YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — A Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge this month denied a suppression motion by a man accused of lying to police during a murder investigation.
Judge John Durkin ruled in a judgment entry that Charles Lightning, 28, was considered a shooting victim at the time he was questioned Oct. 31, 2020, by Youngstown police and not a suspect and because of that, officers did not have to advise him of his rights.
Lightning, who was set to plead guilty Jan. 12 but instead continued the hearing to wait for Judge Durkin’s ruling, will now have a status hearing Feb. 15. He is free on bond since his preliminary hearing in Youngstown Municipal Court. Court records list a Columbus address for him.
Lightning was indicted June 3 on a fifth degree charge of obstruction of justice for his role in the investigation into the Oct. 31, 2020, shooting death of Marquis Buxton, 24.
Buxton was found shot to death in the front seat of an SUV in a parking lot at Market Street and West Judson Avenue. The case is still open.
Detectives were looking to question Lightning after he showed up at St. Elizabeth Health Center almost the exact same time officers responded to the parking lot where Buxton was found dead.
Lightning told detectives he was shot in the 3200 block of Market Street, but police had no evidence of a shooting there, including a lack of any activation from a gunshot sensor in that block.
They tried several times to question Lightning again but he rebuffed their efforts, so a warrant was issued for the obstruction charge on March 2. Lightning wasn’t found until April 8 in Warren.
Detectives believe Lightning first lied to them when he was questioned at St. Elizabeth Health Center after police received a call from the hospital telling them they had a gunshot wound victim.
After U.S. Marshals took him into custody on the warrant, Lightning then changed his story to say he was present at the shooting, but he would not say who shot Buxton. Police also found Lightning’s blood at the crime scene, reports said.
The lead investigator on the case, Detective Sgt. Michael Lambert, said at Lightning’s April 16 preliminary hearing in municipal court that because Lightning lied to police twice, it taints the entire investigation and defense attorneys can use that in their case should someone ever be brought to trial for Buxton’s death.
Defense attorney Nick Cerni filed a suppression motion in September, asking Judge Durkin to suppress any statements Lightning made to police when they questioned him at the hospital. In his motion, Cerni said that his client was in police custody when he was questioned at the hospital and was never advised of his Miranda rights, or his Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination, which states he does not have to talk to police if he does not want to.
In his ruling issued Jan. 14, however, Judge Durkin wrote there was nothing to indicate that Lightning was in police custody. Judge Durkin wrote that police responded to the hospital for a report that a gunshot victim, who was Lightning, was there.
Lightning was in a bed in a bay in the emergency room and “initially he was not a suspect in a shooting, but was being questioned as a victim of a shooting. As a result, the defendant was not Mirandized [read his rights.]”
Lightning was cooperative and coherent when interviewed by detectives and was never told he was under arrest. He also did not seem to suffer from any effects of pain medication, the judge wrote.
Detectives had no obligation to tell Lightning his rights because he was not being questioned as a suspect and because of that any statements should be considered voluntary, Judge Durkin wrote.