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Oral Argument Previews for Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015

Calvin S. McKelton v. State of Ohio, Case no. 2010-2198
Butler County Common Pleas Court

McKelton and Margaret Allen of Fairfield lived together for a few years. In July 2008, Allen was strangled, and her body was found in Schmidt Field in Cincinnati. Early the next year, a friend of the couple’s, Germaine Evans, was also murdered.

McKelton was arrested and charged with both murders. The case was considered by a jury, which found McKelton guilty in October 2010 of murdering Allen. It also convicted him of killing Evans to prevent him from testifying about Allen’s death – an aggravating factor that allows for a death sentence. McKelton was also convicted of felonious assault, domestic violence, arson, tampering with evidence, and gross abuse of a corpse. The trial court agreed with the jury’s recommendation to impose the death penalty.

In the appeal to the Supreme Court, McKelton’s attorneys make 21 arguments to persuade the court to overturn McKelton’s convictions, give him a new trial, or impose a life sentence.

Claims from the Defendant
Among the assertions made in McKelton’s brief to the court:

  • McKelton’s main lawyer at trial, Richard Goldberg, had to withdraw from the case a few weeks before the trial because the state informed him that one of its witnesses was someone Goldberg also represented. McKelton’s other two attorneys had been appointed by the court to focus on the death penalty parts of the case. Those attorneys asked to withdraw as his counsel after Goldberg’s departure, but the court denied the motion and their requests to postpone the proceedings. In this appeal, McKelton’s attorneys contend that the late notice and breakdown led to ineffective assistance of counsel for McKelton and denied him a fair trial.
  • They argue the state didn’t have appropriate grounds to withhold the names of eight witnesses until the night before trial because McKelton was in prison and couldn’t jeopardize the safety of any witnesses. They also maintain that defense counsel wasn’t given adequate time to review information from the witnesses to prepare for trial.
  • They contend that the potential jurors heard about media coverage of the case during voir dire, which violated McKelton’s right to an impartial jury. They assert that potential jurors should’ve been questioned individually to prevent tainting the jury.
  • They argue that statements about domestic abuse made by Allen to her friends before her death were inadmissible during the trial. They assert the court wrongly allowed the hearsay comments under the “forfeiture by wrongdoing exception, ” which requires McKelton to have made Allen unavailable to testify as a witness. McKelton’s attorneys counter that McKelton wasn’t charged with killing Allen to keep her from testifying, and there is no evidence that Allen was planning to report any domestic violence to authorities. The state’s witnesses all testified that McKelton got into a physical fight with Allen and accidentally killed her, they maintain.

Responses from the State

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