Lee v. State

Decision Date12 June 2013
Docket NumberNo. 71A03–1301–CR–5.,71A03–1301–CR–5.
PartiesTarrence LEE, Appellant–Defendant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee–Plaintiff.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court


Appeal from the St. Joseph Superior Court; The Honorable John M. Marnocha, Judge; Cause No. 71D01–1208–MR–11.

Jeffrey L. Sanford, South Bend, IN, Attorney for Appellant.

Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana, Ryan D. Johanningsmeier, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.


RILEY, Judge.


AppellantDefendant, Tarrence Lee (Lee), appeals his conviction for murder, a felony, Ind.Code § 35–42–1–1(1).

We affirm.


Lee raises one issue on appeal, which we restate as: Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted the Chief Medical Examiner's testimony regarding the cause of death.


Lee and Trina Winston (Winston) were married and had been living together in an apartment at the Hickory Village in South Bend, Indiana. On June 15, 2012, Winston filed a motion for a protective order against Lee; four days later, she filed for dissolution of marriage.

During the first week of August 2012, Winston was staying with Andre Banks (Banks). Banks considered Winston to be his “God sister.” (Transcript p. 431). Winston lived with Banks whenever she needed a “safe place.” (Tr. p. 431). While staying at Banks' residence, Banks noticed a bruise on Winston's neck. Winston explained the “abuse that she has been going through” and told him that Lee had tried to strangle her. (Tr. p. 441).

During the evening of August 15, 2012, Lee called Banks' home and asked to speak with Winston. After the phone call, at approximately 8:45 p.m., Winston exited the house and left with Lee in Lee's vehicle. At approximately midnight, Winston entered Banks' house, while Lee waited outside in his car. A couple of minutes later, Winston left again, entered Lee's car, and drove away with him.

The next day, on August 16, 2012, at about 4:30 p.m., Lee arrived at his brother, Anthony Lee's (Anthony), place of employment. After Anthony finished work, Lee, Anthony, and Anthony's friend, Andre O'Neal (O'Neal), left in Lee's vehicle. While driving, Lee requested Anthony's and O'Neal's help in “disposing a body.” (Tr. p. 169). When Lee elaborated that he had killed Winston, the two others started laughing, to which Lee responded, “no, for real.” (Tr. p. 170). The three men then picked up their friend, James Johnson (Johnson). After picking up Johnson, Lee again mentioned disposing of Winston's body. He told the three men that he had picked up Winston at another man's house and that he believed she had been committing adultery. The three passengers still thought Lee was joking.

Eventually, Lee and the three men drove to Lee's apartment. When they entered Lee's apartment, Lee lit a candle, uncovered a body, and stated [s]ee, I'm not playing.” (Tr. p. 186). Anthony, O'Neal, and Johnson recognized Winston and saw that she was dead. O'Neal could tell that her body was “stiff” and “pale looking.” (Tr. pp. 186, 190). None of the three men noticed any signs of blood or injuries. Lee handed Anthony the key to open his car's trunk and announced that we're about to take her down, take her down and go get rid of her.” (Tr. p. 188). While Lee and Johnson were carrying Winston's body down the stairs, her arm fell out of the blanket that was wrapped around her body. When he noticed Winston's uncovered arm, Lee said, “so, you still going to be complicated.” (Tr. p. 257). After they placed Winston's body in the trunk of Lee's vehicle, O'Neal began to walk away. Lee pulled up beside O'Neal and ordered him to get in the car. When O'Neal refused, Lee told him, “well, you going to be like her.” (Tr. p. 195). O'Neal called 911 twice that night but his call was re-routed.

On August 18, 2012, O'Neal again called 911 to report Winston's body. South Bend Police Department Detective Anthony Bontrager (Detective Bontrager) spoke with O'Neal, Johnson, and Anthony to learn more about Winston's disappearance and the location of her body. The Detective and the three men made five unsuccessful trips in an attempt to discover where Lee had discarded Winston's body. On August 20, 2012, the State filed an Information charging Lee with murder, a felony, I.C. § 35–42–1–1(1).

Annette Steele (Steele) lived next door to 9120 South Harper, an abandoned property, in Chicago, Illinois. Steele first noticed a pungent odor around August 25, 2012, which lasted through September 1 before subsiding. On October 23, 2012, a Commonwealth Edison meter reader discovered a decomposed body behind the house and underneath discarded tires at 9120 South Harper. The body would later be identified as Winston. Dr. Stephen Cina (Dr. Cina), the Chief Medical Examiner for Cook County, Illinois, performed an autopsy and determined the cause of death to be homicide by unspecified means.

On November 14, 2012 through November 15, 2012, the trial court conducted a bench trial. At the close of the evidence, the trial court took the matter under advisement. Thereafter, on November 21, 2012, the trial court found Lee guilty as charged. On December 21, 2012, during a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Lee to an executed term of sixty-five years.

Lee now appeals. Additional facts will be provided as necessary.


Lee contends that the trial court should have excluded Dr. Cina's testimony as an expert witness for the State pursuant to the directives of Ind. Evidence Rule 702. Indiana Evidence Rule 702 defines the guidelines for admission of expert testimony as follows:

(a) If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

(b) Expert scientific testimony is admissible only if the court is satisfied that the scientific principles upon which the expert testimony rests are reliable.

The rule assigns to the trial court a gatekeeping function of ensuring that an expert's testimony rests both on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand. McCutchan v. Blanck, 846 N.E.2d 256, 260–61 (Ind.Ct.App.2006). As with the admission of other evidence, the trial court's determination regarding the admissibility of expert testimony under Rule 702 is a matter within its broad discretion and will be reversed only for abuse of that discretion. Carter v. Robinson, 977 N.E.2d 448, 452 (Ind.Ct.App.2012).

Indiana Evidence Rule 702 is not intended to interpose an unnecessary burdensome procedure or methodology for trial courts. Id. The adoption of Evid. R. 702 reflected an intent to liberalize, rather than to constrict, the admission of reliable scientific evidence. Id. As the Supreme Court instructed in Daubert, [v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc ., 509 U.S. 579, 496, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). Cross-examination permits the opposing party to expose dissimilarities between the actual evidence and the scientific theory. Turner v. State, 953 N.E.2d 1039, 1055–56 (Ind.2011). These dissimilarities go to the weight rather than to the admissibility of the evidence. Id.

Focusing on the second prong of the rule, Lee's main argument pertains to Dr. Cina's methodology in reaching his ultimate determination of Winston's cause of death. Because Dr. Cina categorized Winston's death as “homicide by unspecified means” based on the condition of her body and the lack of any anatomical findings indicating a cause of death, Lee maintains that Dr. Cina's opinion is based on speculation rather than scientific principles. (Tr. p. 25).

When faced with a proffer of scientific testimony, the court must make a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and reliable. Alsheik v. Guerrero, 956 N.E.2d 1115, 1126 (Ind.Ct.App.2011), rev'd on different grounds,979 N.E.2d 151 (Ind.2012). Scientific knowledge admissible under Evid. R. 702 connotes more than subjective belief or unsupported speculation. Hannan v. Pest Control Services, Inc., 734 N.E.2d 674, 679 (Ind .Ct.App.2000). Thus, expert testimony must be supported by appropriate validation or “good grounds” based on what is known establishing a standard of evidentiary reliability. Id.

During the trial, Dr. Cina testified that in determining a cause of death, all medical examiners and forensic pathologists rely on the autopsy and the investigative findings. Dr. Cina defined cause of death as “the disease or injury which started the train of events which ultimately led to a person's death.” (Tr. p....

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