893 N.E.2d 781 (Ind.App. 2008), 15A01-0711-CR-496, Henderson v. State

Docket Nº15A01-0711-CR-496.
Citation893 N.E.2d 781
Party NameWilliam HENDERSON, Appellant-Defendant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.
Case DateSeptember 03, 2008
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

Page 781

893 N.E.2d 781 (Ind.App. 2008)

William HENDERSON, Appellant-Defendant,


STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

No. 15A01-0711-CR-496.

Court of Appeals of Indiana.

September 3, 2008

Transfer Denied Oct. 15, 2008.

Appeal from Dearborn Circuit Court; The Honorable James Humphrey, Judge; Cause No. 15C01-0604-MR-1.

Leanna Weissmann, Lawrenceburg, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Zachary J. Stock, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.


ROBB, Judge.

Case Summary and Issues

Following a jury trial, William Henderson appeals his conviction of murder and his sixty-five-year sentence, raising three issues, which we restate as four: 1) whether the admission of photographs of the victim constituted fundamental error; 2) whether the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter; 3) whether the trial court abused its discretion in finding the aggravating and mitigating circumstances; and 4) whether his sentence is inappropriate. Concluding the admission of the photographs did not amount to fundamental error, the trial court acted within its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter, the trial court acted within its discretion in finding the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and the sentence is not inappropriate, we affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

Sometime during April 2005, Melissa Henderson, William's wife, began having an affair with James McCracken. About a week before her death, Melissa told William “ that she wanted a divorce and that she didn't love him and that she'd found someone else." Tr. at 923. William pushed Melissa and hit her in the leg. At some point after this argument, William became suspicious that McCracken was this “ someone else." On Wednesday, June 15, William sent McCracken a text message and left him three voice messages, indicating his desire to speak with McCracken. Also on Wednesday, William told Melissa that he knew of McCracken, and another physical altercation took place during which William pushed Melissa up against a wall. On Thursday, William borrowed a truck from Paul Hizer in order to follow Melissa. William took his friend, Darin Laird, along with him on this trip.

Melissa went to work a little before midnight on Thursday, and worked until around 8:00 a.m. on Friday. She went to breakfast with some co-workers and returned home around 9:00 a.m.

William was supposed to return the truck Friday morning, but called Hizer and told him he was traveling to Kentucky to investigate potential bids on some work projects. While in Kentucky, William fainted while attempting to rent a campsite and was taken to the hospital. After being discharged from the hospital, William drove back home and returned the truck on Friday evening.

On his way back from Kentucky, William called Laird, who had previously asked William to help him move some boxes and do some work on Laird's new residence. After dropping the truck off, William picked up Laird, and the two went to William and Melissa's house. William and Laird found Melissa dead in the bedroom. It was later determined that she died of asphyxia due to strangulation.

Police recovered a broken fingernail from the scene. DNA analysis revealed the presence of the DNA belonging to William and another anonymous person. The police initially investigated McCracken and William's uncle, Leland, as possible suspects, but eventually concentrated on William as inconsistencies in his story began to appear. Specifically, William at times denied knowing of Melissa's affair, and the police discovered that William had not been in Kentucky to bid on a job, as he had told officers. The State ordered a second autopsy, which was conducted on March 10, 2006. Dr. Dean Hawley performed this autopsy and determined that Melissa died from strangulation.

On April 26, 2006, the State charged William with murder, a felony. A jury trial began on July 30, 2007. At trial, the State introduced numerous photographs of Melissa's body as it was discovered at the murder scene, at the funeral home, and during the two autopsies. William's counsel did not object to the introduction of nearly all of these photographs. The State also introduced evidence that, after Melissa's death, William began giving his two children approximately $100 per week and asked them not to tell investigating officers about the arguments he had with Melissa before her death. William took the stand and testified that he had not killed his wife and that they had not fought the morning of her death.

At the close of evidence, William tendered instructions on the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter and the definition of the term “ sudden heat." The State objected, and the trial court rejected the instruction. On August 15, 2007, the jury found William guilty of murder.

