Attorney for Appellant
Special Assistant to the
State Public Defender
Attorneys for Appellee
Karen M. Freeman-Wilson
Attorney General of Indiana
Timothy W. Beam
Deputy Attorney General
INDIANA SUPREME COURT
Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellee (Plaintiff below ).
) Supreme Court No.
APPEAL FROM THE HENRY SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable Michael D. Peyton, Judge
Cause No. 33D01-9811-CF-33
ON DIRECT APPEAL
September 10, 2001
Defendant Charles Smith was convicted of murder for shooting his cousin and slitting
his throat. He argues that the trial court improperly prevented him from
contending that another person was the killer when it excluded evidence that the
victim had threatened his wife's family and had used drugs. We affirm
his conviction, finding the evidence he sought to present not relevant because it
did not suggest the existence of another suspect.
The facts favorable to the judgment indicate that on August 30, 1998, Defendant
Charles Smith and his friends Verlie and Bruce Hinton, Joshua Hinton, Barbara Reno,
and Tammy Denny gathered at the Hintons residence. Tammy began discussing her
marital problems. Defendant and her husband, Melvin Denny, were cousins. In
particular, she revealed that Melvin verbally abused her and her children. Bruce
Hinton and Defendant contemplated whether Melvin had been molesting Tammys children. Defendant
began striking his fist against his hand and said that something had to
be done. He told Reno that everythings going to be alright.
(R. at 2197-98.) And he informed Joshua Hinton that he was going to
take care of business. (R. at 2259.)
The next morning at approximately 2:00 a.m., Defendant appeared at the residence of
Melinda Westrater, the niece of his then-girlfriend, Sheila Pierce. Defendant told Westrater
that one of his family members had been killed and that no one
else in the family had been notified. Defendant also stated that his
relatives throat had been slashed.
That evening, Defendant went to the residence of Mandy Ashley, another of Defendants
cousins. Defendant told Ashley that he was in trouble and that he
was going to leave town. Defendant admitted that he had offed someone.
Defendant revealed that that person was his cousin. When Ashley thought
Defendant was joking, Defendant said that because he had already offed one family
member, she could be next. (R. at 2387.) He
continued with his confession, explaining that he rode to the victims house on
his bicycle, emptied his gun into his head, and cut his throat.
He stated that the victim deserved to die because the victim was a
child molester. Defendant also told Ashley that he took that personally because
he had also been molested as a child.
That night, Tammys sister, Debbie Thatcher, and Debbies fiancé, Ryan Gross, found
Melvin dead inside his home. Melvin had died from multiple gunshots to
the head and suffered a laceration to the throat. During a warrant
search of Defendants house, officers discovered several .22 caliber rifles but found no
murder weapon. The officers did find shell casings that matched the type
of weapon used to commit the killing.
The State charged Defendant with Murder
and with being a Habitual Offender.
A jury found Defendant guilty of murder. Defendant pled guilty to the
habitual offender charge. A trial court sentenced Defendant to a total of
95 years imprisonment.
Additional facts will be recited as necessary.
Defendant contends that the trial court committed reversible error when it excluded evidence
showing that [the] murder victim Melvin Denny had repeatedly threatened his mother-in-law and
other members of his wifes family. Appellants Br. at 17. He
argues that such evidence was relevant to establish that members of the victims
wifes family had a motive to kill and thus made it less probable
that Defendant committed the killing. See id. at 15, 21.
Evidence is relevant when it has 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. Ind.
Evidence Rule 401. In the context of Defendants claim here, we have
said that evidence which tends to show that someone else committed the crime
logically makes it less probable that the defendant committed the crime, and thus
meets the definition of Rule 401. Joyner v. State, 678 N.E.2d 386,
389 (Ind. 1997), rehg denied. We review a trial courts determination of
admissibility for an abuse of discretion and will reverse only where the decision
is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances.
Id. at 390.
After the trial court granted the States motion in limine excluding evidence of
alleged threats made by the victim to his wifes family, Defendant tendered the
following: (1) Ryan Grosss testimony that he had heard from an unidentified person
that the victim had threatened to hit Thatcher; (2) Renos testimony that Tammy
told Reno that the victim had previously threatened to shoot his mother-in-law; and
(3) Verlie Hintons testimony that the victim threatened his mother-in-law and brother-in-law.
See Appellants Br. at 19-20. Defendant also argues that the trial courts
categorical and arbitrary exclusion of relevant and competent evidence that [the victim] repeatedly
threatened members of his wifes family prevented [him] from presenting his defense that
other people had the motive and opportunity to kill the victim. Appellants
Br. at 27.
Defendant cites to our decision in Joyner in support of his contention that
this evidence should have been admitted to show that another person may have
committed the crime. But in Joyner, the defendant had sought to present
specific factual evidence concerning a possible other suspect, the possible other suspects having
been seen with the victim, and an argument between the possible other suspect
and the victim. See Joyner, 678 N.E.2d at 389-90. In this
case, Defendant only sought to present (mostly hearsay) evidence of various threats made
by the victim himself; there was absolutely no effort to present any evidence
of any behavior by any other person suggesting the existence of another suspect.
In sum, there is nothing in the fact standing alone of the
victim having made threats that suggests the existence of another suspect. For
that reason, the evidence Defendant sought to present falls well short of the
test for admissibility enunciated by Joyner. See also Cook v. State, 734
N.E.2d 563, 568 (Ind. 2000), rehg denied; Hauk v. State, 729 N.E.2d 994,
1001-02 (Ind. 2000); McIntyre v. State, 717 N.E.2d 114, 123-24 (Ind. 1999), rehg
Defendant makes a similar claim in respect of his assertion that the trial
court committed reversible error when it excluded evidence of the victims drug use
because part of [his] defense was that [the victims] drug use played a
role in his death. Appellants Br. at 28. He argues that
such evidence would have allowed him to put on a proper defense that
the victims drug use rather than his alleged mistreatment of his children led
to his death. Id. at 30.
In support of this argument, Defendant sought to introduce at trial the following
evidence of the victims alleged prior drug use: (1) Ryan Grosss testimony
that he had once observed the victim smoke marijuana and that the victim
had told him that he had previously used heroin; (2) John Hickss testimony
that he had smoked marijuana with the victim; (3) Debbie Thatchers testimony that
she had seen the victim smoke marijuana; and (4) Verlie Hintons testimony that
the victim told her that he had 50 dollars worth and she presumed
that the victim was referring to drugs. The trial court sustained the
States objection, ruling such evidence as irrelevant.
We find that excluding evidence of the victims alleged drug use was proper.
As in the preceding section, Defendants asserted purpose in presenting this evidence
was to suggest that persons other than the Defendant had a motive to
kill the victim. But much like the threats against in-law evidence, Defendant
only sought to present evidence of drug use by the victim himself; there
was absolutely no effort to present any evidence of any behavior by any
other person suggesting the existence of another suspect. Again, the evidence Defendant
sought to present falls well short of the applicable test for admissibility.
See Williams v. State, 681 N.E.2d 195, 198-99 (Ind. 1997) (ruling that evidence
of a victims drug use is generally irrelevant except in relation to the
victims mental capacity to recall the crime and to testify about it); see
also Pannell v. State, 686 N.E.2d 824, 826 (Ind. 1997) (holding that evidence
of a murder victims past drug use was irrelevant).
We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, BOEHM, and RUCKER, JJ. concur.
Ind. Code § 35-42-1-1 (1998).
Id. § 35-50-2-8.