Clois Ray Adkins

LIMA — The Third District Court of Appeals, in one of its final rulings of 2022, overturned the 2019 murder conviction of Clois Ray Adkins and returned the case to Allen County Common Pleas Court for a new trial.

The appellate court’s ruling hinged primarily on a change in Ohio’s self-defense law.

Following a two-day trial in June 2019, jurors found the 21-year-old Tennessee man guilty of two counts of murder and two counts of felonious assault in the death of Robert “Robby” Smith II, 22, during a Sept. 3, 2017 altercation in Lima. Adkins was immediately sentenced to a mandatory prison term of 15 years to life.

Testimony during the trial showed Smith and Adkins became engaged in a fight at the intersection of Holmes and Milburn avenues in Lima shortly before 8 p.m. on that September evening. Adkins was armed with a tree limb and struck Smith in the head one time with the limb. Smith was taken to Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center with traumatic head injuries and was pronounced dead the following day.

Adkins’ attorney, Stephen Chamberlain, maintained throughout the trial that his client had acted in self-defense and had filed a motion with the trial court requesting the applicability of an amended version of Ohio’s self-defense law. Prosecutors opposed that motion and Allen County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Reed determined the amended version of the law was not applicable to Adkins’s case because the indicted offenses occurred prior to the effective date of the self-defense law amendments.

The appellate court’s Dec. 29 opinion, authored by Judge William Zimmerman, disagreed and said Adkins was deprived of a fair trial when the trial court instructed the jury that Adkins had the burden of proving self-defense.

Zimmerman’s ruling, supported by Judges Mark Miller and Stephen Shaw, said the trial court “improperly instructed the jury as to the burden of proof on self-defense and because he was entitled to the jury instruction requiring the prosecution to prove he did not act in self-defense” for the reasons set forth in State v. Brooks. That case, heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, shifted the burden of proof on self-defense claims to the state.

Chamberlain had also alleged in Adkins’ appeal that the lower court violated his client’s rights to the due process of law under both the state and federal constitutions by requiring him to stand trial while incompetent.

In January 2018 Chamberlain filed a written plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and suggested Adkins was not competent to stand trial. Following two psychiatric examinations the local trial court determined Adkins had not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that he did not have sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and that he was incapable of assisting counsel in his own defense.

The appellate court declined to rule on that allegation, saying the issue was “moot” and would not be considered.

A scheduling conference for Adkins, now 24, will be held at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 13 in Allen County Common Pleas Court as the first step in establishing a new trial date.