904 N.W.2d 746 (S.D. 2017), 28041-a-LSW, State v. Hemminger

Docket Nº:28041-a-LSW
Citation:904 N.W.2d 746, 2017 SD 77
Opinion Judge:WILBUR, Retired Justice
Party Name:STATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. John Eric HEMMINGER, Defendant and Appellant.
Attorney:MARTY J. JACKLEY, Attorney General, PATRICIA ARCHER, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee WILLIAM D. GERDES, JERALD M. McNEARY JR., Aberdeen, South Dakota, THOMAS J. COGLEY of Ronayne and Cogley, PC, Aberdeen, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant...
Judge Panel:GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and ZINTER, SEVERSON, and KERN, Justices, concur. JENSEN, Justice, not having been a member of the Court at the time this action was submitted to the Court, did not participate.
Case Date:November 21, 2017
Court:Supreme Court of South Dakota

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904 N.W.2d 746 (S.D. 2017)

2017 SD 77

STATE of South Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee,


John Eric HEMMINGER, Defendant and Appellant.


Supreme Court of South Dakota

November 21, 2017



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MARTY J. JACKLEY, Attorney General, PATRICIA ARCHER, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee

WILLIAM D. GERDES, JERALD M. McNEARY JR., Aberdeen, South Dakota, THOMAS J. COGLEY of Ronayne and Cogley, PC, Aberdeen, South Dakota, Attorneys for defendant and appellant.


WILBUR, Retired Justice

[¶1] In January 2015, Jessica Goebel died after being stabbed twenty-three times. A jury found her ex-boyfriend John Eric Hemminger guilty of first-degree murder. The court entered a judgment of conviction and sentenced Hemminger to mandatory life in prison. Hemminger appeals. He challenges the circuit court's evidentiary rulings that he consented to the seizure of his property from the hospital and that the revocation of that consent did not require the return of his property. Hemminger also challenges the seizure of his bloody clothing from his friend's house. Additionally, Hemminger claims that the circuit court abused its discretion when it admitted twenty-six autopsy photos during the trial and when it denied his motion for a new trial. Hemminger challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction. We affirm.


[¶2] On January 7, 2015, at 2:02 a.m., Hemminger called 911 to report that he had just been stabbed in the hand by Richard Hanley and was on his way to the hospital. He said that he had been at Goebel's home and that someone should go to Goebel's home because Hanley could still be there. Hanley and Goebel were in a relationship. Law enforcement officers went to Goebel's home and found her lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood, barely alive. The officers also located two children— Hemminger and Goebel's daughters. The officers searched the home but did not find Hanley. They later learned that Hanley was at a hospital in Fort Yates, North Dakota, being treated for an eye injury. Goebel ultimately died of her injuries.

[¶3] Sergeant Kory Pickrel met Hemminger at the hospital in response to Hemminger's 911 call claiming that Hanley had stabbed him. Hemminger explained to Sergeant Pickrel that he had gone to Goebel's home around 11:00 p.m. to retrieve his clothes. He and Goebel had recently ended their relationship, but according to Hemminger, were on good terms. Hemminger claimed that while he was at Goebel's home, Hanley attacked him, pulled a knife, and threatened to kill him. Hemminger said that he gouged Hanley's eye during the attack and that Hanley took off running.

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[¶4] Hemminger did not tell Sergeant Pickrel that Goebel had obtained a no-contact order against him or that the two had a rocky, sometimes violent relationship. He claimed that he and Goebel had been communicating all day via text messages and phone calls. Hemminger repeatedly referred the officer to his cell phone. Sergeant Pickrel asked if he could look at Hemminger's phone. Hemminger replied, " Yes, go ahead." Hemminger entered the passcode and handed the phone to the officer. Later, Sergeant Pickrel asked Hemminger if he could seize the phone. Sergeant Pickrel was aware that Goebel had been found brutally stabbed. He, however, told Hemminger he was not being looked into as a suspect. Hemminger replied, " No problem." Hemminger again provided the passcode.

[¶5] At approximately 4:00 a.m., detectives Chris Gross and Arika Dingman entered Hemminger's hospital room to interview Hemminger. They were both aware that Goebel had been violently assaulted. Detective Gross explained to Hemminger that " before we ever talk to anybody [about] something this serious, we always advise them of their rights. Do you understand that, right?" Hemminger replied, " Yeah," and Detective Gross read Hemminger his Miranda rights. Detective Gross later testified that he read Hemminger his Miranda rights as a precaution and because he routinely did so during investigations. Hemminger agreed to speak and explained what had happened that night, which explanation was similar to what he told Sergeant Pickrel.

