Byers v. State, 71S00-9808-CR-455

Citation709 N.E.2d 1024
Decision Date03 May 1999
Docket NumberNo. 71S00-9808-CR-455,71S00-9808-CR-455
PartiesFreddie L. BYERS, Jr., Appellant (Defendant below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Thomas J. LaFountain, South Bend, Indiana, Attorney for Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General of Indiana, Priscilla J. Fossum, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Appellee.

BOEHM, Justice.

Freddie L. Byers, Jr. was convicted of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of robbery as a Class B felony. He was sentenced to the maximum term of years for each count, to be served consecutively, for a total sentence of 200 years imprisonment. In this direct appeal, he contends that the trial court erred by: (1) excusing the only African-American on the jury panel for cause, (2) allowing testimony and a photograph from a prior arrest into evidence, (3) admitting a photograph of allegedly "gruesome" knife wounds to one of the victim's neck into evidence, and (4) instructing the jury on the issue of inconsistent statements made by a witness. We affirm the trial court.

Factual and Procedural Background

Byers, known to some as "Flint," was convicted of murdering Bennie Spears and James Edison and attempting to murder Almeka Dodds. Spears and Dodds lived in a South Bend home with their two children, ages one and two. Edison was visiting the home in the late afternoon of January 30, 1997, when a knock was heard at the door. Dodds recognized the two visitors as "Flint" and "Gill." Flint was a friend of Spears who had previously been to the home "[a] whole bunch of times," but Dodds had met Gill only "[a] couple of times" and he had never previously been to the home. Dodds went to the dining room where she heard Spears tell Flint not to point a gun at him, then heard a gunshot. When she turned around, she could see that Spears had been shot and Flint was holding a gun.

After Flint grabbed Dodds by the hair and asked where the money was, Dodds retrieved cash hidden in the living room sofa. Meanwhile, Flint told Gill to lock the children in the bathroom, get a knife from the kitchen, and cut Edison's neck. Gill complied. Flint then told Gill to take Dodds to the basement and shoot her twice in the head. As Dodds was being taken to the basement, Edison got up from the floor and tried to escape through a window. A neighbor saw Edison "fly[ ] out of the window" then fall to the ground. As he rose, Edison was shot in the head. The neighbor drove to a pay phone and called 911. Flint or Gill then fired shots into the basement, where Dodds "tried to hide until [she] could stop hearing gunshots." After Dodds believed the intruders had left the house, she ran to a neighbor's house. When police arrived, they found the two children locked in the bathroom. Spears and Edison both died of gunshot wounds.

Dodds supplied the police only with the names "Flint or Fred" and "Gill." However, she also said that the police should have a picture of Flint from an "incident" that occurred at the home of Flint's girlfriend Yolanda a few months earlier on the evening of the Tyson/Holyfield fight. The police identified Byers as a person who had been arrested at that time and place. They then assembled photo arrays from which Dodds identified Byers as Flint. Based largely on Dodds' testimony and identification, Byers was charged, tried and convicted.

I. Excusing a Juror for Cause

Byers first contends that the trial court erred when it excused the only African-American prospective juror for cause. During voir dire, the juror stated that he had been previously represented by Byers' trial counsel in a criminal case in which he pleaded guilty to trespass. He felt that he "was treated unfairly" in that case by the police, agreed that serving as a juror in the case "might" present a problem, and stated that if he were the defendant having someone in his position serve as a juror would probably be a "plus on my side."

Trial courts have the inherent discretion to excuse prospective jurors and abuse that discretion only when it is exercised in an illogical or arbitrary manner. Owens v. State, 659 N.E.2d 466, 476 (Ind.1995) (citing Campbell v. State, 547 N.E.2d 843, 844 (Ind.1989)). This Court has previously held that a trial court did not abuse its discretion by excusing a prospective juror for cause solely because one of the attorneys for a party had recently drawn wills for the prospective juror and her husband. Lamar v. State, 266 Ind. 689, 696, 366 N.E.2d 652, 656 (1977). In this case, the attorney-client relationship is at least as problematic because of the closer similarity between this proceeding and the one in which defense counsel had represented the juror. Moreover, the excused juror also indicated that he had not been treated fairly by the police and that his service would probably be a "plus" for Byers, both suggesting an inability to be impartial beyond extending Byers his constitutional presumption of innocence. See IND.CODE § 35-37-1-5(a)(11) (1998) (listing "[t]hat the person is biased or prejudiced for or against the defendant" as one of fifteen "good causes for challenge to any person called as a juror in any criminal trial"). 1 Under these circumstances, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excusing the juror.

