Loy v. State

Decision Date08 July 1982
Docket NumberNo. 981S236,981S236
PartiesStephen Harold LOY, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Nile Stanton, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Carmen L. Quintana, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

PRENTICE, Justice.

Defendant (Appellant) was convicted of Murder, Ind.Code § 35-42-1-1 (Burns 1979), and sentenced to forty-five (45) years imprisonment. This direct appeal presents the following issues.

(1) Whether the trial court erred in admitting two sets of photographic slides into evidence.

(2) Whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain the verdict.


At the Oakwood Trailer Park in the early morning hours of September 6, 1979, the Portland Fire Department extinguished a fire in the trailer of Bruce Lykins. Lykins' nude body was found lying face down in the bedroom. The hands and feet were tied to the bedposts. Debris and burned clothing covered the body. An autopsy revealed that Lykins died of asphyxiation by strangulation and that he was dead before the fire started.


Over objection, the trial court admitted into evidence thirty-five (35) of thirty-eight (38) photographic slides, Exhibits D-1 to D-22; D-24 to D-31; D-33 to D-37, which depict the scene of the trailer after the fire. The slides appear in the record in the form Defendant contends that the slides were irrelevant and inflamed the jury. He argues that arson was not in issue and that the evidence would show that fire was not the cause of death. He asserts that the slides were gruesome and that they displayed every "nook and cranny" of destruction to the trailer, which destruction was not relevant to the issue of the identity of Lykins' assailant.

of 3 X 5 color photographs. They show the extensive damage done by the fire to the exterior of the trailer and to its contents. They also display several views of the deceased's body, as it was found, tied to the bed.

The trial court's decision to admit photographs into evidence will be reversed only upon the showing of an abuse of discretion. Crane v. State, (1978) 269 Ind. 299, 303, 380 N.E.2d 89, 92. Admissibility involves the photograph's relevance, which may be determined by an inquiry as to whether a witness would be permitted to describe verbally the objects photographed.

The photographs at issue supplemented the testimony of a police officer who investigated the homicide. The State theorized that Defendant and another individual, whom Lykins may have planned to blackmail, killed Lykins and then set the trailer on fire to conceal the crime. The photographs, along with the officer's testimony, tended to prove the thoroughness and planning with which the perpetrators carried out their deed. They also acquainted the jury with the scene of the crime, which witnesses described. Vasseur v. State, (1982) Ind., 430 N.E.2d 1157, 1159; Kiefer v. State, (1958) 239 Ind. 103, 108, 153 N.E.2d 899, 900. In prior cases we have allowed the admission of photographs, which showed the scene of the homicide including the body of the deceased, despite their gruesome details. Drollinger v. State, (1980) Ind., 408 N.E.2d 1228, 1237; Bond v. State, (1980) Ind., 403 N.E.2d 812, 817; Chambers v. State, (1979) Ind., 392 N.E.2d 1156, 1160; Rogers v. State, (1979) Ind., 383 N.E.2d 1035, 1036; Crane v. State, supra; Hoover v. State, (1978) 268 Ind. 566, 571, 376 N.E.2d 1152, 1155-56; Brandon v. State, (1978) 268 Ind. 150, 155, 374 N.E.2d 504, 507; Wilson v. State, (1978) 268 Ind. 112, 116-17, 374 N.E.2d 45, 48. We find no abuse of discretion in the admission of these photographs.


Defendant also contends that thirteen (13) photographic slides, Exhibits E-1, E-2, E-4 to E-14, which were admitted over objection and shown to the jury, were irrelevant, gruesome, and inflammatory. The slides appear in the record as 3 X 5 color photographs of the autopsy. Defendant asserts that their prejudicial effect is not speculative. After viewing the slides, one juror expressed doubts about her ability to render an impartial decision. It appears from the record that she became emotionally distraught and began to cry when the trial judge discreetly and delicately questioned her about her reaction to the pictures.

In general these photographs are very unpleasant to view. They show the semi-charred remains of the deceased from different angles. They include close-ups of the joints where the rope had bound the body to the bedposts in the trailer. One photograph shows the deceased's head with a hand holding open the eyes.

In particular Exhibits E-13 and E-14 were the most distressing to the juror. E-13 displays the internal body cavity of the deceased. A gloved hand holds the heart which has a tag attached to it. E-14 depicts several internal organs in a tray after they had been removed from the body. Again a gloved hand holds a lung and another hand is placing a card bearing a number and the deceased's surname next to the lung.

