Man’s appeal case denied in death of boy, 3

Claimed he was coerced into confession

WARREN — An appeal filed by a man convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son with a wrestling move was denied by the 11th District Court of Appeals, according to an opinion issued by the court.

Arthur Harper, 46, is serving a sentence of 15 years to life in Marion Correctional Institution after a jury in August 2017 found him guilty of murder and child endangering following the November 2015 death of Russell Cottrill, 3, at their home on High Street NE.

Harper, in his appeal, claimed Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Peter J. Kontos erred by allowing statements Harper made during a police interview to be played for the jury.

Harper claimed he was coerced during interviews with Warren police detective Nick Carney. Harper initially told police and the boy’s mother, who was at work when the boy received his fatal injuries, that the boy must have fallen out of bed because he heard a “thump” upstairs and then found the boy unresponsive.

About an hour before Harper texted the boy’s mother that something was wrong, he sent her a text message with a photo of Cottrill and himself, stating that they love her.

Harper argues Carney invoked “several psychologically coercive tactics” during the interview, including references to religion and Harper’s “strong emotional attachment” to the boy and suggestions that he needed to clear his conscience.

Carney’s tactics “were sufficient to overbear his will and coerced him into admitting he performed the ‘piledriver’ maneuver,” leading to an involuntary confession, the opinion states. But Harper was familiar with the justice system, waived his Miranda right to refuse to speak to police and Carney’s tactics weren’t coercive, the opinion written by appeals Judge Timothy P. Cannon states.

Appeals judges Thomas R. Wright and Diane V. Grendell concurred with Cannon’s opinion.

“The tactics implemented by detective Carney were used to urge appellant to tell the truth. Moreover, no threats were made, and appellant was not induced to confess to a crime. Instead, appellant essentially changed his statement about how the injuries to (Cottrill) had occurred,” Cannon states in the June 29 opinion.

The boy’s injuries were severe enough doctors determined the move must have been used on the boy several times, the document states.

“There is unrefuted evidence that appellant, a large adult man, performed more than one ‘piledriver’ maneuver on (Cottrill), a 37-pound, 3-year-old child. The evidence further established without question that (Cottrill) suffered serious harm from the incident, which ultimately led to his untimely death,” Cannon wrote.

“The entire interview was approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, during which breaks were taken. Throughout the interview, appellant was given multiple cups of coffee, was allowed to use the restroom, and was permitted to smoke in the interview room,” the document states. “Although he did raise his voice on several occasions, detective Carney’s tone was primarily cordial, and appellant engaged in conversation with him. These circumstances do not indicate appellant’s will was overborne.”

The other aspect of the appeal the judge dismissed claimed Kontos should have instructed the jury to consider lesser charges, involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide.

Because Harper was endangering the child and abusing him, leading to the boy’s death, the court was not permitted or required to give the jury instructions on the lesser charges, the opinion states.

Harper will be eligible for parole in October 2030, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.