CINCINNATI – A state appeals court on Friday reversed a woman's murder conviction in her baby daughter's burning death in a microwave oven.
The 2nd District Ohio Court of Appeals ruled there was prosecutorial misconduct and that the trial court erred in not allowing a material witness to testify in China Arnold's defense. Arnold was sentenced in 2008 to life in prison without parole for the death of her month-old daughter.
Montgomery County prosecutors were "astonished" at the reversal and will file a motion asking the court to reconsider its decision, spokesman Greg Flannagan said. Prosecutors also had the options of dismissing the case, retrying Arnold or appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Arnold, who remains charged after her conviction was reversed, is expected to be transferred within a week or two to the Montgomery County jail, where she would be held pending a bail hearing, her attorney said.
Arnold was convicted of aggravated murder for killing 28-day-old Paris Talley in August 2005. Prosecutors said Arnold intentionally put the baby in the microwave after a fight with her boyfriend. They said the couple had argued over whether the boyfriend was the biological father. The defense has argued that Arnold was too drunk at the time to commit the crime and that there was evidence to suggest someone else was responsible.
Arnold was sentenced following her second trial; her first ended in a mistrial when new witnesses surfaced.
Linda Williams, a cellmate of Arnold and main witness for the state in the first trial, came forward after Arnold's conviction and said she had lied to the jury when she said Arnold confessed that she put her daughter in the microwave oven. Williams failed to appear at the second trial and the court allowed the prosecution to play a videotape of her earlier trial testimony implicating Arnold.
In the second trial, the Dayton-based appeals court said, the lower court denied the defendant "her right to a fair trial when the court permitted the state to introduce in evidence Williams' testimony from the first trial." The appeals court cited prior case law that says a fair trial demands that the accused be tried on "evidence produced in open court by witnesses who can be confronted, cross-examined and rebutted."
The appeals court found misconduct by prosecutors by their failure in the first trial to provide the defense timely notice of Williams' address. The limited opportunity prosecutors allowed the defense to interview Williams — for only few minutes before her trial testimony — denied an adequate opportunity for preparation for cross-examination of Williams, the appeals court said.
As a result, the defendant was denied "the right of prior confrontation" as required when former testimony of a hearsay witness is admitted in evidence," the court said.
The state will ask the court to reconsider given facts in the record showing the defense had "more than ample opportunity" to prepare for Williams' examination and that Arnold "was provided a fair trial," according to a statement from Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr.'s office.
"There were no surprises in the witness' trial testimony, and there was no ambush," the statement said.
The trial court erred in not allowing the defense to introduce evidence at the second trial from a new witness, whose statements the defense contended contradicted Williams' testimony, the ruling also said. The new witness, Kyra Woods, would have testified to the jury that Williams told her that Arnold never confessed to her that she put the baby in the microwave, defense attorney Jon Paul Rion said.
Woods was a cellmate of Williams after Williams left the cell she shared with Arnold.
"We are very thrilled about the results," Rion said. "We realized from the first day she was innocent and we have maintained that."
Rion said his client was "elated when she heard the news and said she was always confident in the judicial system."
Arnold's sister also was delighted.
"I am so happy, just so happy," Kasha Scott said.
Scott said she wasn't worried that the conviction could be reinstated or that Arnold could be retried.
"I know it's all in God's hands," she said.