McFarland v. State, CR

Decision Date06 May 1999
Docket NumberNo. CR,CR
Citation337 Ark. 386,989 S.W.2d 899
PartiesBenjamin S. MCFARLAND, Appellant, v. STATE of Arkansas, Appellee. 98-404.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

Christopher Ohara Carter, Yellville, AR, for Appellant.

Mark Pryor, Attorney General, C. Joseph Cordi, Jr., Assistant Attorney General, Little Rock, AR, for Appellee.


The appellant, Benjamin McFarland, was convicted of capital murder and kidnapping and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole and life imprisonment, respectively. In the summer of 1996, McFarland (age 17) was part of a group of friends who stayed together at a house at 1123 North Spring Street in Harrison. The residence was rented by Robert Diemert (age 27), who had lost his job and allowed Jason McGehee (age 21), the leader of the group, to take over the premises. The members of the group, who were in their teens and early twenties, lived by cashing stolen and forged checks. They included McFarland, McGehee, Christopher Epps (age 19), Candace Campbell (age 17), Anthony Page, and John Melbourne, Jr. (age 15).

On August 19, 1996, McGehee sent Melbourne into Harrison to cash a stolen check. Melbourne went to Cooper Shoes, which is on the square, and was told that the check was not correctly filled out. Melbourne returned later that day with Anthony Page and was able to cash the check and purchase a pair of shoes. The manager of the store was suspicious of the two and called the bank. When he discovered the check was stolen, he called the Harrison Police Department. While the police officers were at the store, they saw Melbourne across the street and stopped him for questioning. Melbourne told the officers about the stolen checks and other stolen property that could be found at or near the house on North Spring Street. He was released into his father's custody.

The police officers went to the residence. McGehee, Campbell, Epps, and McFarland saw them and hid in the back of the house. They were able, however, to observe the officers as they searched and found the stolen property and concluded that Melbourne, who had not returned, must have "snitched" to the police officers. Later that day, McFarland and Epps saw Melbourne in town and asked him to stop by the house. He did and was immediately set upon by McGehee and Epps. He was beaten by the group, including McFarland, for the next one and one-half to two hours. Later that evening, McGehee decided they all should go to Utah, where he had some relatives--presumably in order to avoid arrest for the stolen and forged checks. Melbourne's hands were bound, and he, along with Epps, McFarland, McGehee, Campbell, and Diemert, left for Utah in Diemert's car.

Campbell and Diemert testified at McFarland's trial that during the trip someone asked Melbourne how it felt to know he was going to die. Campbell testified that it was either Epps or McFarland, while Diemert testified it was McGehee. The group traveled to an abandoned house in Omaha, Arkansas. They entered the house and again began to beat Melbourne. The testimony established that everyone there participated in the beating at varying levels. At one point, Melbourne tried to escape but only made it to the kitchen before he was caught by McGehee, Epps, and McFarland. There was testimony that McGehee hit Melbourne's head with a box fan and that others hit him with sticks and burned him with a candle wick. This beating lasted approximately an hour. After the beating, McGehee, Epps, and McFarland took Melbourne out behind the house and walked down a trail into a wooded area. Campbell and Diemert stayed in Diemert's car.

Epps, McFarland, and McGehee took turns strangling Melbourne until he died. In a statement made to Arkansas authorities, McFarland admitted that he was the one strangling Melbourne with an orange cord when he expired. The group then drove to Utah. On the way, they left Epps in Tulsa because he was "whining," according to McFarland. When they arrived in Utah, they burglarized McGehee's aunt's house in Elmo, taking a checkbook and her automobile. Diemert left the group while they were burglarizing the house and returned to Arkansas in his car. On August 27, 1996, the remaining three, McGehee, Campbell, and McFarland, were arrested in Provo, Utah. They had used a stolen check to pay for a hotel room and were driving the stolen vehicle. McGehee was placed in an adult facility, and Campbell and McFarland were taken to a juvenile detention facility.

