In the second pretrial hearing Thursday, the prosecution and defense finished arguments over eyewitness identification of Kintie Mitchell Jr. — a Columbus man accused of murdering Ohio State student Chase Meola in 2020 at an off-campus party.
The only witness brought out by the prosecutor Thursday was Detective Kathy Zimmer of the Columbus Police Homicide Unit, which investigates unnatural deaths. Thursday’s hearing was a continuation of the Dec. 14, 2022, hearing which saw testimony from four police officers working on Meola’s case , of which Zimmer confirmed.
The defense continued its argument that Mitchell was misidentified by witnesses. They claimed witness descriptions of the shooter varied throughout the night Meola was killed and that another man, who Mitchell claims is the shooter, matches the descriptions.
Judge Jeffery Brown did not give his decision Thursday, and there is no indication of when it will be made. The parties agreed to have expert reports and concluding statements finished by Feb. 28.
Mitchell faces two murder charges as a repeat violent offender and one charge of having a weapon while under disability. He is pleading not guilty for all charges.
Mitchell was indicted in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Oct. 21, 2020, for the murder of Ohio State student Chase Meola. Mitchell was arrested and charged with one count of murder, with bond set at $2.1 million.
Meola was shot near a party at the former Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on East 14th and Indianola avenues Oct. 11, 2020. First responders pronounced him dead at 2:17 a.m. in a parking lot near the party. Meola was 23 years old.
According to the police report, Mitchell shot Meola after an altercation near the party, and 911 calls obtained by The Lantern stated Mitchell pulled a gun out during the fight and threatened to kill Meola. Mitchell was detained and arrested that night based on descriptions of the shooter.
Mitchell appeared in person at the suppression hearing Thursday, where lawyers argued whether any evidence from witnesses who identified Michell as the shooter should be used in the upcoming trial.
Zimmer said one witness described the suspect as a Black male with dreads, wearing all black clothing and was between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-10. The defense questioned Zimmer if she ever asked if the witness was under the influence of drugs or alcohol — Zimmer said she had not asked the witness and both agreed these substances could impair one’s memory.
The witness who called 911 was certain of the description given to the police but not about the clothing of the shooter. The defense confirmed witnesses offered different identifications throughout the night, including the color of the shooter’s shirt, claiming it was first white but later said it was black. The defense argued the scene was not well-lit and showed pictures of the back of Mitchell’s jacket he wore the night of the shooting. The pictures showed a primarily white design on the back, which the defense said none of the witnesses mentioned.
When the witness went to the police station 12 hours later for a photo lineup — where a witness looks at an array of six photos to attempt to identify the suspect — the defense questioned Zimmer whether she asked the witness if they spoke to other witnesses or heard about the shooting from social media. Zimmer said she did not ask the witness about this either, which opened the possibility that other factors could have influenced their identification.
In February 2020, the defense argued the possibility that identification methods, such as the photo lineup and showup identification, were suggestive and unreliable. However, when questioned by the prosecutor, Zimmer affirmed the officers’ testimonies at the December 2022 hearing concerning the two methods of identification.
Multiple witnesses described people within the group with the shooter had tattoos on their arms, but the defense argued witnesses could not see Mitchell’s arms because of his jacket.
One witness said the shooter had a small tattoo on the neck, which matched a photo of Mitchell shown by the prosecutor. However, another potential suspect, who was confirmed to be at the party by video evidence and who Mitchell accused of being the shooter, had black clothes and a large Block “O” tattoo on his neck. The prosecutor said no witnesses mentioned a large tattoo on the shooter’s neck, which she argued is a hard detail to miss.
The defense said Mitchell was arrested and detained in October 2020 based on witness identification and matching descriptions. However, Zimmer requested DNA samples in November 2021 “due to different descriptions given by some of the Ohio State students and Mr. Mitchell’s statements,” which the defense argued opened up the possibility for new evidence to exist that would prove Mitchell innocent.
The defense argued the witness identifications were not reliable enough to convict Mitchell due to Zimmer’s desire to continue the investigation through DNA samples. Zimmer said this was untrue, and she instead wanted to check every possibility.
“On behalf of the charges [Mitchell] is accused of,” Zimmer said, “I wanted to make sure every avenue is looked into.”
Last month’s arguments
In December 2022, four police officers were brought to the stand: University police officer Thomas Schneider, Columbus patrol officer Don Olson, Columbus patrol officer Michael Alexander and retired Sgt. James Jardine. The defense questioned the legitimacy of each step of the investigation that led to Mitchell’s arrest, claiming the witnesses were unreliable in some way, and Mitchell’s guilt was suggested by the police.
The officers walked the court through the night of Meola’s death and how two witnesses picked out Mitchell as the shooter at the party.
The first to speak, Schneider, said he arrived at the “chaotic” scene of the party and collected descriptions of the shooter: a young Black male in a white T-shirt with dreads.
Olson spoke to court next, explaining how he helped detain a group of four men off-campus shortly after the shooting. One of the detainees, Mitchell, matched the description. All four men were brought to witnesses to be identified as the potential shooter
Alexander helped transport those witnesses to the scene of the detainment, and video from his police cruiser that night was shown. The witness Alexander transported was not completely isolated from others — he spoke with his girlfriend and others on his phone. This witness would be the one to call Mitchell the shooter, but the defense believes this lack of isolation could have influenced the witness or his memory.
Jardine took the stand last to explain his role as a blind administrator of a photo array used to identify Mitchell as the shooter, giving the six photos of potential shooters to a separate witness.
This story was updated 12:52 p.m. Friday to emphasize that Phi Kappa Psi fraternity was no longer recognized by the university when the shooting happened.
Comments / 0