A former Ohio parole officer and Kent resident has lost an appeal of his 2020 conviction on charges that he sexually assaulted two women while they were on probation.
According to an opinion filed in Portage County Common Pleas Court on Nov. 15, the 11th District Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Keith R. Cooper, 48.
Cooper was accused by three women of sexually assaulting them in 2017 while they were on probation after being released from prison for drug-related charges.
A Newton Falls woman said he raped her at her Newton Falls apartment while she was on parole. According to the opinion, Cooper had visited the woman’s apartment with the probation officer supervising her case a week before the assault.
A Streetsboro woman testified that Cooper kissed her and coerced her into giving him oral sex at her family's home in 2017. The Streetsboro woman was under Cooper's supervision at the time of the allegations.
Cooper denied all allegations made against him while testifying at his trial, but a jury found him guilty of first-degree felony rape in connection with the Newton Falls woman’s accusation and third-degree felony sexual battery in the case of the Streetsboro woman in October 2020.
The jury found Cooper not guilty of gross sexual imposition in connection with a Ravenna woman’s allegation that Cooper inappropriately touched her at her father’s Ravenna apartment.
The Record-Courier does not name victims of sexual assault.
Judge Becky Doherty sentenced Cooper to 12 years in prison and determined him to be a Tier III sex offender, which requires him to register with the sheriff’s office of any county he lives and/or works in every 90 days for life upon release from prison. According to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction records, Cooper is currently incarcerated in the Toledo Correctional Institution.
In his appeal, Cooper alleged that:
• The common pleas court erred by allowing one juror who indicated prior to the case being tried that he was leaning toward conviction because of the number of accusers against Cooper. The opinion, however, says this juror was initially not clearly identified during jury selection. Ultimately, the defense challenged and had removed three jurors, but the opinion states that the defense did not use a fourth available challenge to remove the juror in question.
• His trial attorney did not use that fourth challenge to remove the juror and was therefore “ineffective.” The opinion notes that upon further questioning, the juror admitted that presuming guilt was wrong and that the attorney may have then decided this juror was potentially better than an alternative might be. The opinion says that ineffectiveness was not proved and that the appeals court was not going to “second guess” legal strategy.
• The verdict was “against the weight of evidence, emphasizing the inconsistent statements” of the Newton Falls and Streetsboro women. The opinion states that the women provided what sounds like reasonable explanations for these inconsistencies during their testimony. It also says that the jury is in the best position to judge the credibility of the women and so the appeals court would not “second guess” that judgement.
• Doherty sentenced Cooper to eight years for the rape charge and four years for the sexual battery charge and ordered that they be consecutive. Cooper argued that the sentence should have been concurrent, which would have given him eight years in prison because the incidents were not part of the same “course of conduct,” meaning that they were unrelated offenses. The appeals court disagreed, stating that although there were some differences between the two, including details of what happened and that they took place in different counties, in both cases “Cooper used his authority as a parole officer to initiate contact with the women and commit acts of sexual abuse.”
The appeals court determined that all four of Cooper’s assertions are “without merit.”
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Former probation officer and Kent resident losses appeal