Hill v. State, 184S33

CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
Citation497 N.E.2d 1061
Docket NumberNo. 184S33,184S33
PartiesGeraldine HILL, Appellant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee.
Decision Date03 October 1986

Page 1061

497 N.E.2d 1061
Geraldine HILL, Appellant,
STATE of Indiana, Appellee.
No. 184S33.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
Oct. 3, 1986.

Page 1062

Daniel L. Bella, Appellate Public Defender's Office, Crown Point, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Kenneth P. Williams, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

Page 1063

SHEPARD, Justice.

Geraldine Hill was convicted of murder, Ind. Code Sec. 35-42-1-1 (Burns 1979 Repl.) and sentenced to thirty-one years in prison. This direct appeal presents five issues:

(1) Whether contradictory and inconsistent statements of two eyewitnesses renders their testimony inherently unreliable and insufficient to sustain a conviction;

(2) Whether the State met its burden of disproving the theory of self-defense;

(3) Whether the cumulative effect of prosecutorial misconduct denied appellant a fair and impartial trial;

(4) Whether references to Hill's lack of a license to carry the gun she used to commit the crime required a mistrial, and

(5) Whether a spectator's prejudicial outburst during closing arguments required a mistrial.

These are the facts which tend to support the trial court's judgment. On December 24th, 1982, appellant, armed with a gun, walked to a garage where her estranged husband, Robert Hill, owned a workshop. Although Robert was four days late on his court-ordered child support payments, Geraldine's purpose on this visit was to request an additional forty dollars to purchase shoes as a Christmas present for their son. Geraldine shot and killed Robert during an argument about his financial obligations.

Two eyewitnesses, Lee Cowart and Ray Williams, testified on behalf of the State. Cowart testified that he was walking through the parking lot adjacent to the victim's garage when he heard a man and woman arguing in the garage about twenty to twenty-five feet away. After hearing one or two shots, he turned to watch the incident. Several more gunshots were fired in rapid succession. Cowart observed appellant shooting the victim with a small handgun. Cowart testified that she backed up as she continued firing. When the last shot was fired, the victim was lying on the ground.

Ray Williams testified that he was walking down the alley past the garage when he heard a man and woman arguing in the garage. Williams stopped six or seven feet from the garage to observe the incident. The woman, whom he identified in court as appellant, wanted money to buy a Christmas gift. The victim responded that he did not have any money and asked her to leave. Williams testified that Geraldine left the garage, went to a car, and put something in her righthand coat pocket. She kept her hand in the pocket as she walked back to the garage. Once at the garage, she took her hand out of the pocket and shot the victim with a small gun. She fired again, and the victim fell to the floor. Then the defendant started shooting him where he lay; she turned around, smiled, and left. Williams did not see any weapon in the victim's hands nor did he hear the victim threaten defendant. He stated that the defendant was six feet away from the victim when the first shot was fired, four feet at the second shot, and three to four feet when the defendant fired the remaining shots as the victim lay on the ground.

A security guard for a nearby food store, Ben Garner, was directing traffic in the parking lot when he saw appellant firing a weapon at a man in the garage. He heard four or five shots fired rapidly. After the victim had fallen to the ground, the defendant fired two more shots in his direction. When the woman started to leave across the parking lot, Garner apprehended her and retrieved a gun from her righthand coat pocket. When he examined the cylinder of the gun, he found six spent cartridges inside.

I. Sufficiency of Evidence

Appellant argues the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the murder conviction because contradictions and inconsistencies in the testimony of two eyewitnesses render their testimony inherently unreliable. She maintains that Cowart's testimony presented different versions of the shooting incident and included contradictions which challenge the truthfulness of his testimony. Appellant also claims that Williams'

Page 1064

testimony had internal inconsistencies and contradicted Cowart's testimony.