II. Prior Arrest

Byers next argues that the trial court erred by allowing State's witnesses to testify about his prior arrest on an unrelated charge. Evidence 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[.]" The rule is designed to prevent the jury from making the "forbidden inference" that prior wrongful conduct suggests present guilt. Barker v. State, 695 N.E.2d 925, 930 (Ind.1998). In order for this evidence 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." Id. These issues are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Thompson v. State, 690 N.E.2d 224, 233 (Ind.1997).

Evidence relating to Byers' prior arrest was highly relevant to Dodds' identification of Byers as the perpetrator. When Dodds initially spoke to police she knew Byers only as "Flint or Fred," but told the police that they should have a picture of him from an "incident" that occurred on the night of the Tyson/Holyfield fight at a "house on Birdsell Street" where Flint's girlfriend Yolanda lived. Based on this information, the police located an arrest report from that evening, as well as four photographs of men arrested during the incident. The police then created four separate six-person photo arrays of individuals similar in appearance to each of the four photographs from the Birdsell Street incident. These four arrays were then shown to Dodds, who identified Byers as the person known to her as Flint. Testimony regarding the prior incident was relevant and necessary to explain the eventual identification of Byers, and highly probative because it corroborated Dodd's testimony that she knew "Flint," and that Byers was "Flint."

Second, the probative value of the photograph was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. As explained above, testimony relating to the prior arrest was necessary to explain the eventual identification of Byers through a photo array. As to any potential for prejudice, the trial court specifically admonished the jury that

this information about another incident, whatever it was, and there being an arrest, if you do conclude--if you accept that testimony and if you do conclude that that gave rise to a picture that was used and has or has not been identified here in court, that other incident if you find that it generated a picture and it was of the Defendant, if that's what you find, and I'm not saying you will. But if you do, that other incident should not be used by you--first of all, you don't even know what it was about. Secondly, an arrest doesn't mean that anybody did something. It means the police arrested somebody. And third and most important, it is very important that you know that you cannot use the possibility that there had been some other contact with law enforcement as evidence here that the Defendant did anything wrong in these charges. So to suggest, okay, well, if he was arrested on that day, that means it is more likely that he did something this time. No, no, no, you can't use that [at] all for that purpose, at all. All it is here for, if you find that it's relevant, is as explaining how the police may or may not have come up with some pictures.

This admonishment minimized the possibility that the jury would make the "forbidden inference." In addition, the trial court specifically prohibited the State from eliciting any information as to the nature or outcome of the prior arrest. 2 The probative value of this evidence was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice from the jury learning of Byers' earlier arrest for this undefined...

To continue reading

Request your trial
45 cases
  • Whiting v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • June 19, 2012 struck, state law provides additional grounds for challenging jurors for cause. I.C. § 35–37–1–5; J.R. 17; cf. Byers v. State, 709 N.E.2d 1024, 1026 n. 1 (Ind.1999) (statutory list not exhaustive). “Impartiality is not a technical conception. It is a state of mind. For the ascertainment ......
  • Dye v. State, 49S00-9801-DP-55.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • September 30, 1999
    ...of the instruction; and (3) the substance of the tendered instruction is not covered by the other instructions given. Byers v. State, 709 N.E.2d 1024, 1028-29 (Ind.1999). The last sentence of Dye's tendered instruction fails on both the first and second A correct statement of the law regard......
  • Byers v. Basinger
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • July 9, 2010
    ...murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of robbery. The Supreme Court of Indiana affirmed on direct appeal, Byers v. Indiana, 709 N.E.2d 1024 (Ind.1999), and, after the Indiana Court of Appeals denied his petition for post-conviction relief, 878 N.E.2d 542, 2007 WL 4531828 (2007......
  • Mitchell v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • April 18, 2000
    ...discretion of the trial court, this Court reviews the admission of photographic evidence only for abuse of discretion. Byers v. State, 709 N.E.2d 1024, 1028 (Ind.1999); Amburgey v. State, 696 N.E.2d 44, 45 (Ind. 1998). Relevant evidence, including photographs, may be excluded only if its pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT