Littlejohn v. State, 012221 INCA, 20A-CR-1066

Docket Nº:20A-CR-1066
Opinion Judge:KIRSCH, JUDGE.
Party Name:Robert D. Littlejohn, Appellant-Defendant, v. State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.
Attorney:ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Mark A. Thoma Leonard, Hammond, Thoma & Terrill Fort Wayne, Indiana ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana Steven J. Hosler Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana
Judge Panel:Bradford, C.J., and May, J., concur.
Case Date:January 22, 2021
Court:Court of Appeals of Indiana

Robert D. Littlejohn, Appellant-Defendant,

v.

State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

No. 20A-CR-1066

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 22, 2021

Pursuant to Ind. Appellate Rule 65(D), this Memorandum Decision shall not be regarded as precedent or cited before any court except for the purpose of establishing the defense of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case.

Appeal from the Allen Superior Court The Honorable David M. Zent, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 02D06-1909-MR-10

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Mark A. Thoma Leonard, Hammond, Thoma & Terrill Fort Wayne, Indiana

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Theodore E. Rokita Attorney General of Indiana Steven J. Hosler Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

MEMORANDUM DECISION

KIRSCH, JUDGE.

[¶1] Following a jury trial, Robert D. Littlejohn ("Littlejohn") was convicted of murder, 1 a felony, and sentenced to sixty years executed. Littlejohn appeals his conviction and sentence for murder and raises the following issues for our review: I. Whether the trial court erred when it denied Littlejohn's request to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter;

II. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing Littlejohn when it declined to find his proposed mitigating factors; and

III. Whether Littlejohn's sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender.

[¶2] We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶3] On September 7, 2019, Keonna Suttle ("Keonna") returned home to 1610 Roosevelt Street ("1610 Roosevelt") in Fort Wayne, Indiana after delivering tamales with her mother, Alisha Suttle ("Alisha"); her aunt, Siara Jackson ("Siara"); and a family friend, Kennedy Laramore ("Kennedy"). Tr. Vol. 2 at 154. Keonna lived at 1610 Roosevelt with her grandmother, Diana Littlejohn ("Diana") and step-grandfather, Littlejohn. Id. When Keonna, Alisha, Siara, and Kennedy arrived at 1610 Roosevelt, Littlejohn's sister, Cynthia Littlejohn ("Cynthia") was also there. Id. at 158. Cynthia and Littlejohn had returned from visiting family members following the recent death of their father. Tr. Vol. 3 at 71. Cynthia was outside as Keonna left the vehicle, which was parked on the street near 1610 Roosevelt, and Cynthia followed Keonna into the residence, angrily confronting Keonna and telling her to stay out of "grown folks business." Tr. Vol. 2 at 158-60.

[¶4] Littlejohn, who was inside the house, told Cynthia to leave. Id. at 161. Alisha was also inside the house and Siara and Kennedy remained outside in the vehicle. Id. As to Keonna staying out of "grown folks business" id. at 160, Alisha told Cynthia that if Cynthia had "anything to say to [Keonna]" that she could say it to her or to Diana but that Cynthia "got mad, she got smart, snarky" and Cynthia and Alisha began to argue. Id. at 160. Alisha left the house and went back to the vehicle. Id. at 161-62. Keonna was still in the house and as Cynthia was leaving through the front door, she hit Keonna, who was pregnant, in the jaw which caused a fight that continued outside the house. Id. at 162-63, 199. At that point, Alisha, Siara, and Kennedy left the vehicle and came up to the fight between Keonna and Cynthia, which was still occurring outside the home. Id. at 163-64. Cynthia and Siara also began to fight after Cynthia tried to hit Siara in the face, and Alisha and Kennedy also joined the fight; Diana called for everyone to stop fighting, but the fight moved to the driveway and into the yard near Cynthia's car. Id. at 164-66. Littlejohn attempted to stop the fight and get Cynthia to leave with him in her vehicle. Id. at 164.

[¶5] The events continued to escalate, and Littlejohn began shoving and knocking people around, at some point, striking Diana in the back of her head. Id. at 169-71, 200; State's Ex. 3. The fighting continued, and Littlejohn went to the garage area and returned to the fight, which was in the area near Cynthia's car, with a knife in his hand. Tr. Vol. 2 at 165. Once Littlejohn grabbed the knife and returned to the fight, he came toward Keonna and swung the knife at her stomach saying, "[y]ou and this baby gonna die" but did not make contact with Keonna. Id. at 174-75. In defense of Keonna, Kennedy then came up and hit Littlejohn while she was unarmed. Id. at 166, 174-75. Both Keonna and Siara testified that Kennedy was unarmed, and they did not see her with a knife that night. Id. at 166, 226-27.2 After Kennedy hit Littlejohn, he began to chase her and eventually slashed Kennedy's arms with the knife and fatally stabbed her in the back. Id. at 174-75; Tr. Vol. 3 at 6-7, 10; State's Exs. 3, 5, 6, 9. Immediately after Littlejohn fatally stabbed Kennedy, Littlejohn and Cynthia got into Cynthia's car and drove away. Tr. Vol. 2 at 227; Tr. Vol. 3 at 76; State's Ex. 3.

