Login | August 22, 2019

11th District reverses jail escape complicity case

Legal News Reporter

Published: January 9, 2019

A woman was improperly convicted of aiding her husband’s escape from his work release program at the Lake County Jail, the 11th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Ami Kiger had been driving her husband, Richard Coles, to and from jail. On his second day of work release on Jan. 5, 2017, Coles left the jail to go to work but then did not return.

Around 5 p.m. that day, Lake County sheriff’s deputies received a call from Coles stating he was in Cleveland and was going to be late returning to jail due to bad weather. He called again five hours later to say he was in a snowstorm on Interstate 271, and the deputies did not hear from him again, according to case summary.

A short time later, Kiger phoned the jail to explain that her husband had overdosed and she was taking him to the hospital. At the hospital, Coles told deputies he was overwhelmed in jail and had been indicted for another offense too.

While investigating Coles’ escape case, Detective John Kelley called the number for Crane Coat Industrial Structure Coating, the business Coles listed for his employer. A woman claiming to be a manager confirmed they had an employee named Richard Coles.

During a one-day bench trial, Kelley – the state’s sole witness - said the woman who answered the phone sounded “groggy like they had just woken up.”

The detective then went to Kiger’s home to tell her that Coles was OK. After nobody answered the phone after several minutes of knocking, he called his office to get Kiger’s phone number. The number was the same one Coles had listed as his employer’s phone number.

Kelley knocked on the door again. This time, Kiger let him in. Kiger told the detective that she brought Coles from Cleveland to their trailer because “he was soaking wet and she didn’t feel that he should have to go back to jail in wet clothing.”

Kiger eventually admitted lying to Kelley about the telephone call but denied providing the false information on the form. Kiger said the company Coles listed did not exist, but that her husband did work in a warehouse behind a suspected chop shop in downtown Cleveland.

Kiger also told the detective that she picked Coles up both days from jail and brought him back home, but she believed that he then went to work.

Kelley testified that under Coles’ work release terms, he was required to go to work and return to jail without stopping anywhere else. However under cross-examination, there was no evidence that Kiger knew what those conditions were. In addition, Kelley testified the phone number listed for Coles’ employer was provided by Coles – not Kiger – and that Kiger denied creating or signing the document.

There was also no evidence that Coles did not actually go to work on those two days. Therefore, the state could not have proven she acted with the specific intention to help her husband violate or attempt to violate the conditions, 11th District Judge Thomas R. Wright wrote in his 2-1 opinion.

“Although it is reasonable to infer that Kiger knew Coles was working for someone other than the listed company based on her admission that she answered her phone and confirmed Coles was working as a subcontractor for Crane Coat, there was no evidence showing that Kigler knew that a condition of Coles’ release was that he had to work for the employer listed on his form,” Judge Wright wrote. “And although the state proved Kigler lied on the phone, this alone does not establish that she purposely aided him in breaking his detention. Accordingly, no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the charged offense proven beyond a reasonable doubt based on this theory.”

Judge Wright added that the state failed to show that Kiger’s act of driving Coles to the hospital instead of jail meant she specifically intended to violate the terms of his work release.

The appellate court reversed the conviction for complicity to escape due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Appellate Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice concurred.

Eleventh District Judge Diane V. Grendell dissented, arguing Kiger’s conduct showed she was evasive, dishonest and consistent with attempting to aid in violating the terms of her husband’s work release.

“She admitted lying to police by falsely implying that was Coles’ employer when they called her cell phone number, which had been provided by Coles as the phone number of his employer,” Judge Grendell stated in her dissenting opinion. “This demonstrates that she was aware Coles needed to be working in order to comply with the terms of his work release. If this was not the case, there would have been no reason for Kiger to aid him in the evasion of the terms of his program. Further, Kiger drove Coles from his detention to her home rather than to work.”

Judge Grendell said it would not be unreasonable to infer that Kiger would be aware a person on work release is not free to make decisions to return home rather than to return to jail.

“The majority contends that the testimony demonstrated ‘Kiger believed (Coles) was working,’ ” she added. “However, if Kiger did believe Coles had legitimate employment, it would be unnecessary to pretend that she was his employer and/or she worked for the company that employed him. Rather, a reasonable person would express confusion as to why the officer believed she was the employer and direct him to contact Coles’ real employer. This also does not explain why she failed to return Coles to detention.”

The case is cited State v. Kiger, 2018-Ohio-4576.