Halliburton v. State, 20S00–1206–LW–560.

Citation1 N.E.3d 670
Case DateDecember 19, 2013
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Joel C. Wieneke, Cara Schaefer Wieneke, Wieneke Law Office, LLC, Plainfield, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, Jodi Kathryn Stein, Kelly A. Miklos, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

On Direct Appeal Pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(a)

RUCKER, Justice.

The State charged Tyrice J. Halliburton with murder and alleged he was a habitual offender. The State also sought life imprisonment without parole. After a trial by jury Halliburton was found guilty as charged and the jury recommended life imprisonment. Following this recommendation, the trial court sentenced Halliburton accordingly. He now appeals contending the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and gave the jury an erroneous limiting instruction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Facts and Procedural History

On March 18, 2008, responding to a 911 call, police discovered the lifeless body of Sheena Kiska in her apartment in Bristol, Indiana. The base of her skull was fractured, a stab wound of great force had gone through a rib and organs, and a knife wound had severed her carotid artery as well as the jugular veins on both sides of her neck. In all, Kiska had received more than fifty stab wounds. Multiple bloody knives were found in the apartment, and blood splatters, smears, and droplets were abundant in the apartment. Two days later officers returned to the apartment to conduct further investigation but were unable to gain entry because other officers had changed the lock on the door for security reasons. Halliburton, who lived in the apartment next door, observed the officers having difficulty entering Kiska's residence and retrieved a tool from his own apartment that appeared to be “a little screwdriver that kind of ha[d] a bend on the top of it.” Tr. at 225. With the officers' permission, Halliburton used the screwdriver to unlock the door in a manner the officers “had never seen” before. Tr. at 225.

Halliburton was interviewed by the police three different times in the days following Kiska's death. During the first and second interviews, Halliburton stated that he left for a veterinary appointment at 1:15 the afternoon of the killing but claimed to have seen Kiska and her daughter standing outside by a white truck when he left. During the third interview, Halliburton initially began by reiterating his prior story but then offered a different account of what he had seen that day. During this interview, Halliburton claimed that he saw another resident in the hallway exiting Kiska's apartment as he was leaving for the veterinarian. He further declared that he heard noises coming from Kiska's apartment at which point he “propped the door just a little bit,” Tr. at 420, and “saw [the resident] in there cutting her up.” Tr. at 421. Halliburton described the layout of Kiska's apartment and was [v]ery detailed” about where the furniture was located and where the attack occurred. Tr. at 426. He identified the exact locations of where she had been stabbed and said that Kiska's face looked like “a piece of meat.” Tr. at 429. Halliburton also said that Kiska had been attacked because she came in at the wrong time.” Tr. at 431. After the interview, the investigating officer tried to confirm Halliburton's claim with respect to where he said he had been standing when he peered through Kiska's door and purportedly witnessed the attack. However, the officer determined that it would have been physically impossible for Halliburton to have seen the attack from a crack in the door; instead he had to have been at least “two to three feet” inside the apartment. Tr. at 433. Around this same time officers recovered from Halliburton's car a DVD player that had been taken from Kiska's apartment about a month earlier.

The investigation continued, and in August 2010, Halliburton sent a letter to the police saying, “I want to clear [the resident's] name. I didn't really see him doing it.” Tr. at 433–34. In January 2011, the State charged Halliburton with murder. Alleging he committed the murder by intentionally killing the victim while committing or attempting to commit burglary—pursuant to Indiana Code section 35–50–2–9(b)(1)(B)the State filed an amended information in January 2012 seeking life imprisonment without parole. The State also charged Halliburton as a habitual offender.