[¶6] Keonna called 911 during the fight, and Fort Wayne Police Department officers arrived at a chaotic scene shortly after the fight had ended. Tr. Vol. 2 at 183-84, 233-34, Tr. Vol. 3 at 40; State's Ex. 4. Police found two knives in the area, but they lacked usable DNA or fingerprints. Tr. Vol. 3 at 118-19, 132-34. Sergeant Shannon Hughes ("Sergeant Hughes") pulled Cynthia's gold Chrysler Pacifica over a short time later and found Littlejohn in the driver's seat and Cynthia in the passenger seat. Id. at 21-23. Sergeant Hughes arrested Littlejohn and described him as "very angry, very hostile, excited." Id. at 23.3 Littlejohn also made statements to Detective Geoff Norton like "I cut them up because they came at my sister." Id. at 31-32, 35; State's Ex. 14. Detective Jason Palm, who took swabs from Littlejohn, said Littlejohn's demeanor alternated between "hostile and cooperative" but that he ultimately "had no issues doing what [he] needed to do." Tr. Vol. 3 at 52.

[¶7] Dr. Scott Wagner, a forensic pathologist, explained that Kennedy had wounds on her arms caused by a sharp object that were defensive wounds. Tr. Vol. 2 at 244; Tr. Vol. 3 at 6-7; State's Exs. 5, 6. Kennedy also received a stab wound that went five inches into her back between two of her ribs, which cut her left lung, aorta, and heart causing 600 milliliters of blood to pool in her left chest. Tr. Vol. 2 at 249, Tr. Vol. 3 at 4. Her cause of death was determined to be a stab wound to the chest. Tr. Vol. 3 at 10. Littlejohn also exhibited minor wounds to his chest and back. Id. at 54-55; State's Exs. 17, 18.

[¶8] On September 12, 2019, the State charged Littlejohn with murder. Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 12. On March 3, 2020, the trial court held a three-day jury trial. Id. at 6-7, 46-47. At trial, Littlejohn tendered proposed jury instructions regarding voluntary manslaughter and sudden heat. Id. at 48-52. The trial court rejected Littlejohn's proposed voluntary manslaughter and sudden heat instructions after listening to the arguments of Littlejohn's counsel and the prosecutor as to whether there was a serious evidentiary dispute. Tr. Vol. 3 at 157-60. The jury found Littlejohn guilty as charged of murder. Id. at 191; Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 70.

[¶9] The trial court held the sentencing hearing on April 24, 2020. Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 119. Littlejohn's counsel sought the statutory minimum sentence of forty-five years for Littlejohn. Tr. Vol. 3 at 200. Littlejohn's counsel had also previously filed a sentencing memorandum, which provided additional background on Littlejohn's life, addressed the statutory mitigating factors found in Indiana Code section 35-38-1-7.1(b) and included letters of support for Littlejohn. Appellant's Conf. App. Vol. 2 at 106-15; Tr. Vol. 3 at 200. Specifically, trial counsel contended that the following were mitigating circumstances: (1) that the circumstances of the offense were unlikely to reoccur because the incident was chaotic and involved multiple individuals; (2) Littlejohn was acting under provocation because there were three individuals who did not have any contractual interest in 1610 Roosevelt on the night of the offense; (3) Littlejohn had not been previously convicted of a crime of violence and had led a law-abiding for twenty years before this conviction; (4) Littlejohn would be likely to respond affirmatively to probation or a shorter term of imprisonment; and (5) his character and attitudes indicated he would be unlikely to commit another crime. Appellant's Conf. App. Vol. 2 at 112-13. The trial court also considered Littlejohn's presentence investigation report ("PSI"). Appellant's Conf. App. Vol. 2 at 91-105. Littlejohn also expressed his remorse over taking a life, which the trial court found as a mitigator but assigned it little weight. Tr. Vol. 3 at 208-11. The trial court identified four aggravating factors: (1) Littlejohn's criminal history; (2) prior attempts at rehabilitation had failed; (3) Littlejohn's offense demonstrated an escalation of criminal conduct; and (4) the nature and circumstances of the offense. Id. at 211-12; Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 127. The trial court rejected Littlejohn's proposed mitigators. Tr. Vol. 3 at 210-12. The trial court sentenced Littlejohn to sixty years executed in the Indiana Department of Correction. Id. at 212; Appellant's App. Vol. 2 at 119. Littlejohn now appeals.

Discussion and Decision

I. Jury Instruction

[¶10] Littlejohn argues that it was error for the trial court to refuse his tendered instruction on the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter.4 Trial courts are provided broad discretion when instructing juries, and we review a trial court's decision with regard to jury instructions only for an abuse of that discretion. Harrison v. State, 32 N.E.3d 240, 251 (Ind.Ct.App. 2015), trans. denied. When determining whether to give a lesser...

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