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A woman found guilty in the March 2014 murder of 21-year-old Stow resident Michelle Johnson has lost an appeal of her murder conviction.
The Ninth District Court of Appeals issued its decision Jan. 25, overturning all eight arguments made on behalf of 47-year-old Roxanne L. Buck and affirming her conviction.
A jury found Buck guilty of murder, a special felony, and third-degree felony tampering with evidence following a two-week trial in Summit County Court of Common Pleas in October 2014. Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands then sentenced Buck to life in prison, with a possibility of parole after 18 years.
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Buck is currently incarcerated in the Dayton Correctional Institution. Her attorney, Alan Medvick, did not return a phone call seeking comment before press time.
Mother called police
Michelle Johnson lived with her mother, Diana Johnson, in a Maplepark Road home, with Buck renting a room in the home's basement.
On March 15, 2014, Diana Johnson called Stow police from West Virginia to report her daughter missing after being unable to contact her and discovering she had not shown up for her job the night before.
A Stow police officer went to the Johnson home and found Miss Johnson dead in a shed behind the home. The Summit County Medical Examiner's office determined Miss Johnson had been stabbed 32 times. Buck was arrested five days later after police found blood traced to Miss Johnson on some books in Buck's vehicle.
While giving testimony at her trial, Buck admitted to tampering with evidence, including cleaning up the crime scene in the home's basement and moving the body to the shed, saying she feared she would be implicated in the murder. But she denied killing Miss Johnson.
Court rejects defense arguments
Eight assignments of error, arguments that the trial court erred in some way, were made on Buck's behalf during her appeal, including:
Buck's right to a speedy trial, within 90 days of arrest, was violated. The appeals court decision acknowledged that a waiver Buck signed of her speedy trial rights was to have concluded Sept. 15, 2014, before the start of her trial. However, the decision stated, Buck did not include a starting date in her waiver so based on legal precedent, "the statutory speedy trial time did not begin to run against the State until Sept. 16, 2014."
"Buck did not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waive her right to a speedy trial" because she was unaware of the situation cited by the appeals court in the previous argument. The appeals decision said that because the transcript of a common pleas pretrial hearing in which Buck waived her right to a speedy trial was not included in filings with the appeals court, legal precedent obliged the court to "presume regularity and the validity of the time waiver."
It was alleged that Buck received "ineffective" legal representation from her trial attorney because she was not told of the situation involving the waiver date and from the attorney (not Medvick) who originally represented her during her appeal because he did not file the transcript from the common pleas waiver hearing.
The appeals decision states that in Ohio, "a properly licensed attorney is presumed competent" and the burden of proof of otherwise is on the defendant and the defense did not prove its contention. The decision also stated there are specific rules for handling claims of ineffective appeals representation and so Buck's claim cannot be dealt with in the appeals decision.
The defense alleges that Buck was denied her constitutional right to due process because autopsy photos shown during testimony by Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler were "gruesome and repetitive" and therefore prejudicial and Rowlands erred in denying a defense motion for a mistrial. The defense noted that Rowlands called a short recess during Kohler's testimony because at least one juror became upset by the photos.
The appeals court acknowledged that the photos were "graphic," but this by itself does not mean they are prejudicial.
The appeals court further stated it found there was a reasonable purpose in showing the photos to the jury in that they made Kohler's testimony more understandable, demonstrated that the intent of the attack on Miss Johnson was to kill her and gave a possible explanation for why Buck had cuts on her hands immediately after the murder.
The defense alleged that Rowlands should have declared a mistrial because "improper closing arguments" made by the prosecutor were prejudicial and amounted to "prosecutorial misconduct," specifically that "Buck's admission to the tampering with evidence charge was merely a ploy to convince the jury that she was being truthful about not murdering" Miss Johnson.
The appeals decision, however, states that, "The prosecution is entitled to a certain amount of latitude during closing argument," and the appeals court did not find evidence that the jury would have found Buck not guilty if the prosecutor had not made the comments.
It was alleged that the defense was not notified until the "11th hour," a week before the trial began, that the prosecution planned on admitting as evidence a bleach bottle used to clean up the crime scene and a report on the bottle by the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigations.
The appeals decision states that the BCI only presented its report to the prosecution a week before the trial, indicating the prosecution did not improperly withhold it, and that the report was not conclusive as to whether DNA evidence on the bottle belonged to Buck.
The defense contends that the prosecution relied too much on circumstantial evidence without presenting enough direct evidence to convict Buck.
The appeals court, however, said circumstantial evidence does have validity in a trial and "we conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a jury to conclude that Buck caused the death of Michelle Johnson."
Finally, the defense argued that Rowlands should not have allowed testimony by a forensic DNA analyst because the analyst did not perform all of the testing he was testifying about.
The appeals court said it was overruling this argument because the defense' objection to the testimony during the trial was not specific enough.
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