite term of 8 to 12 years in prison. For the abduction offense, Judge Wiseman imposed 36 months in prison and ordered that term to be served consecutively to the indefinite term for felonious assault. Woodard therefore received an aggregate, indefinite term of 11 to 15 years in prison.

{¶ 22} Woodard now appeals from his conviction, raising five assignments of error for review. For purposes of clarity, we will review Woodard's assignments of error out of order.

Outcome: Affirmed

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