On September 15, 2007, the trial court held a sentencing hearing. At this hearing, William took the stand and admitted to lying at his trial. He stated:

I've been living with a burden for two years. I lied in Court. I'm not lying today. On June 17, 2005, I'd like to get the record straight. I did leave my house that morning at 9:30, and I did return to my house at approximately, probably 10:30 that morning-that Friday morning. Me and Melissa got into an argument and I don't know exactly what happened. The next thing I know, I came out of it, and I was lying on top of her with my arm around her. I don't know exactly what I did-but I did lie. I don't know. Actually, I don't know what I did. I can't explain it. I don't know. I just want the truth to get out. It was an accident. I never deliberately meant to do it.

Tr. at 1827. The trial court sentenced William to the statutory maximum sentence of sixty-five years. William now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

I. Admission of Photographs

A. Standard of Review

“ The admission of photographic evidence is within the sound discretion of the trial court." Helsley v. State, 809 N.E.2d 292, 296 (Ind.2004). Therefore, we will review the admission of photographs only for an abuse of discretion. Id. We will find that the trial court abused its discretion “ where the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances." Smith v. State, 754 N.E.2d 502, 504 (Ind.2001).

In this case, William recognizes that he did not object to the admission of the bulk of the photographs at trial. “ Failure to object to the admission of evidence at trial normally results in wavier and precludes appellate review unless its admission constitutes fundamental error." Cutter v. State, 725 N.E.2d 401, 406 (Ind.2000). The fundamental error exception to waiver is extremely narrow. Glotzbach v. State, 783 N.E.2d 1221, 1225-26 (Ind.Ct.App.2003). We will find fundamental error only when there has been a “ ‘ blatant violation of basic principles' that denies a defendant ‘ fundamental due process.’Goodwin v. State, 783 N .E.2d 686, 687 (Ind.2003) (quoting Wilson v. State, 514 N.E.2d 282, 284 (Ind.1987)). The “ error must be so prejudicial to the rights of the defendant as to make a fair trial impossible." Wiley v. State, 712 N.E.2d 434, 444-45 (Ind.1999).

B. Admission of the Photographs

1. Crime Scene Photographs

The State admitted eleven photographs taken at the scene of the crime.“ Photographs of a crime scene are generally admissible because they are competent and relevant aids by which a jury can orient itself to best understand the evidence presented." Underwood v. State, 535 N.E.2d 507, 516 (Ind.1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 900 (1989). These photographs not only gave the jury a sense of the location of the crime, they also served to corroborate and illustrate Laird's testimony regarding the discovery of the body and the testimony of various other witnesses who described the crime scene and Melissa's injuries. See Phillips v. State, 550 N.E.2d 1290, 1299 (Ind.1990) (noting that photographs demonstrated an officer's testimony of the appearance of the victim at the crime scene); Hoemig v. State, 522 N.E.2d 392, 399-400 (Ind.Ct.App.1988) (concluding photographs of the crime scene were admissible and “ relevant to [the police officer's] testimony," where the officer “ used the photographs to help illustrate his testimony and show where the victim was located" ); cf. Underwood, 535 N.E.2d at 516-17 (“ [P]hotographs showing the victim in his or her natural state following death and before the body has been altered by an autopsy are relevant and admissible." ).

We recognize that some of these pictures may not be pleasant to view. However, none are particularly gruesome for a murder, e.g., Robinson v. State, 693 N.E.2d 548, 553 (Ind.1998) (admitted pictures of a body partially eaten by animals); Light v. State, 547 N.E.2d 1073, 1080 (Ind.1989) (admitted pictures of a nude, charred, and partially decomposed body), and all are relevant to the facts and circumstances of Melissa's death, see Perigo v. State, 541 N.E.2d 936, 939 (Ind.1989) (“ These photographs are indeed revolting, but the purpose of relevant evidence is to prove, however slightly, the material issues." ).

The photographs' admissibility is not affected by either the fact that William did not dispute that Melissa was strangled to death or that other evidence established her cause of death. See Kubsch v. State, 784 N.E.2d 905, 923 (Ind.2003) (“ Photographs depicting the victim's injuries or demonstrating a witness' testimony are generally relevant therefore admissible and will not be rejected merely because they are gruesome or cumulative." ); Morris v. State, 263 Ind. 370, 375, 332 N.E.2d 90, 93 (1975) (“ These pictures and slides, although repetitious, were admissible for the purpose of elucidating and explaining the oral testimony of [a witness]." )...

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