As we previously stated in Rodgers v. State (1981), Ind., 422 N.E.2d 1211, 1213:

Defendant's contention strikes directly at the credibility of witnesses, a matter which with rare exceptions is solely the province of the jury. Only when this Court has confronted 'inherently improbable' testimony, or coerced, equivocal, wholly uncorroborated testimony of 'incredible dubiosity', have we impinged on a jury's responsibility to judge the credibility of witnesses. [Citations omitted.]

Counsel has labored mightily to outline discrepancies in the description of distances, number of shots, location of the observers, the weather, and the like, but none of these claims do much to undermine the fact that three independent eyewitnesses gave similar descriptions of Mrs. Hill's murder of her husband. The extent to which these accounts differed did not preclude a finding by the jury that appellant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Scott v. State (1981), Ind., 426 N.E.2d 1298.

II. Self-Defense

Appellant argues that the State did not sustain its burden to disprove her assertion of self-defense, which was corroborated by a fourth eyewitness' account of the incident.

Defense witness Kim Darrington also saw Robert and Geraldine arguing about support money. She testified that Robert started "looking crazy like a mad dog" and approached Geraldine with a hammer held upright in his hand. Geraldine then fired a shot. Darrington testified that she heard only three or four shots because of the boisterous crowd of two hundred people who were watching the incident. Darrington stated that she never saw appellant stand over the victim's body and fire more shots after he fell.

Appellant testified on her own behalf. She and her husband had separated several times since their marriage some twenty years earlier. Over the course of the years, she had been physically abused by her husband and sustained various injuries. The couple was legally separated in 1971, but they were never divorced. On December 2nd, 1982, she sought and received court-ordered support to commence on December 20th; Robert did not comply. On December 24th she telephoned Robert to ask why he had not made the support payment; he hung up. Appellant then walked over to the garage to ask only for money to buy a gift for their son. Appellant explained that she always carried a gun for protection because the neighborhood was unsafe. She testified that when Robert refused her request, she threatened to have him arrested the following Monday for nonsupport. Geraldine stated that Robert then became very angry, picked up a hammer, and threatened, "Bitch, you won't be living by Monday." She then fired the first shot and kept on firing because her husband kept walking towards her despite the shots. She stopped shooting when he fell. Of the four independent witnesses, Darrington was the only one who reported seeing the decedent holding a hammer.

The theory of self-defense operates as a complete defense when the asserter: (1) acted without fault, (2) was in a place where she had a right to be, and (3) was in real danger of death or great bodily harm, or in such apparent danger as to cause the asserter, in good faith, to fear death or great bodily harm. Davis v. State (1983), Ind., 456 N.E.2d 405. Once the defendant raises self-defense, the State has the burden to controvert the assertion by negating one of these elements beyond a reasonable...

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22 cases
  • Lambert v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • March 5, 2001
    ...We have repeatedly held that control over spectators in a courtroom is a matter of trial court discretion. See, e.g., Hill v. State, 497 N.E.2d 1061, 1067 (Ind.1986) ("The trial judge has discretion to determine whether the defendant has been prejudiced by a spectator's conduct."); Dudley v......
  • Holmes v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • August 7, 1996
    ...by the prosecutor's apology. An admonition alone is usually sufficient to maintain a fair balance between the two sides. Hill v. State, 497 N.E.2d 1061 (Ind.1986). As a whole the jury summation was quite regular, uninterrupted before and after the trial prosecutor's outburst. See Robinson v......
  • Gregory v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • June 29, 1989
    ...inflammatory that he was placed in a position of grave peril to which he should not have been subjected. Id., citing Hill v. State (1986), Ind., 497 N.E.2d 1061, 1067. The gravity of the peril is determined by considering the probable persuasive effect of the misconduct on the jury's decisi......
  • Ortuno v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 18, 2016
    ...unlikely that the mother of a murder victim's outburst "Oh my child" during closing argument prejudiced the defense); Hill v. State, 497 N.E.2d 1061, 1067 (Ind. 1986) (concluding the court did not err by issuing a curative instruction after an unidentified spectator interrupted closing argu......
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