Barker v. State, 49S00-9411-DP-1107

CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
Citation695 N.E.2d 925
Docket NumberNo. 49S00-9411-DP-1107,49S00-9411-DP-1107
PartiesCharles E. BARKER, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
Decision Date12 June 1998

Susan D. Burke, Carolyn W. Rader, Indianapolis, for Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General, Arthur T. Perry, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.

BOEHM, Justice.

Charles E. Barker was convicted of two counts of murder, and one count each of kidnapping, confinement, burglary, and carrying a handgun without a license. The jury recommended that he be sentenced to death and the trial court imposed the death penalty for the murders, and consecutive terms of years for the other offenses. In this direct appeal, Barker contends that reversible error occurred as a result of:

(1) admission of other crimes, wrongs, or acts under Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b);

(2) refusal of his tendered voluntary manslaughter instruction;

(3) the State's improper questioning of prospective jurors during voir dire;

(4) unconstitutionality of the Indiana death penalty statute; and

(5) failure to instruct the jury on life imprisonment without parole.

We affirm the convictions. The State concedes a new sentencing phase is required and we remand for that purpose. 1

Factual Background

On Friday July 30, 1993 Charles Barker checked himself into a hospital for alcohol rehabilitation treatment. As a result of pending charges arising from a prior assault on Candice Benefiel, Barker's former girlfriend and the mother of his daughter Ashley, a court order directed that Barker have no contact with Candice. Earlier that same day, despite the order, Barker had requested Candice to move in with Deanna Best, his then current wife, while he was in the hospital. He had also requested that Candice and Ashley visit him at the hospital on Saturday, Ashley's first birthday. Candice had indicated agreement to avoid a confrontation but did not intend to comply with either request. Barker was scheduled to appear in court on the following Wednesday, August 4, to respond to the underlying charges.

Barker became upset when Candice and Ashley failed to visit Barker at the hospital on Saturday and on Sunday he checked himself out. Deanna picked Barker up and was told by the doctors to keep an eye on him because he might have convulsions from his medication. According to Deanna, Barker had been "pretty suicidal" on Sunday. On Monday Barker bought a gun. He also visited a friend who worked with Candice and in the course of an otherwise ordinary conversation told him "that he wouldn't spend any time in jail and that he would take care of things." That evening, Barker loaded the gun but Deanna persuaded him to remove the clip and give her it to her. On Tuesday, however, Barker called Deanna at work demanding the clip and she told him where it was. Late Tuesday afternoon Barker went to the home of Candice's grandparents--Mr. and Mrs. Benefiel--where Candice was staying, and watched the house hoping to speak with her. Barker caught sight of Candice a few times but she did not see him. Eventually, at about 10:00 p.m. Barker walked to a nearby friend's house.

Barker left the friend's house at about 11:15 p.m. on Tuesday. Candice testified that Barker later told her that he was on his way home when a thorn fell into his eye and he "just snapped." He headed to the Benefiels' house and entered through a back door after breaking a pane of glass. Candice, who was asleep in a bedroom with Ashley, testified that Barker "slammed" into her bedroom with a gun in his hand and told her to grab the child and accompany him. When Candice resisted Barker dragged Candice screaming out of her bedroom and into the hallway. In this melee, the grandparents woke up and ventured into the hallway. Mr. Benefiel, naked, jumped on Barker's back. The two began to fight and drifted into the kitchen. Candice heard two gun shots. Mrs. Benefiel then took Ashley from Candice and ran to the bathroom. Barker emerged from the kitchen and bolted past Candice toward the bathroom as Candice ran to her grandparent's bedroom to get Mr. Benefiel's gun. Candice returned to the hallway with the gun intending to shoot Barker but was unable to get the gun to work. Then she saw Barker, with his head and arm inside the bathroom door, fire his weapon. Candice tried to hide in the closet of her grandparent's bedroom and heard three more gunshots and no sound of a struggle. Barker soon found her in the closet. With his gun in one hand and Ashley in the other, he ordered Candice to put her gun down and come out of the closet. Barker then "threw" Ashley at Candice and dragged both Candice and Ashley out of the house.