Trial began April 16, 2012. During the guilt phase, testimony largely from State's witness Nicole DeFronzo revealed that in early 2008 she and her then-boyfriend Halliburton lived together in an apartment next door to Kiska. On March 18, 2008, Halliburton took his cat to a veterinary appointment where he had arranged to meet DeFronzo. Halliburton told DeFronzo that he had entered Kiska's apartment when she was not there. However, Kiska came home unexpectedly, and a struggle ensued resulting in her brutal death. More precisely, according to DeFronzo, Halliburton told her that when Kiska came home, he didn't want to get caught so he killed her.” Tr. at 523. Halliburton left Kiska's apartment and changed his bloody clothes. DeFronzo helped dispose of the clothes and they drove to the home of DeFronzo's mother, a registered nurse, who bandaged a wound on Halliburton's hand. For over three years DeFronzo did not reveal to anyone what Halliburton had told her about Kiska's death. Nor had she revealed her own complicity in helping get rid of evidence.

During trial the State introduced numerous exhibits including photographs of the crime scene, pre and post autopsy photographs, and a rib bone of the victim that had been removed during autopsy. The State also introduced evidence that Halliburton had committed a burglary of Kiska's apartment approximately a month prior to the killing; and for which the trial court gave a limiting instruction. Further the State called DeFronzo's mother as a witness who testified, among other things, that she had counseled her daughter to come forward with what she knew and “to tell the truth.” Tr. at 484.

The jury found Halliburton guilty of murder as charged. At the penalty phase of trial, the jury recommended life imprisonment without parole. And thereafter Halliburton admitted to being a habitual offender. Following a sentencing hearing the trial court sentenced Halliburton consistent with the jury's recommendation.1 Halliburton seeks review raising four claims of error which we rephrase as the following two: (1) did the trial court err in admitting certain evidence, and (2) was the trial court's limiting instruction erroneous. Pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(a) this Court has mandatory and exclusive jurisdiction over this appeal. Additional relevant facts are set forth below.

Discussion
I. Admission of Evidence

Halliburton alleges the trial court erred in admitting the following: various pre and post autopsy photographs, purported bad acts evidence of Halliburton's prior involvement in a burglary at the victim's home, and alleged vouching testimony from one of the State's witnesses. “A trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the admissibility of evidence and we will disturb its rulings only where it is shown that the court abused that discretion.” Turner, 953 N.E.2d at 1045. “An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court's decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before it.” Id.

A. Admission of Photographs

The trial court admitted into evidence exhibits which Halliburton characterizes as 27 gruesome photographs depicting all or part of Kiska's body after her murder.” Br. of Appellant at 8–9 (emphasis in original). However, Halliburton objected only to five of these photographs: State's Exhibits 11, 12, 68, 76, and 77. Thus we examine whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting these five exhibits over Halliburton's objection. As for the remaining photographs, Halliburtonhas the burden of demonstrating that their admission amounted to fundamental error.

State's Exhibits 11 and 12 show two different angles of Kiska's body as seen by the investigating officer when he arrived on the crime scene. In both photographs the face of the body is covered in blood and there are apparent knife wounds to the neck. Halliburton objected to their admission into evidence on grounds they [would inflame] the passions of the jury, and that [they] would be highly prejudicial to be admitted.” Tr. at 79, 82.

[G]enerally, photographs depicting the crime scene and victim's body are admissible as long as they are relevant and competent aids to the jury.” Woods v. State, 677 N.E.2d 499, 504 (Ind.1997). In this appeal Halliburton does not contend the photographs were irrelevant. Instead he makes the more general claim that the exhibits are “gruesome” and serve to “infiame [ ] the emotions of the jury.” Br. of Appellant at 6–7. We would agree that these two photographs depicting the victim's blood-stained face are at least graphic if not gruesome. But [e]ven 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.” 2Amburgey v. State, 696 N.E.2d 44, 45 (Ind.1998) (emphasis added). Further, [a]lthough a photograph may arouse the passions of the jurors, it is admissible unless ‘its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.’ Cutter v. State, 725 N.E.2d 401, 406 (Ind.2000) (internal citations omitted).

In this case the record shows that Michael Swallow—Chief of Police of the Bristol Police Department—was the first officer to arrive on the crime scene and one of the officers who first entered Kiska's apartment. Chief Swallow testified to the state of the apartment as he found it and the condition...

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