Corbett v. State, 02S00-0004-CR-260.

Citation764 N.E.2d 622
Case DateMarch 19, 2002
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

764 N.E.2d 622

David E. CORBETT, Defendant-Appellant,
STATE of Indiana, Plaintiff-Appellee

No. 02S00-0004-CR-260.

Supreme Court of Indiana.

March 19, 2002.

764 N.E.2d 625
Timothy E. Stucky, Blume, Connelly, Jordan & Stucky, Fort Wayne, IN, Attorney for Appellant

764 N.E.2d 626
Karen M. Freeman-Wilson, Attorney General of Indiana, Arthur Thaddeus Perry, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.
764 N.E.2d 623

764 N.E.2d 624
DICKSON, Justice

The defendant, David E. Corbett, was convicted of murder1 and robbery2 for the incidents surrounding the slaying of Edwin Massengill on April 20, 1999 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.3 The trial court sentenced the defendant to eighty-five years imprisonment. In his appeal, the defendant asserts five grounds: (1) insufficient evidence; (2) erroneous admission of autopsy photographs; (3) improper transferred intent jury instruction; (4) errors in findings of aggravating and mitigating circumstances; and (5) manifestly unreasonable sentence. We affirm the defendant's convictions and sentence.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

The defendant claims the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support his convictions. Specifically, although he admits that he fatally struck Massengill with a sledgehammer and took the victim's wallet and handgun, the defendant claims that the State failed to prove the element of intent as to each of the charged offenses. The defendant contends that the only evidence on this issue came from a witness, Joseph Davis, whose testimony was incredibly dubious.

In addressing a claim of insufficient evidence, an appellate court must consider only the probative evidence and reasonable inferences supporting the judgment, without weighing evidence or assessing witness credibility, and determine therefrom whether a reasonable trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Marcum v. State, 725 N.E.2d 852, 863 (Ind.2000). Under the "incredible dubiosity" rule, however, a reviewing court may impinge on the fact-finder's responsibility to judge witness credibility when "a sole witness presents inherently contradictory testimony which is equivocal or the result of coercion and there is a complete lack of circumstantial evidence" of the defendant's guilt. Tillman v. State, 642 N.E.2d 221, 223 (Ind. 1994); accord Lee v. State, 735 N.E.2d 1169, 1173 (Ind.2000); White v. State, 706 N.E.2d 1078, 1079-80 (Ind.1999).

Davis's testimony does not fit into the incredible dubiosity rule. While inconsistencies exist between witness Davis's statement to police and his trial testimony, they do not render his testimony inherently contradictory as a result of coercion. Further, the convictions were not based solely on Davis's testimony. The defendant admitted to police that he and Davis had gone to the victim's home and that, when the victim and Davis ignored the defendant's demand that they stop arguing, he threw a hammer, intending to hit Davis but striking Massengill instead. In addition, the pathologist testified that the victim was probably struck three times in the head. The jury could have easily inferred that striking a man in the head three times with a sledgehammer was intentional and not accidental. Sufficient evidence was presented to establish the element of intent for the defendant's convictions of murder and robbery.

Autopsy Photographs

The defendant challenges the admission of 26 photographs taken immediately before, during and after the autopsy

764 N.E.2d 627
performed on the decedent, Edwin Massengill. We recently stated the standard of review for admission of photographic evidence:
Because the admission and exclusion of evidence falls within the sound 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 probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Ind.Evidence Rule 403; Byers, 709 N.E.2d at 1028. "Even gory and revolting photographs may be admissible as long as they are relevant to some material issue or show scenes that a witness could describe orally." Amburgey, 696 N.E.2d at 45; see also Byers, 709 N.E.2d at 1028. Photographs, even those gruesome in nature, are admissible if they act as interpretative aids for the jury and have strong probative value. Spencer v. State, 703 N.E.2d 1053, 1057 (Ind.1999); Robinson v. State, 693 N.E.2d 548, 553 (Ind.1998).

Swingley v. State, 739 N.E.2d 132, 133 (Ind.2000). Autopsy photos often present a unique problem because the pathologist has manipulated the corpse in some way during the autopsy. Autopsy photographs are generally inadmissible if they show the body in an altered condition. Allen v. State, 686 N.E.2d 760, 776 (Ind.1997), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1073, 119 S.Ct. 807, 142 L.Ed.2d 667 (1999). But Swingley recognizes that "there are situations where some alteration of the body is necessary to demonstrate the testimony being given." 739 N.E.2d at 133-34. In Fentress v. State, 702 N.E.2d 721 (Ind.1998), a case similar to the one before us today, we held admissible two photographs that depicted the victim's skull with the hair and skin pulled away from it. Because the pathologist had explained what he had done and the alteration was necessary to determine the extent of the victim's injuries, we found that the "potential for confusion [was] minimal" and that the probative value outweighed the prejudicial effect. Fentress, 702 N.E.2d at 722.

In this case, eleven of the photographs depict the body before the autopsy (Exhibits 42-48, 49-50, 66-67). Two additional photographs show one of the head wounds cleaned and with some hair shaved away. The admission of these photographs was not error. See Loy v. State, 436 N.E.2d 1125, 1128 (Ind.1982) (holding photographs that depict victim in natural state after death admissible). In fact, these photographs are fairly tame for a murder case. The rest of the challenged photographs depict various stages of the autopsy.

Exhibits 51, 52, and 53 depict the victim's head with the skin and hair pulled back from the skull. The pathologist stated this was necessary to determine the extent of the injuries, and he explained the procedure he undertook. These photographs are akin to the ones in Fentress. Two of the photographs, however, Exhibits 51 and 52, are problematic. In addition to depicting the victim's head and wounds, these pictures show the hollow shell of the victim's body, which greatly and unnecessarily enhances the gruesomeness of the pictures. These two photographs, although relevant to the cause of death and the disputed issue of the number of blows, were so prejudicial that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing them to be admitted.

Exhibit 54, a close-up of the victim's head, shows part of the brain exposed. The pathologist explained the photo shows the effects of external blunt force trauma. Record at 620-21. Exhibit 55 depicts a

764 N.E.2d 628
fracture in a portion of the skull, which has been removed from the victim's head. The pathologist explained how he removed this portion and highlighted the fracture to the jury. Record at 621-23. It was not error to admit these two exhibits. It was error, however, to admit Exhibit 56 because, although the portion of the skull depicted in Exhibit 55 is in the foreground, the photograph focuses on the hollow shell of the victim's body. The probative value of Exhibit 56 is outweighed by its unfair prejudicial effect.

Exhibits 57 and 58 depict the base of the skull with the brain removed. As the pathologist explained the alteration he had made and the need to show the extent of the victim's injuries, the trial court did not err in allowing the admission of these photographs. The same is true of Exhibit 59, which depicts a portion of the skull against the edge of a table to show how a hard surface could produce the fracture. The pathologist also testified that Exhibit 11, a sledgehammer (the alleged murder weapon), could have caused the fractures pictured in Exhibit 59. Record at 632-33.

Exhibits 60, 61 and 63 depict the victim's brain removed from his skull. While these pictures do indicate trauma to the brain consistent with an external blunt force trauma, the photographs are cumulative and their prejudicial effect outweighs their probative value. It was error to allow them to be admitted. In the same way, Exhibits 64 and 65 should have been excluded. These photographs depict the hollow shell of the victim and focus on his ribs. The probative value of these pictures was slight as the existence of broken ribs was not a material issue and their unfair prejudicial effect is high given...

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