Bryant v. State, 31A04–1109–PC–542.

Citation976 N.E.2d 145
Case DateOctober 02, 2012
CourtCourt of Appeals of Indiana

976 N.E.2d 145

Arthur J. BRYANT, Appellant–Defendant,
STATE of Indiana, Appellee–Plaintiff.

No. 31A04–1109–PC–542.

Court of Appeals of Indiana.

Oct. 2, 2012.

Appeal from the Harrison Superior Court; The Honorable Roger D. Davis, Judge; Cause No. 31D01–0506–PC–2.
Stephen T. Owens, Public Defender of Indiana, J. Michael Sauer, Deputy Public Defender, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, Michael Gene Worden, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.



Arthur John Bryant appeals from the post-conviction court's order denying his petition for post-conviction relief. Bryant presents the following issues for our review, which we restate as:

1. Did the post-conviction court err by concluding that Bryant was not denied the effective assistance of trial counsel?

2. Did the post-conviction court err by concluding that Bryant was not denied due process by the State's failure to provide a witness statement during discovery prior to Bryant's trial?

3. Were the alleged cumulative errors made by Bryant's trial counsel and the discovery failure such that Bryant is entitled to have his conviction reversed and a new trial ordered?

We affirm.

In a published decision affirming Bryant's convictions upon direct appeal, this court set out the underlying facts as follows:

The facts most favorable to the verdict are that seventeen-year-old Bryant was living with his father, Lee, and stepmother, Carol. Kristi—Bryant's mother—determined that she could no longer control her son's behavior. At some point, Bryant had been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for committing a number of offenses.

It was revealed that Bryant stole from Kristi, threatened her with a baseball bat and choked her on at least one occasion. Bryant had also threatened to kill Carol and expressed hostility toward her in some poetry he had written, which included references to a person being found dead in the trunk of an automobile.

On Tuesday, January 4, 2000, Bryant and Carol argued. When Lee returned home from work the following day, neither Bryant nor Carol was at home. Lee eventually discovered a note Bryant had written explaining that he was going to spend the night with his friend, Doug Kintner. However, when Carol did not return home, Lee became concerned and telephoned Carol's mother and some other people. Lee also drove to various places in search of his wife. When Carol had still not returned the following day, Lee reported her missing to the police.

The police discovered Carol's vehicle early Saturday morning on State Road 56 in Washington County. At Kristi's suggestion, the police looked inside the trunk and found Carol's dead body wrapped in a comforter. An investigation revealed that Carol had died from asphyxiation as a result of ligature strangulation. Thereafter, the police located Bryant and arrested him in Salem on January 8, 2000. At the time of the arrest, Bryant was approximately one month away from his eighteenth birthday.

It was determined that between Wednesday and Saturday, Bryant had driven Carol's vehicle, with her body inside the trunk. He showed off the car to his friends, gave away some of Carol's jewelry, and sold some of her property to a pawnshop.

After the arrest, Bryant told his mother that he could not take any more of Carol's “crap,” and he also had told Lee that “it was either her or me.” Tr. p. 1351–55; 1449–50, 1950–52. DNA analysis on a pair of jeans recovered by the police from the trunk of Carol's car showed that the jeans contained Carol's bodily fluids, and that Bryant had worn the jeans.

While at the police station, Detective Richard Bauman of the Harrison County Sheriff's Office attempted to question Bryant. Bryant immediately requested the presence of an attorney, whereupon Detective Bauman permitted him to consult with Kristi in an interview room. However, Detective Bauman and Officer William Whelen secretly listened to the conversation and recorded it by means of a hidden microphone and video camera. While the recording is inaudible, Detective Bauman and the officer both testified “[d]uring the time set for Kristi and [Bryant] to talk, [Bryant] informed her that he had told his father that he had a problem with Carol. He told his father to take care of it or he would. He said he took care of it.” Tr. p. 271, 277, 1355. Detective Bauman initially testified at a motion to suppress hearing and in his deposition that he heard this statement as he entered the interview room. However, he changed his testimony at trial, indicating that he heard this statement while secretly listening to the conversation by means of the hidden microphone. While Bryant objected to Officer Bauman's testimony, he failed to object to the statements made by Officer Whelen.

Also at trial, the State established that Bryant enjoyed listening to rap music and would spend time rewriting the lyrics to certain songs. Some of the lyrics Bryant wrote referenced placing a body in the trunk of a car. At some point, the police discovered the poems, and the State offered them into evidence in an effort to insinuate that they foretold Carol's murder.

Bryant's defense at trial was that Lee had committed the murder. In an effort to establish that defense, Bryant made offers of proof to demonstrate that Carol and Lee's relationship was violent. The particular evidence sought to establish that Carol feared Lee and wanted to leave him. Several witnesses testified that Lee had physically attacked Carol several months before the murder. These witnesses also testified that Lee would choke Carol during his attacks.

Two officers also testified regarding a domestic disturbance that occurred between Lee and Carol on February 5, 1995. Both officers testified that Carol was bleeding and had redness around her neck. A life-long friend also testified about Lee's violent attacks on Carol. Two of Carol and Lee's neighbors testified that they witnessed Lee attack Carol in Carol's front yard on one occasion. Another neighbor witnessed Lee shove Carol in September or October prior to Carol's death. The trial court ultimately excluded the admission of most of this evidence on relevancy and hearsay grounds. The trial court also noted that the prior acts of violence were too remote in time as a basis for his ruling.

At [the] conclusion of the jury trial on August 21, 2001, Bryant was convicted on all counts. Thereafter, the trial court sentenced him to sixty years for Murder, two years and three months for theft, and two years and three months on the obstruction of justice charge. Bryant was ordered to serve the sentences consecutively to each other and consecutive to the sentences that he had received in all other cases. As a result, Bryant was ordered to serve sixty-four and one-half years in this cause, plus the sentences in the other causes for a total of eighty-one and one-half years.

Bryant v. State, 802 N.E.2d 486, 491–93 (Ind.Ct.App.2004).

In his direct appeal, Bryant presented the following issues for our review:

1) whether an inculpatory statement Bryant made to his mother should have been suppressed because it was improperly obtained by officers who had eavesdropped on and recorded their conversation;

2) whether evidence offered to establish that Bryant's father, Lee, killed Bryant's stepmother was improperly excluded;

3) whether certain song lyrics written by Bryant that were introduced into evidence by the State should have been excluded as irrelevant and prejudicial;

4) whether evidence of prior incidents during which Bryant had choked his mother and threatened her should have been excluded from evidence as irrelevant and prejudicial;

5) whether the trial court abused its discretion in finding certain factors to be aggravating or mitigating for purposes of sentencing; and

6) whether his sentence was inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and the character of the offender.

A panel of this court affirmed Bryant's convictions and sentence.

In Bryant's pro se petition for post-conviction relief, Bryant argued that he had received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel had not objected at every opportunity to the admission of evidence regarding the inculpatory statements he made while consulting with his mother. He further claimed that there were gaps in the chain of custody of some evidence, and that there was evidence that someone else had committed the crime. The petition was amended to add several new grounds, each alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to seek rehearing or transfer on the issue that Lee's testimony did not open the door to impeachment evidence regarding his physical assaults on the victim. The petition was further amended to add a claim that trial counsel was ineffective for not discovering, prior to trial, that the victim had told another person she wished to leave Lee, but was fearful of doing so. The second, amended petition for post-conviction relief also contained the claim that Bryant was denied due process because the State suppressed evidence favorable to Bryant by failing to turn over statements of two witnesses.

A hearing was held on Bryant's petition for post-conviction relief during which his trial attorneys, Leah Fink and Michael Summers, testified. Both attorneys stated that they had spent a great deal of time and effort on Bryant's case, and made numerous objections and offers of proof at Bryant's jury trial. The attorneys contended that some defense evidence was excluded by the trial court because of the unpredictable nature of trial.

Attorney Fink testified that she and her co-counsel should have raised objections to testimony from witnesses for the State regarding what they overheard of the conversation between Bryant and his mother, Kristi, and from one of the detectives, who indicated that Bryant...

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