Belle T. Choate
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Priscilla J. Fossum
Indianapolis, IN Attorneys for Appellee
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
Belle T. Choate
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Priscilla J. Fossum
CHARLES BRADLEY VEHORN,
Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellee (Plaintiff below).
) Supreme Court No.
August 27, 1999
girlfriend to death and stealing her car. He appeals, arguing that evidence of his stormy
relationship with the victim was improperly admitted, that the vehicle was illegally
searched, and that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. Finding to the
contrary, we affirm Defendant's convictions.
We have jurisdiction over this direct appeal because the longest single sentence
exceeds fifty years. Ind. Const. art. VII, § 4; Ind. Appellate Rule 4(A)(7).
At around 10:00 p.m. that same night, Defendant arrived at his father's house driving DeMoss's car. He appeared nervous and remarked to his father that he messed up real bad. At one point during the conversation, he told his father that he had a .22 gun and ammunition. Defendant also told his father that DeMoss was visiting relatives. Two days later, Defendant departed his father's residence driving DeMoss's car.
On May 13, 1996, Defendant was found sleeping in DeMoss's car in a public park
in Riverdale, Georgia in violation of a city ordinance. After a patdown search, the police
found a large kitchen knife under his coat. He was arrested for carrying a concealed
weapon. Soon thereafter, the police discovered that the vehicle was reported stolen.
Pursuant to departmental policy, the police impounded the vehicle and performed an
inventory search at the scene. Both the .22 caliber rifle and DeMoss's checkbook were
found in the car. Defendant was charged with MurderSee footnote
and Auto Theft.See footnote
The jury found
Defendant guilty as to both counts, and the trial court imposed a sentence of 65 years for the
Murder conviction and three years for the Auto Theft conviction.
Defendant challenged the admissibility of Meece's testimony during a pretrial evidentiary hearing. Before trial began, the State informed the court and Defendant of its intent to elicit certain testimony through DeMoss's sister about the nature of Defendant's relationship with DeMoss. Defendant objected to this testimony on the basis that it was inadmissible hearsay.See footnote 3 The trial court heard argument and denied the motion. It held that
it would allow testimony as to statements made by the victim concerning her intentions to
ask Defendant to leave because these were statements of her mind and relevant to the
nature of the relationship. Id. Later during trial, Defendant did not object to Meece's
testimony describing the relationship as rocky and that DeMoss had tried to kick
[Defendant] out a couple of times. The State contends that Defendant waived any error in
the admission of this evidence by failing to object when Meece's testimony was offered at
As a general rule, motions in limineSee footnote 4 will not alone preserve errors for appeal; a party
must contemporaneously reassert the party's objection at trial so as to allow the trial court
an opportunity to make a final ruling on the matter in the proper context. White v. State,
687 N.E.2d 178, 179 (Ind. 1997). While the prudent lawyer will always provide a
contemporaneous objection at trial so as to preserve an issue for appeal, there are occasional
exceptions to this general rule. This case provides one of them. During the pretrial hearing,
the judge provided explicit assurance that an objection as to Meece's hearsay testimony was
preserved for appeal when it told defense counsel that even if you don't object, the Court
will find . . . that your objections to this type of evidence have been timely made.See footnote
157.) Finding that the issue of the admissibility of Meece's testimony has been properly
preserved for appeal, we proceed to the merits of Defendant's argument.
Defendant contends that Meece's testimony is inadmissible hearsay and does not fall within the present state of mind exception. Rather, he maintains, it was offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted_that is, that the two had a stormy relationship and that DeMoss had asked Defendant to leave_so that the Jury could then infer circumstantially that there would be a basis for [Defendant] to murder DeMoss. Furthermore, Defendant argues that
DeMoss's state of mind at the time of her murder was not an issue at trial.
We accord the trial court substantial discretion in ruling on the relevancy of evidence.
Hunter v. State, 578 N.E.2d 353 (Ind. 1991); Thompson v. State, 613 N.E.2d 461, 466 (Ind.
