Aaron Ludwick. (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction mugshot)
Aaron Ludwick. (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction mugshot)
The Fourth District Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a former Village of Highland councilman who received four sentences of life without parole last August after a jury found him guilty of raping a child over an eight-year period.

As previously reported, Aaron D. Ludwick, 39, was indicted in March 2021 on five first-degree felony charges of rape.

Following a two-day trial, it took the jury of seven women and five men just over an hour of deliberations to convict Ludwick of all five counts, including four counts with specifications that the child was under the age of 10 at the time of the offenses.

Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss imposed the four life sentences, consecutive to a minimum term of 11 years (maximum 16.5 years) on the fifth count of rape, an hour and a half after the verdicts were read Aug. 13, 2021.

“The conduct is just absolutely despicable,” Coss said at the sentencing. “It’s evil.”

On appeal, Ludwick presented several assignments of error, including: “(1) that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecution to ask him questions about his sexual history; (2) he had ineffective assistance of counsel for (a) failing to object to other-acts testimony about Ludwick’s behavior at certain social events, (b) failing to request a redaction of a portion of a forensic interview that contained hearsay alleging other crimes, and (c) failing to request a waiver of court costs; and (3) multiple errors cumulatively deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial.”

The appellate court’s judgment entry, released July 26 and written by Judge Michael Hess, agreed that Ludwick’s previous sexual history “was not relevant to show plan, motive or intent and was inadmissible propensity evidence.”

“However, we find the error harmless – the prior acts were unlikely to affect the jury’s verdict and the remaining evidence against Ludwick established his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hess wrote.

Using the “three-part test to determine when a defendant’s substantial rights are affected” by an error, the Court of Appeals did “not find that the prior-acts evidence here impacted the jury verdict.

“Under the second and third prongs of the test, we are persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the error was harmless because the remaining evidence established Ludwick’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the appellate court wrote.

The appellate court determined that Ludwick’s counsel was not ineffective for “failing to object to other-acts testimony about Ludwick’s behavior at certain social events,” because that evidence was admissible and any “objections to it would have been futile.”

For the argument that counsel should have “requested a redaction of a portion of a forensic interview that contained hearsay alleging other crimes,” the appellate court found that the comments in the interview “provided the context and state of mind” of the victim and “were not hearsay.”

Ludwick also argued that his counsel was ineffective due to failing to request a waiver of court costs. As noted in the appellate court’s judgment entry, the defense attorney was retained by Ludwick for the trial, but Ludwick claims on appeal “he is now indigent.”

The appellate court says “The record does not support Ludwick’s factual assertion that he was indigent at the time of the sentencing hearing,” as a filing to that effect was not made until September. In addition, Ludwick had been “gainfully employed as a full-time licensed aircraft mechanic” prior to sentencing, the judgment entry points out.

The Court of Appeals overruled that assignment of error because “there was not a reasonable probability that a motion to waive court costs would have been granted,” the judgment entry says.

Ludwick also argued that “his conviction should be reversed under the cumulative error doctrine.”

According to the Court of Appeals, “Under the cumulative-error doctrine, ‘a conviction will be reversed where the cumulative effect of errors in a trial deprives a defendant of the constitutional right to a fair trial even though each of numerous instances of trial court error does not individually constitute cause for reversal.’”

As noted, the appellate court “found only one error, which was harmless,” so they determined “the cumulative error doctrine does not apply.”

Based on the assignments of error, the evidence regarding Ludwick’s previous sexual history is the only “error [that] occurred during the trial and it was harmless,” the appellate court wrote. “We overrule Ludwick’s assignments of error and affirm the judgment.”

Ludwick is currently incarcerated at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. ?