Goff denied new trial

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Convicted murderer Megan Goff got a fair trial the first time and doesn’t need a second one, the Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals has ruled.

Goff was convicted in May 2007 of the aggravated murder of her estranged husband, Bill Goff, the year before.

After a bench trial before visiting Judge Fred Crow, Goff was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

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In a 3-0 vote handed down Monday, the appeals court rejected Goff’s claim that nine key mistakes were made during her trial and her conviction should be overturned.

Goff contended in her appeal, prepared by Columbus attorney Paula Brown of the law firm Kravitz, Brown and Dortch, that she was subjected to self-incrimination because the lower court ordered her to submit to a psychiatric examination arranged by the prosecution to prove she suffered from battered woman’s syndrome.

Presiding Judge Roger Kline wrote that, “Because Goff initially retained her own psychiatrist to undergo an evaluation to prove her mental condition (battered woman’s syndrome) as part of her defense before the court granted the state’s request for its psychiatric examination, we disagree and find that Goff’s own use of her own psychiatrist at trial waived her privilege against self-incrimination.”

In her appeal Goff also contended that the trial court erred when it ruled evidence regarding battered woman’s syndrome was only relevant to the imminent harm element of self-defense.

Kline and fellow judges Howard Harsha and Peter Abele disagreed.

Goff next contended the trial court erred when it failed to control Assistant Lawrence County Prosecutor Bob Anderson, whom she said led witnesses and “repeatedly crossed the line of adversarial representation.” Because Goff’s attorneys, Marty Stillpass and Chris Delawder, did not object to these things during the trial and because no proof was offered to bolster this contention, this claim was also rejected.

The appeals court further rejected Goff’s claim that the lower court erred in many of its evidentiary rulings; again, the appellate justices disagreed.

Goff also contended Crow wrongly allowed the prosecution’s expert witnesses to testify as to her state of mind and motive for killing her husband.

The appellate judges determined that because Goff’s own expert witnesses were allowed to testify on this same matter, the prosecution’s expert witnesses were within their rights to do so as well.

Kline wrote that Goff’s state of mind was a vital issue because of her self-defense and battered woman claims.

Goff took issue with Crow’s determination she did not act in self defense when she shot her estranged husband and contended in her appeal Crow’s determination was “against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

She also said not enough evidence was introduced to prove she planned the murder, a key component of an aggravated murder conviction. Those claims were rejected as well.

Ohio law requires a person claiming self defense to prove they had a fear of imminent bodily harm or death, they did not violate a duty to retreat and that they did not create the situation that resulted in the death or injury of the other person.

Goff contended during the trial she went to her estranged husband’s home to prevent him from killing her children, whom she had left with family members. Kline wrote that there was more than enough evidence to allow Crow to reject her self-defense claim.

“Here, the trial court’s finding that Goff failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she acted in self-defense is not against the manifest weight of the evidence,” Kline wrote in the appellate decision.

“Although Goff devotes much of her time to her argument recounting allegedly horrific conditions she endured throughout her marriage to establish she was in imminent fear of bodily harm to herself or her children, she neglects to argue whether she was at fault in creating the situation or whether she violated a duty to retreat.

“Substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that Goff was at fault in creating the situation.

“She chose to go to the victim’s home on the night of the shooting, knowing the victim was not expecting her.

“The trial court was free to disbelieve her testimony that she needed to go to the victim’s home so she could protect the children from being killed.

“The trial court justifiably could have discredited all of her testimony that the victim had been threatening to kill her and the children.

“Without such evidence, Goff had no justifiable reason to confront the victim on the night of the shooting.

“She had no reason to be at his home. Thus she was at fault in creating the situation. She could have chosen not to go to his house with two loaded weapons.”

Goff also claimed her defense counsel was ineffective.

This claim was also rejected, as was the claim that not all of the proceedings were properly recorded, thus jeopardizing her right to a fair trial.

“…the transcript (of the trial) shows that overall, Goff received a fair trial and that despite the prosecutor’s use of leading questions, the court reached a correct decision,” Kline wrote.

Anderson said he was pleased with the appeals court’s decision.

“I believe justice was done in the verdict at trial and was to see that it was upheld in a 3-0 ruling was very pleasing,” Anderson said.

Defense counsel Paula Brown was contacted for a comment. A woman at her office said she had not received a copy of the the ruling.

Bill and Megan Goff were married eight years; they separated in January 2006 after Megan Goff filed a domestic violence charge against her husband.

She then moved out of their Hamilton Township residence.

Two months later, Megan Goff went to her former residence with two loaded guns and shot Bill Goff 15 times in the head and upper chest. During her trial, Goff testified she had endured years of mental abuse at the hands of her husband and that after she had separated from him, he had stalked her, found out where she was hiding and threatened to kill her and the couple’s two children.

But during the trial Anderson presented evidence that Megan Goff had actually contacted her husband while she was supposedly hiding from him, and that she had tried to get him to violate a protection order and meet with her to work out their problems.

Two coworkers at Duke Energy testified they overheard Bill Goff talking to his wife while they were on the job the day of the shooting and never heard him threaten her.