COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction of a former South Toledo man for killing his ex-wife, despite finding that prosecutors didn’t properly inform the defense team about evidence used in the man’s trial.
Ronald Boaston is serving a sentence of 15 years to life for strangling Brandi Gonyer-Boaston, 28, on Feb. 14, 2014, and leaving her body in the trunk of her running car in a rural area near Delta, Ohio.
In a 6-1 ruling, the court found that the prosecution and trial court erred by admitting testimony from Dr. Diane Scala-Barnett, then Lucas County deputy coroner, without first providing a written report to the defense of the scientific basis for her findings. But it ultimately determined the error was harmless and did not affect the outcome of the trial.
Dr. Barnett, who now serves as the county coroner, testified as to the contents of the victim’s stomach, which helped her determine the time of death. She also matched a bruise on the victim’s chin with a buckle on Boaston’s glove.
“The significance of the time-of-death opinion based on the stomach-content findings is important because it puts Brandi’s time of death during a period when Boaston admitted to having been alone with Brandi at his residence,” Justice Michael Donnelly wrote.
“Additionally, the glove-buckle comparison provided an explanation for what may have caused the distinct chin abrasion likely inflicted during Brandi’s struggle or her strangulation,” he wrote.
But the court determined that this did not cause Boaston’s defense to change tactics and that the other evidence against him was overwhelming.
The couple had married, divorced, reunited without remarrying, and then moved in together with their children. The victim moved out again, but Ms. Gonyer-Boaston returned each morning after work to prepare their children for school.
Justice Donnelly noted that the time of death became relevant only because of Boaston’s own voluntary statement about when he and his ex-wife ate sausage breakfast sandwiches that she had brought home after leaving her night shift work as a nurse at the former Arbors at Waterville.
“The deputy coroner’s time-of-death opinion merely corroborated the precise time frame that Boaston’s own statement and relevant cell-phone records already established,” he wrote. “Likewise, [Dr.Barnett’s] glove-buckle testimony did little more than connect dots that were all too readily apparent.”
All but one of his fellow justices agreed with his ultimate conclusion.
Justice Melody Stewart disagreed that the error of presenting this evidence was harmless.
“The time-of-death and glove-buckle testimony was strong evidence of Boaston’s guilt,” she wrote. “At a minimum, the testimony amounted to highly credible evidence compelling the conclusion that at the time Brandi was killed, she was alone with Boaston at his residence and that Boaston’s gloves were used in her strangulation.”
She would have reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.
“A reversal would have entailed a retrial, which seemed not to be appropriate given the quantity of evidence against him…,” Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Evy Jarrett said. “The defense attorney had the relevant evidence. He was aware of what the opinions were going to be. The information not present in the [coroner’s] report would not have had a meaningful impact on his trial strategy or cross-examination.”
Boaston’s attorney, Stephen Hanudel, could not be immediately reached for comment.
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Posted on March 26, 2020 at 2:50 pm