Fentress v. State, 82S00-9712-CR-693

CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
Citation702 N.E.2d 721
Docket NumberNo. 82S00-9712-CR-693,82S00-9712-CR-693
PartiesRicky Ricardo FENTRESS, Appellant (Defendant Below ), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below ).
Decision Date10 December 1998

David D. Kiely, Evansville, John D. Clouse, John P. Brinson, Evansville, for appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General, James A. Garrard, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for appellee.

BOEHM, Justice.

A jury convicted Ricky Ricardo Fentress of murder and Fentress also pleaded guilty to an habitual offender charge. The trial court sentenced Fentress to seventy years in prison. In this direct appeal Fentress raises only one issue: did the trial court err by admitting into evidence two photographs taken by a pathologist during the autopsy of the victim? 1

Factual and Procedural Background

On April 10, 1997, Fentress and Bobby Stuart, the victim, were drinking alcohol with several others in a vacant lot in Vanderburgh County. At some point a fist fight broke out between Fentress and Stuart. After Fentress sustained a cut lip he left the site while the others, including Stuart, continued drinking.

According to eyewitness testimony, Fentress returned after approximately ten to twenty minutes carrying a stick. Stuart tried to flee when he perceived Fentress approaching, but fell to the ground. Fentress then hit the fallen Stuart with the stick two or more times, and stopped only when one of the witnesses told him to stop hitting the victim. Stuart's skull was shattered and he died from excessive trauma to his head.

The jury was instructed on both voluntary manslaughter and murder and found Fentress guilty of murder. This court has jurisdiction of Fentress's appeal under Indiana Appellate Rule 4(A)(7).

Photographic Evidence

Fentress argues that the trial court erred when, over his objection, it admitted into evidence two photographs taken by a pathologist during the autopsy of the victim. The photographs depict the victim's shattered skull with the hair and skin pulled away from it. In one photograph, the pathologist's gloved thumb is visible. Fentress argues that the photographs are highly inflammatory and prejudicial because they depict the victim's body in a state altered from that at the crime scene. Fentress contends that any relevance of the two photographs is outweighed by the danger that they prejudiced the jury to return a murder verdict rather than manslaughter.

We review the trial court's admission of photographic evidence for an abuse of discretion. Humphrey v. State, 680 N.E.2d 836, 842 (Ind.1997). Relevant evidence is evidence that has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Ind. Evidence Rule 401. However, relevant evidence "may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice [.]" Evid. R. 403.

Here the two photographs were admitted into evidence after the pathologist had explained the nature of the victim's injury and other photographs of the victim's injuries taken during the autopsy were already in evidence. The pathologist had told the jury in great detail that, in order to determine the extent of the damage to the victim's skull, he needed to look under the skin. The pathologist also described to the jury the nature of the victim's injuries that he uncovered and the likely cause of those injuries.

The State contends that the...

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23 cases
  • Ward v. Wilson, Case No. 3:12-cv-00192-RLY-WGH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • September 22, 2015
    ...the nature of the medical procedures performed on the victim and describing the relevance of each photograph. As in Fentress[ v. State, 702 N.E.2d 721 (Ind. 1998)], this testimonyPage 34served to mitigate the jury's drawing an impermissible inference that the defendant bore responsibility f......
  • Stephenson v. State, 87S00-9605-DP-398.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • January 25, 2001
    ...they may impute the work of the pathologist to the defendant. See Turben v. State, 726 N.E.2d 1245, 1247 (Ind.2000); Fentress v. State, 702 N.E.2d 721, 722 (Ind.1998); 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); Loy v. ......
  • Ward v. State, 74S00-0707-DP-263.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • April 7, 2009
    ...a victim's injuries or demonstrate the testimony of a witness are admissible. Corbett, 764 N.E.2d at 627 (citing Fentress v. State, 702 N.E.2d 721 (Ind.1998)); Ind. Evid. R. 401, 402. Though autopsy photographs have been found to be inadmissible to avoid the risk that the fact-finder could ......
  • Willey v. State, 06S00-9712-CR-654.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • June 17, 1999
    ...probative value of these photographs was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice noted in Loy. Cf. Fentress v. State, 702 N.E.2d 721, 722 (Ind.1998) (autopsy photographs held admissible because pathologist testified that it was necessary to look under the skin to determin......
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