Ct. App. 1993). Furthermore, we will reverse a trial court's hearsay ruling only if the court
has abused its discretion. We will sustain the trial court if it can be done on any legal ground
apparent in the record. Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1081 (Ind. 1989) (citation
Only relevant evidence is admissible, Ind. Evidence Rule 402, and relevant evidence means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence, Evid. R. 401. A victim's state of mind is relevant where it has been put at issue by the defendant. Taylor v. State, 659 N.E.2d 535, 543 (Ind. 1995). In this case, Defendant put DeMoss's state of mind at issue by trying to downplay difficulties in their relationship as merely the inevitable consequence of two individuals who lived a hard life; that they were not uncommon given their on-again, off-again relationship.See footnote 6 Also in evidence was Defendant's statement given during an extradition interview in Georgia to the effect that the status of Defendant's relationship with DeMoss was amicable
and that DeMoss gave Defendant permission to use the car.See footnote
Having determined that the victim's state of mind was an issue at trial, we consider
the question of hearsay. Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while
testifying at a trial or hearing, offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Ind.
Evidence Rule 801(c). Hearsay is generally inadmissible. Evid. R. 802. However, a
statement of the declarant's then existing state of mind is not excluded by the hearsay rule.
Evid. R. 803(3); Ross v. State, 676 N.E.2d 339, 345 (Ind. 1996).
If statements are admitted to show the declarant's state of mind, and not to prove the substantive content of those statements, they do not run afoul of the hearsay rule because, by definition, those statements are not hearsay pursuant to Evidence Rule 802. Angleton v. State, 686 N.E.2d 803, 809 (Ind. 1997); see Lock v. State, 567 N.E.2d 1155, 1159-60 (Ind. 1991) (We find that the statements made by the victim [that they were 'having trouble'] were properly admitted to prove that the relationship between the [Defendant] and the victim was not completely benign, contrary to [Defendant's] assertions at trial.), cert. denied, 503 U.S. 991 (1992).
We recently approved of instances where statements are admissible to controvert a
defendant's evidence when the defendant puts the victim's state of mind at issue. Ford v. State, 704 N.E.2d 457 (Ind. 1998) (Victim's statement to witness 'that she was unhappy and that she wanted to leave but she was afraid that if she left [the defendant] again he would kill her,' was admissible as indicative of her state of mind.); Taylor v. State, 659 N.E.2d 535 (Ind. 1995) (Victim's statement to police officer that she was scared to come forward with sexual abuse allegations was admissible under state of mind exception.). Meece's testimony concerning (1) DeMoss's stormy relationship with Defendant and (2) DeMoss trying to end the relationship both fall into this category of statements offered for the non-hearsay purpose of showing the victim's state of mind. This testimony tends to contradict Defendant's argument that DeMoss allowed him to take her car and checkbook out of state, given that she had asked Defendant to leave their troubled relationship. Furthermore, we believe the probative value of this evidence is greater than any possible prejudicial effect, see Ford, 704 N.E.2d at 460; Lock, 567 N.E.2d at 1159-60, considering there was other evidenceSee footnote 8 establishing their troubled relationship. See Cooley v. State, 682 N.E.2d 1277, 1282 (Ind. 1997) (Any error in admitting testimony was harmless as the hearsay evidence [was] merely cumulative of other evidence properly admitted.). The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Meece's testimony over Defendant's objection.
The pertinent time line was that after he woke Defendant, the officer asked for permission to search the vehicle. Defendant consented to the search and then exited the car. Defendant was not in custody at this time. Before a search was conducted, the officer patted down Defendant which led to the discovery of a large kitchen knife and Defendant's initial arrest for carrying a concealed weapon. Soon thereafter, another officer arrived on the scene and it was discovered that the car was reported stolen. Only after Defendant was arrested and placed in the officer's car was the car inventoried and the incriminating evidence found.
In determining the propriety of an inventory search, the threshold question . . . is
whether the impoundment itself was proper. Fair, 627 N.E.2d at 431(citing United States
v. Young, 825 F.2d 60, 61 (5th Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 1012 (1988)). Here,
Defendant driver was arrested in a vehicle that was reported stolen from another state. We
find that the arresting officer was justified in impounding the vehicle. Cf. Johnson v. State,
553 N.E.2d 477 (Ind. 1990) (holding that the police were justified in impounding a vehicle
when the driver has been arrested).
The second step of the test for the validity of inventory searches of automobiles looks to the reasonableness of the search itself. Even the lawful custody of an impounded vehicle does not of itself dispense with the constitutional requirement of reasonableness in
regard to the searches conducted thereafter. Instead, to pass constitutional muster, the
search itself must be conducted pursuant to standard police procedures, Fair, 627 N.E.2d
at 435 (citing Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367, 375 (1987)), and searches in conformity
with such regulations are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, id. (citing South Dakota
v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 376 (1976)). In this case, while the inventory search was
conducted at the crime scene and not at the impoundment lot, the arresting officer testified
that this was in accordance with standard Riverdale Police Department policies.
Furthermore, formal inventory sheets were completed and pictures taken to make an
accurate record of all of the vehicle's contents and not just the incriminating evidence.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Georgia police properly
impounded the vehicle and followed standard operating procedure, thus the inventory search
of the car was reasonable. The trial judge correctly denied Defendant's motion to suppress.
1995) (citing Green v. State, 587 N.E.2d 1314 (Ind. 1992); Litel v. State, 527 N.E.2d 1114,
1115 (1988)). We review only the evidence presented at trial and the reasonable inferences
drawn therefrom that support the verdict in deciding whether there is substantial evidence
of probative value from which a reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt Id. (citing Litel, 527 N.E.2d at 1115; Case v. State, 458 N.E.2d 223, 226
This Court has held previously that a conviction for Murder may be based solely on
circumstantial evidence. Moore, 652 N.E.2d at 55 (citing Green, 587 N.E.2d at 1315);
Utley v. State, 589 N.E.2d 232, 241 (Ind.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1058 (1992). And such
a verdict will stand if the jury could reasonably infer that the defendant is guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt from the circumstantial evidence presented. Biggerstaff v. State, 432
N.E.2d 34, 36 (Ind. 1982). On appeal, the circumstantial evidence need not overcome every
reasonable hypothesis of innocence. Swafford v. State, 498 N.E.2d 1188, 1192 (Ind. 1986).
It is enough if an inference reasonably tending to support the verdict can be drawn from the
circumstantial evidence. Id.
The evidence supports an inference that Defendant killed DeMoss and stole her car. Defendant and DeMoss were both seen at home on the same evening that a neighbor heard three bangs coming from the direction of Defendant's residence. On that same night, Defendant arrived alone at his father's house driving DeMoss's car, appearing nervous
and remarked to his father that he messed up real bad. Defendant acknowledged to his
father that he had a .22 gun in his possession. At trial, the State established through a
ballistics expert that this was the murder weapon. Defendant explained DeMoss's absence
to his father by telling him that she was visiting relatives. Two days later, Defendant
departed his father's residence driving DeMoss's car. DeMoss's dead body was eventually
found on the living room floor, having been shot ten times with Defendant's .22 caliber rifle.
A few days later, Defendant was found sleeping in DeMoss's car in a public park in
Riverdale, Georgia, and both the .22 caliber rifle and DeMoss's checkbook were found in
While the evidence presented by the State is circumstantial, after considering all the
evidence most favorable to the verdict as well as drawing all reasonable inferences
therefrom, we find the jury could have reasonably concluded that Defendant killed DeMoss
and then stole her car in an effort to flee the state.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SELBY, and BOEHM, JJ., concur.
With respect to the 404B evidence and also, I guess, hearsay issues that may arise during the questioning of three of the State's witnesses, we'll advise the defense and the Court that . . . Lisa Hamilton Meece . . . will be asked about information related to the nature or the status of the relationship between the Defendant, Charles
Vehorn, and Brenda DeMoss in the brief period immediately preceding her murder.
(R. at 133.) Moments later, the trial judge specifically asked defense counsel, Do you object to testimony concerning the nature of the relationship in general? (R. at 144.) Defense counsel responded, Yes, if it's not based on direct knowledge. Id. The admissibility issue of Meece's hearsay statements concerning Defendant's relationship with DeMoss, therefore, was squarely before the trial court, and thus is preserved for appeal. This is notwithstanding the fact that defense counsel initially began his argument by objecting under Rule 404(b). In reviewing the relevant portion of the trial court's evidentiary ruling, it is clear that the judge was addressing the admissibility of hearsay statements and did not limit his ruling to Rule 404(b) issues:
But as to the evidence concerning the relationship of the Defendant with the victim
in this case, the Court will allow that testimony, including statements made by the
victim as they relate to her intentions to end the relationship or what the status of the
relationship was as statements of her mind and relevant to the nature of the
(R. at 153) (emphasis added).
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