The trial court accepted the juror's inability to continue and excused her in favor of the alternate juror. Defendant then moved for a mistrial and renewed his objection concerning the prejudicial and inflammatory effect of the autopsy photographs. The trial court overruled the motion for a mistrial In Kiefer v. State, supra, we reversed a conviction for First Degree Murder where the defendant had been sentenced to death. Over objection the trial court had admitted a photograph of the victim's body taken during the autopsy. The photograph showed the hands of a doctor and a nurse with instruments inside the victim's chest. Another photograph showed the victim's body after the autopsy had been completed. The Court cited and discussed several out of state cases in support of its holding:

and admonished the jury not to allow the excused juror's emotional reaction to influence their consideration of the case.

"We recognize that photographs of a corpse are admissible in evidence, even though they portray a gruesome spectacle and may arouse passion and resentment against the defendant in the minds of the jury, but such photographs must be material and relevant and tend to prove or disprove some material fact in issue. 159 A.L.R.Anno. 1413, at page 1420.

"Photographs which show the body of a deceased during and after the autopsy was performed have been held inadmissible on the theory that they serve no material purpose and their only value is to arouse the emotions of the jury." 239 Ind. at 114, 153 N.E.2d at 903 (emphasis in original).

Since Kiefer we have not retreated from this rule. Photographs which showed the deceased's body before the pathologist's dismantling have been held admissible despite their gruesome or gory subject matter. These photographs allowed the jury to see the wounds or trauma inflicted upon the victim, and they were often accompanied by testimony from the pathologist about the cause of death. Rowan v. State, (1982) Ind., 431 N.E.2d 805, 816-17; Owens v. State, Ind., 431 N.E.2d 108, 111-12; Akins v. State, (1981) Ind., 429 N.E.2d 232, 236; Webster v. State, (1981) Ind., 426 N.E.2d 1295, 1298; Hightower v. State, (1981) Ind., 422 N.E.2d 1194, 1195-96; Smith v. State, (1981) Ind., 420 N.E.2d 1225, 1229; Drollinger v. State, (1980) Ind., 408 N.E.2d 1228, 1238; Bond v. State, supra; Bates v. State, (1977) 267 Ind. 8, 10-11, 366 N.E.2d 659, 660; Hewitt v. State, (1973) 261 Ind. 71, 76-77, 300 N.E.2d 94, 97-98; Torrence v. State, (1971) 255 Ind. 618, 621, 266 N.E.2d 1, 3; New v. State, (1970) 254 Ind. 307, 310-11, 259 N.E.2d 696, 699. We have noted that the rule of Kiefer has limited application, see Blevins v. State, (1973) 259 Ind. 618, 624-25, 291 N.E.2d 84, 88 (cases cited therein); however, the graphic portrayal of an autopsy by a photograph or photographs carries the potential for displaying more than the state of the victim's body at the time it was discovered. Such a display may impute the handiwork of the physician to the accused assailant and thereby render the defendant responsible in the minds of the jurors for the cuts, incisions, and indignity of an autopsy.

In this respect we think that the photographs, Exhibits E-13 and E-14, are similar to the autopsy photography in Warrenburg v. State, (1973) 260 Ind. 572, 574, 298 N.E.2d 434, 435. In Warrenburg we held that it was error to admit most of an autopsy photograph which showed the surgical incisions. The only relevant part of the photograph depicted bruises on the victim's skull. We stressed the difference between a photograph which shows the victim in his/her natural state following death and one which shows the body after it has been altered by an autopsy. The former is relevant and admissible; the latter is not, Merritt v. State, (1978) 267 Ind. 460, 464, 37 N.E.2d 382, 384, and Exhibits E-13 and E-14 fall into the second category. Given the photographs' prejudicial impact, 1 Patterson The only issue in dispute at trial was the identity of the assailant. The State attempted to prove the identity by the testimony of several witnesses.

v. State, (1975) 263 Ind. 55, 61, 324 N.E.2d 482, 486; Carroll v. State, (1975) 263 Ind. 696, 709-10, 338 N.E.2d 264, 274 (Prentice, J., concurring), this Court will not set aside the conviction if, after examining all the evidence, it can be said that their admission was harmless. Warrenburg v. State, supra.

Debbie Wilson, a neighbor of the Defendant's at the time of the murder, related a conversation she had had with the defendant at her place of employment in September, 1979, some time after the sixth:

"A. Well he just came in and I hadn't seen him for awhile, and I asked him what he'd been doing, and he had told me he had been hiding. And I asked him what he was hiding from, and he told me about the murder in Portland, and that he was wanted for the murder of it. And I was joking with him, and I said, 'Well did you do it?', and he said, 'I don't know. I...

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