On August 30, 1996, Candace Campbell talked with her mother and told her about Melbourne's murder. Later that day, Campbell called the Harrison Police Department and told the police officers where to find the body and the circumstances surrounding the death. On the evening of September 3, 1996, the police officers found the body approximately 150 yards behind the abandoned house in Omaha. On September 5, 1996, Arkansas law enforcement officers, including Detective Marc Arnold of the Harrison Police Department, flew to Provo, Utah, to interview Campbell and McFarland. After speaking with Campbell, they interviewed McFarland at 1:30 p.m.. They initially read him his Miranda rights, and McFarland executed a standard waiver form. He further said that he understood his Miranda rights. When the police officers began questioning him about the Melbourne case, McFarland asked if he could speak with an attorney. The police officers ceased their questioning but asked him if he had contacted his family and who his attorney was. McFarland answered that he had spoken with his family but that he did not have an attorney.

Later that same day, at approximately 4 p.m., one of the jailer staff contacted Detective Marc Arnold and told him that McFarland wanted to speak with him again. Detective Arnold, accompanied by an officer with the Provo Police Department, first verified that McFarland wanted to initiate the interview. He read him his Miranda rights a second time, and McFarland again executed a waiver form. Detective Arnold testified that McFarland told him that he had spoken with his mother, who urged him to tell the truth. In response to McFarland's inquiry, the detective told him he was probably looking at a capital murder charge. McFarland admitted to beating Melbourne because he had "snitched" and said that he was strangling Melbourne when he died:

So three of us went out there and next thing I knew was just everybody was getting enraged.... Then we went out there and just I don't know the mentality switched for all three of us. One thing led to another and he was strangled.... Who actually did it? Well all three of us strangled him at separate times. Are you saying when he finally lost his life, who was strangling him? Me.

McFarland was charged with capital murder and kidnapping and extradited to Arkansas. Before trial, McFarland's counsel moved to suppress the statement, arguing that McFarland was held for six days in Utah before being brought before a judge (he argues nine days on appeal) and that but for the delay, McFarland might have been afforded counsel before being interviewed by the Arkansas authorities. McFarland was found guilty on both counts and sentenced to life without parole for the capital murder charge and life in prison for kidnapping.

I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

McFarland's first argument is that the trial court erred in refusing to direct a verdict in his favor on both the capital murder and kidnapping charges due to the absence of substantial evidence. He contends that a directed verdict was proper for the capital murder count because the State failed to prove that he acted with a premeditated and deliberate purpose in the murder. He also claims that with regard to the kidnapping charge, the State did not prove that Melbourne was restrained involuntarily.

Motions for directed verdict are treated as challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. See Russey v. State, 336 Ark. 401, 985 S.W.2d 316 (1999); Johnson v. State, 326 Ark. 3, 929 S.W.2d 707 (1996). When reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, this court does not reweigh the evidence but determines instead whether the evidence supporting the verdict is substantial. See Davis v. State, 325 Ark. 96, 925 S.W.2d 768 (1996). Substantial evidence is defined as direct or circumstantial evidence that is forceful enough to compel a conclusion and goes beyond mere speculation or conjecture. See Bailey v. State, 334 Ark. 43, 972 S.W.2d 239 (1998). In determining whether there is substantial evidence, this court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. See Dixon v. State, 310 Ark. 460, 839 S.W.2d 173 (1992). Only evidence supporting the verdict is considered. See Moore v. State, 315 Ark. 131, 864 S.W.2d 863 (1993).

A person commits capital murder if "[w]ith the premeditated and deliberated purpose of causing the death of another person" he causes the death of any person. See Ark.Code Ann. § 5-10-101(a)(4) (Repl.1997). McFarland urges that the State failed to show that he acted with a premeditated and deliberate purpose and, thus, a directed verdict in his favor was proper. He emphasizes that Jason McGehee led the group and decided what would be done.

Because intent can rarely be proved by direct evidence, a jury may infer premeditation and deliberation from circumstantial evidence such as the type and character of the weapon used, the manner in which the weapon was used, the nature, extent, and location of the wounds inflicted, and the conduct of the accused. See Lever v. State, 333 Ark. 377, 971 S.W.2d 762 (1998); Lloyd v. State, 332 Ark. 1, 962 S.W.2d 365 (1998). The necessary premeditation and deliberation is not required to exist for a particular length of time and may be formed in an instant. See Lever v. State, supra; Key v. State, 325 Ark. 73, 923 S.W.2d 865 (1996).

Contrary to McFarland's assertion, there is sufficient evidence of McFarland's premeditation and deliberation. On the way to...

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