Ohio’s Fourth District Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction and sentencing of a Hillsboro man who last year was found guilty of child rape and ordered to serve two terms of life in prison without parole.
As was indicated in his June 2016 sentencing hearing, 45-year-old Vernon Barstal Ellison Jr. filed an appeal on the case, asserting errors to the trial court.
As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, Ellison was arrested in December 2015 and charged with first-degree felony rape, a charge stemming from allegations of years-long sexual abuse brought to the Highland County Sheriff’s Office earlier that month.
According to an affidavit filed with the Hillsboro Municipal Court in December at that time, the now-adult victim told a detective at the sheriff’s office that sexual abuse began when the victim was a young child and that the abuse continued for years. Ellison was arrested in December 2015 following a recorded meeting between himself and the victim wherein Ellison did not deny the sexual abuse claims the victim confronted him with, but was apologetic and offered excuses.
In June 2016 jurors heard two days of testimony that included not only testimony from the victim, but Ellison himself, who admitted that he had a sexual relationship with the victim, but only after she was 16 years old which, as previously reported, would make the offense that of sexual battery instead of rape.
Something jurors didn’t hear testimony about were the 15 other charges that were levied against Ellison in a March 2016 indictment, all fourth-degree felony counts of pandering sexually-oriented material involving a minor. Those charges were dismissed by the state prior to any testimony being heard on the two first-degree felony rape charges that Ellison was later convicted of.
According to the appeal filed by Ellison’s appellant attorney, Eric Allen, in September, one of the errors assigned to the trial court was in regard to those charges not being resolved.
But the appellate court in its decision, signed by judge William H. Harsha and filed with the Highland County Clerk of Courts on Jan. 20, 2017, said the claim was “meritless,” adding that the charges were “properly dismissed” and “were not hanging charges.” It was overruled.
An assertion of plain error was also overruled wherein the appeal claims the court “failed to declare a mistrial or provide a curative instruction” when a witness on the stand said Ellison had previously been to prison. The decision notes that even if that were the case “the evidence was so overwhelming that Ellison was guilty … no reasonable juror could have found otherwise,” which the document states was based on the victim’s testimony, Ellison’s apologies in the conversation recorded by detectives, and Ellison’s confession.
The third assigned error by the appellant states that he was “denied the effective assistance” of defense counsel because his attorney, through questioning him on the stand, “elicited admissions” from Ellison that he had “engaged in sexual conduct” with the victim.
But the decision states that Ellison “cannot prove either deficient performance by his trial counsel of prejudice.” The decision further notes that the defendant had already confessed his actions to police.
At his June 2016 trial Ellison offered no reaction when the guilty verdicts on the two rape charges were read, or when it was further determined that the acts occurred when the victim was under 10 years old. He showed no reaction later that month when he learned he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Prosecutor Anneka Collins said that with the appellate court affirming the judgement of the trial court, Ellison’s next move could be to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.