Wesley Coonrod
(HCP file photo)
Wesley Coonrod
(HCP file photo)
The Fourth Appellate District Court has affirmed a judgment against Wesley Coonrod, a Greenfield man serving 20 years in prison on involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with the deaths of his two young sons.

In August 2011, Coonrod's attorney, Eric Allen, filed an appeal of the convictions of involuntary manslaughter, saying that the trial court erred in its dismissal of a "holdout" juror "without just cause" and requested that the court of appeals grant a new trial. Additionally, it was alleged that there was insufficient evidence to find Coonrod guilty of charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering in the deaths of his two young sons and that the court imposing maximum consecutive sentences was "arbitrary and capricious." Allen asked that the court of appeals dismiss the counts of involuntary manslaughter. Regarding the fourth assignment of error and the allegation that there was not enough evidence to support a conviction on child endangerment charges, Allen asked that those charges be dismissed, as well.

Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins told the Highland County Press that she is "really happy with the court's decision."

The Pickaway County Common Pleas Court overruled all five assignments of error on the following bases:

• In the first assignment of error, it was argued that the trial court's dismissal of Juror Number 5 constituted an abuse of discretion. The Court stated that the appellant "has not shown how this alleged error prejudiced him" and "did not explain how the dismissal … affected the outcome of the trial." The appellant argued that "because the original indictment charged him with a capital offense, the trial court owed him a heightened duty." However, the Court responded that after Coonrod's "first trial ended in a mistrial, the state dismissed the aggravated murder charges. Thus, appellant no longer feared any capital offenses, and we reject his argument."

• In the second assignment of error, the appellant stated that "the trial court abused its discretion by permitting a nurse … to testify as an expert witness regarding whether appellant was intoxicated on the night of the fire" and that "the prosecutor's reference to [the nurse's] 'training and experience in 33 years as a nurse' converted [the nurse's] lay testimony into expert testimony."

The Court determined that "the state did not seek to qualify [the nurse] as an expert in intoxication," and that she was only asked to give "her lay opinion as to whether appellant appeared intoxicated." The Court also stated that the nurse's testimony "was cumulative to many other witnesses' testimony," as several other people had similar testimony.

• The third and fourth assignments of error, which "challenge the sufficiency of the evidence" for involuntary manslaughter and child endangering convictions, were reviewed together in the Court decision. The Court determined that "the state presented sufficient evidence to establish that appellant recklessly created a substantial risk to the children's health and safety by violating a duty of care or protection." The Court also said that the "appellant's actions on the night of the fire [were] truly disturbing" and that there was "sufficient evidence to show that appellant committed third-degree felony child endangering." Regarding the involuntary manslaughter charges, the Court stated that "this case is not so much about appellant's actions before the fire, but about his inaction after the fire," later stating that Coonrod "failed to take any steps to protect his children.

"In fact, appellant allowed his children to scream for their lives inside the house while he did nothing to help or to help others find the children," the Court stated.

• In the fifth assignment of error, the appellant argued "that the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a 20-year term of incarceration." The Court found that "the trial court's decision to impose a 10-year prison sentence on each count is not unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious. Instead, the court relied upon appellant's complete abdication of his duty to protect his children from harm, his clear failure to provide any assistance to the bystanders who risked their lives in an attempt to gain access to his house to save his children, and his indifferent attitude when questioned where the children where [sic] located."

In January 2011, Coonrod, 44, of Greenfield, was found guilty of two counts of involuntary manslaughter, felonies of the first degree, in the deaths of his sons Thomas, 4, and Stephen, 3, during a more-than-weeklong jury trial in Pickaway County Common Pleas Court. He was found not guilty on one count of aggravated arson. Prosecutors had alleged Coonrod set the March 7, 2010 fire at 150 A Lafayette Street in Greenfield that killed his two sons. In October 2010, Coonrod had been found guilty on two counts of child endangering during a jury trial in Highland County Common Pleas Court. The jury was hung on two charges of murder, with death penalty specifications, and a charge of aggravated arson. The state did not seek the death penalty in the second trial. During both trials, Coonrod was represented by Columbus attorneys William Mooney and Jerry McHenry. Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss sentenced Coonrod to 10 years in prison on each involuntary manslaughter conviction, to be served consecutively, for a total of 20 years in prison.

In January 2012, the attorney for Coonrod filed a petition for post-conviction relief, asking that his client's convictions of involuntary manslaughter, along with his 20-year prison sentence, be set aside because the Greenfield man is innocent and that his imprisonment is cruel and unusual punishment. Collins filed a response asking that the court overrule Coonrod's request, stating that there is no evidence to support the claims, and no new evidence has been presented. In February 2012, Judge Coss denied a request to set aside the convictions and prison sentence of Coonrod.