Barker led the pair to Deanna's manufactured home where Deanna let them in. After Barker stated that he "had just killed Candy's grandma and grandpa," Deanna wanted to leave but Barker would not allow it because, he said, she would "rat him out." All four then drove in Deanna's car to Tennessee where Barker's uncle lived. On the drive, Barker said that he hoped that the grandparents were not dead, and that he thought he had shot Mr. Benefiel in the heart. He also said "I'm in trouble; I'm going back to jail." Barker kept his gun with him during the entire trip and warned Candice and Deanna that he was prepared to shoot them if necessary.

It was daylight when the four arrived in Tennessee and stopped at a gas station where Deanna telephoned Barker's uncle and was told the grandparents were dead. Barker then talked to the uncle. At this point a police vehicle drove into the station and Barker and the others left immediately. Deanna told Barker that they could not take him to the uncle's residence because the police would be there. She suggested that they drop him off and come back to get him later. Barker nervously agreed. They left him at the edge of a wooded area and drove back to the gas station where the police surrounded them and then quickly apprehended Barker.

Barker told the arresting officers that he had killed two people in Indiana and had forced the two women to bring him to Tennessee. After his arrest he gave a sworn statement admitting the shootings. At trial a forensic pathologist reviewed the autopsy reports on both bodies and testified that Mr. Benefiel was shot twice: once in the left arm and once, fatally, in the chest. He also testified that Mr. Benefiel suffered from "serious" emphysema of the lungs and coronary artery disease, conditions that would have made him somewhat "frail." Mrs. Benefiel died from a gunshot wound to the head.

I. 404(b) Evidence

Barker contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts under Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b) and that admission of this evidence denied Barker a fair trial. Specifically, Barker points to evidence of four incidents, each of which was introduced through Candice's testimony over Barker's objection. Candice testified that: (1) in April 1991 Barker hit Mrs. Benefiel with a wooden spatula or similar object during an argument and the police were called; (2) in January 1992 Barker hit Mrs. Benefiel with the car he was driving, the police were called, and Mrs. Benefiel was taken to the hospital by ambulance; (3) in April 1992, when Candice was six months pregnant, Barker beat her repeatedly in the face and cut her with a kitchen knife; and (4) in June 1993 Barker hit Candice several times, submerged her in the bathtub until she "blacked out," threw her and Ashley against the wall, and sexually assaulted Candice. The "no contact" order was a result of this last incident.

Rule 404(b) provides in part: "Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, intent ... or absence of mistake or accident...." The rule is designed to prevent the jury from making the "forbidden inference" that prior wrongful conduct suggests present guilt. In order for evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts to be admissible, the court must (1) determine that the evidence is relevant to a matter at issue other than the defendant's propensity to commit the charged act, and (2) balance the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial effect pursuant to Rule 403. Hicks v. State, 690 N.E.2d 215, 221 (Ind.1997); Thompson v. State, 690 N.E.2d 224, 233 (Ind.1997).

After a hearing, the trial court admitted evidence of the four incidents to provide the jury with background knowledge of the persons involved, "so that the jury understands that Mr. Barker and the Benefiels aren't strangers." Although the precise grounds upon which the trial court admitted the evidence are unclear, we will affirm the trial court's decision if it is sustainable on any basis in the record. Benham v. State, 637 N.E.2d 133, 138 (Ind.1994). The State contended in both the trial court and on appeal that these acts illustrated the relationship of the parties and that these relationships are indicative of Barker's motive. Specifically, the State contends that Barker broke into the house because he wanted to persuade Candice to drop the charges that were pending against him for the second assault. Candice testified that after the first assault, Barker had convinced her not to appear as a witness and as a result the charges against him were dropped. Evidence of the two assaults on Candice is thus arguably probative of Barker's motive for the kidnapping if not the murders. But the highly prejudicial details of these assaults did not need to be admitted to explain Barker's conduct that evening. The danger of unfair prejudice posed by details that Barker cut Candice with a knife or submerged her in the bathtub was extremely high. Cf. Thompson, 690 N.E.2d at 233-34 (prejudicial details of a shooting offered to explain how defendant acquired...

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