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Weapons hoarder's argument for merged convictions rejected

ANNIE YAMSON
Special to the Legal News

Published: August 25, 2014

A second appeal from a man who harbored explosives in his home was overruled late last week by the 8th District Court of Appeals when it found that the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas properly declined to merge all 14 of the man’s convictions.

The defendant, Matthew Fairfield, was arrested in 2010 after his estranged wife, acting as a confidential informant, gave police information that Fairfield was harboring explosive devices and weapons in their home and another property.

Fairfield was a veteran and, according to case summary, had presumably stolen the devices and weapons while he was in the military.

News reports at the time also alleged that Fairfield was part of an organization called the Oath Keepers, a right-wing nonprofit group of current and former military and law enforcement members preparing for the breakdown of the federal government and the martial law that would follow.

Police obtained a search warrant and seized a cache of weaponry, including a jar of napalm that Fairfield was keeping above his garage and a live, wired explosive device. They also seized a laptop on which they discovered child pornography.

The indictment that followed included 97 charges of unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance, receipt of stolen property, possession of criminal tools, failure to secure dangerous ordnance, perjury and pandering obscenity involving child pornography.

A motion to suppress the evidence taken from his home was denied before Fairfield eventually reached a plea agreement with the state in which he pleaded no contest to 14 of the counts in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining charges.

The trial court initially sentenced him to 16 years in prison but Fairfield appealed. In three assignments of error he argued that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress, that the trial court erred in imposing consecutive sentence and the court failed to merge all of the allied offenses for sentencing.

The 8th District found merit to Fairfield’s final argument and remanded the case for resentencing.

At the subsequent sentencing hearing, the trial court merged all counts of possession of dangerous ordnance, possession of criminal tools and receiving stolen property relating to each type of explosive device.

Nine of the 14 counts were ordered to run consecutively and Fairfield was sentenced to a total of nine years in prison.

In his most recent appeal, Fairfield argued that the trial court failed to comply with the mandate of the 8th District because it improperly sentenced him to nine consecutive sentences.

With the exception of the jar of napalm, Fairfield claimed that all of the explosive devices were found in one of two cases or containers found at two properties. Therefore, he contended that his offense of possessing those items should have all merged and he should have been sentenced only once for those convictions.

In support of his argument, Fairfield cited the court of appeals’ holding in his first appeal: “Here, there is no indication that Fairfield was acquiring the materials for separate purposes or had a separate intent or motive in having the materials, therefore, the offenses were all committed with the same animus.”

However, the appellate panel found those statements to be taken out of context.

“The statements pertained only to the charges of receipt of stolen property and possession of criminal tools as being allied to the possession of dangerous ordnance charge for each type of explosive device found in each of the containers,” wrote Judge Melody Stewart on behalf of the court of appeals. “Nowhere in the language of (the first appeal) did we determine that each one of the explosive devices found at the locations should merge into a single offense.”

Stewart cited similar rulings by reviewing courts which rejected arguments relating to multiple-count indictments for possession of dangerous ordnance.

She likened the situation to cases in which defendants are sentenced on multiple counts of drug possession for different types of drugs in the same container or found at the same location.

In State v. Helfin, for example, a defendant was sentenced separately for the heroin and cocaine he possessed in the same bag.

Likewise, Fairfield was properly sentenced for the different weapons he possessed in the same location, the appellate panel ruled.

“Fairfield’s argument for merger of all convictions relating to each different type of explosive device into one conviction is unpersuasive,” Judge Stewart concluded.

The appellate panel agreed that the trial court properly carried out the district’s mandate and affirmed Fairfield’s new sentence.

Judges Mary Boyle and Frank Celebrezze concurred.

The case is cited State v. Fairfield, 2014-Ohio-3417.

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