[¶6] Detective Gross had concerns about Hemminger's timeline. Prior to questioning Hemminger, Detective Gross had learned that Goebel made a 911 call around 6:00 p.m. reporting that Hemminger and another person were fighting inside her home. Detective Gross continued to question Hemminger about his timeline. Hemminger denied being at Goebel's home at or around 6:00 p.m. and repeatedly referred to his cell phone as support for his version of events. He provided the passcode to his phone again and showed the officers how to determine when calls were made as proof that he was not at Goebel's home around 6:00 p.m.

[¶7] Hemminger also agreed to let the officers take his clothing. Detective Gross obtained a buccal swab for DNA testing. As Detective Dingman was bagging Hemminger's coat, she saw a knife handle in the pocket. The handle was bloody and had no blade. Later, other officers found a knife blade with no handle in the sink at Goebel's home. Detective Gross arrested Hemminger at the hospital.

[¶8] During the investigation, Detective Tom Tarnowski obtained a search warrant to examine Hemminger's phone and extract its data. The search uncovered many deleted messages suggesting that Hemminger and Goebel had a contentious relationship. The search also revealed messages indicating that Hemminger was angry about Goebel's relationship with Hanley. The day before the assault, January 5, Hemminger had sent Goebel a message threatening to come to her house, kick down the door, and kill the " dude with you now."

[¶9] The investigation also revealed that around 6:00 p.m. on January 6, the evening of the attack, Goebel made a series of calls to 911 dispatch. She first reported that " John" was fighting. She ended the call before dispatch could gather more information. She called back and claimed that Hemminger was not supposed to be at the address and that he was fighting one of her friends. She again abruptly ended the call. Goebel called again and claimed that she could not identify the individuals fighting

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and that Hemminger was not involved in the assault.

[¶10] Officers later learned from Hanley that Hemminger had come to Goebel's home around 6:00 p.m. while Hanley and Goebel were upstairs in the bedroom. According to Hanley, Hemminger pounded on the home's door, Goebel opened the door, and Hemminger went upstairs looking for Hanley. The two fought, and Hemminger punched Hanley in the eye. Hanley claimed that he ran out of Goebel's home to his mother's house. He also said that his mother took him to the hospital in Fort Yates three hours away. He went to Fort Yates because he received free health services there. According to Hanley, he and his mother stayed at a hotel in Fort Yates until the next day. Officers confirmed that Hanley received care for his eye at the hospital in Fort Yates and stayed the night in a nearby hotel.

[¶11] After the fight between Hanley and Hemminger at Goebel's home, Hemminger allegedly went to his friend John Roach's home. Roach lived a short distance from Goebel, and he and Hemminger worked construction together. According to Roach's girlfriend, when Hemminger came to the home on January 6, he was agitated. He told her about his altercation with Hanley and claimed that Hemminger said that he had " fucked him up and that he was going to fuck them both up."

[¶12] When Detective Gross learned that Hemminger went to Roach's home the evening of the attack and that he had spent the previous night there, Detective Gross approached Roach at work and asked for permission to search his home. Roach consented. During the search, the officers opened a black garbage bag located near the entrance. The bag contained a bloody work coat and a dishrag. Roach identified the coat as Hemminger's. The officers seized the bag and took it to the police station for processing. They found multiple bloody items connected to Hemminger: a work coat, dishrag, boots, and clothing. Roach later claimed ownership of the knife that had been found in Hemminger's coat pocket at the hospital.

[¶13] Ultimately, Hemminger was indicted for first-degree murder. Prior to trial, Hemminger filed a motion to have the property seized from him at the hospital returned or suppressed. He argued that he never consented to the officers' seizure of his cell phone, clothing, or DNA, and if he had consented, he withdrew that consent three weeks later by written letter. The court denied the motions. Hemminger also moved to suppress the officers' warrantless seizure of the bloody boots, a shirt, and a jacket from Roach's home. According to Hemminger, the clothing belonged to him, and he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in Roach's home. The court denied the motion.

[¶14] After a trial, the jury found Hemminger guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The circuit court entered a judgment of conviction after denying Hemminger's motion for a new trial.

[¶15] Hemminger appeals, raising the following issues: 1. The circuit court erred when it denied Hemminger's motion to suppress evidence seized from Hemminger at the hospital.

2. The circuit court erred when it denied Hemminger's motion to suppress evidence seized from Roach's residence.


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