Mitchell v. State, 49S00-8812-CR-1022

Citation557 N.E.2d 660
Case DateAugust 02, 1990
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Belle T. Choate, Choate Visher & Haith, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Gary Damon Secrest, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

GIVAN, Justice.

A jury trial resulted in the conviction of appellant of Confinement, a Class B felony, and Battery, a Class C felony. She was sentenced to terms of fifteen (15) years and eight (8) years respectively. It further was ordered that the sentences were to run concurrently but consecutively to any parole violations.

The facts are: On January 6, 1988, appellant took her daughter, Melissa, two years of age, to Methodist Hospital where she was seen by a physician who described her as suffering from extensive burns from her waist to the bottom of her feet. Appellant told an emergency room physician that while Melissa was on the "pottie", she (appellant) had filled the bathtub and then left to go downstairs. A few moments later she heard a scream, ran back into the bathroom, and found Melissa lying on her back in the bathtub. She removed Melissa, wrapped her in towels, and called for help. The emergency room physician noted appellant's lack of emotion and apparent lack of concern which also was noted by the plastic surgeon and a psychiatric social worker.

Appellant apparently called a taxi cab to take her daughter to the hospital and told the taxi cab driver that after waiting for an ambulance for half an hour, she had called for a cab, and related to the driver that her child had fallen into a hot bathtub of water. Upon arriving at the hospital, appellant admitted her daughter under the name of "Misty Baker," gave her own name as "Tammy Baker," and indicated that her address was 7100 Kingsley.

Appellant again identified herself as "Tammy Baker" and gave her address as 7157 Kingsley to Janet Pyatt, a psychiatric social worker. Appellant, upon arriving at the hospital, insisted upon leaving and returning home on the pretense of breast-feeding her baby even though she was told that there were suitable facilities at the hospital to accommodate her. Later it was determined that no calls to 911 were made by appellant and that the address provided by her was a vacant lot.

Sandra Eltzroth of the Marion County Sheriff's Department tried to locate appellant's residence so that she, Detective Gullion, and a caseworker could check on the welfare of the other children. After unsuccessfully trying to locate appellant's residence, Detective Eltzroth dialed a telephone number listed on their report. Upon dialing, a female voice answered and detective Eltzroth asked if she were "Tammy Baker." The female indicated that she was "Tammy Baker," and Detective Eltzroth asked her for directions to her residence so they could talk to her about the burns. At this point, appellant gave another false address to Detective Eltzroth, and she could not explain how to get to her residence. By this time, the police were able to obtain her address through Indiana Bell. They then proceeded to her residence. Upon arriving, she identified herself as "Tammy Baker," and the decision was made to take the other children into custody. Ultimately, appellant admitted her true name in a formal statement.

The record reveals that Melissa was in shock when she arrived at the hospital and had extensive, fourth-degree, full-thickness burns from her groin to her toes. There were no burns to her back, shoulders, neck, or head. Each physician came to the conclusion that the nature of the burns to Melissa was inconsistent with accidental infliction but rather indicated forced immersion in very hot water. Throughout this ordeal, Melissa remained in the hospital for approximately five months, endured several operations, and despite all efforts, her feet had to be amputated.

Appellant first contends that the evidence is not sufficient to support the verdict of the jury. In addressing the issue of sufficiency of the evidence, we will not weigh the facts. Butler v. State (1989), Ind., 547 N.E.2d 270; Case v. State (1984), Ind., 458 N.E.2d 223.

Appellant argues that the State's evidence fails to show that she was the perpetrator of the crime or that she possessed the requisite mental state. Likewise, appellant argues that the record is devoid of evidence that would support an inference that she acted knowingly or intentionally.

The State must sustain its burden of proof on each element of an offense charged and such elements may be established by circumstantial evidence and the logical inferences drawn therefrom. Decker v. State (1988), Ind., 528 N.E.2d 1119. This Court has held that the mere presence at the commission of a crime is not sufficient by itself to support a verdict, but it is a circumstance which a jury may consider in determining a defendant's guilt. Dorton v. State (1981), Ind., 419 N.E.2d 1289. Likewise, presence at the scene of a crime in connection with other circumstances tending to show participation in the crime may provide sufficient evidence. Richards v. State (1985), Ind., 481 N.E.2d 1093. Finally, the trier of fact may draw reasonable inferences from direct or circumstantial evidence and a guilty verdict may be based on circumstantial evidence alone. Jones v. State (1988), Ind., 523 N.E.2d 750.

There were no eyewitnesses to the incident. The State called as its first witness, Dr. Howard Levitin. Dr. Levitin testified that he is an emergency room physician and was on duty when Melissa was brought in. He stated that she was in shock and had severe burns from her feet to her waist. He testified that appellant told him that she poured water into the bathtub, left to feed her baby, and shortly thereafter heard Melissa scream. She then told him that she ran back to the bathroom and found Melissa lying on her back. He testified that, after he talked with appellant, he went back to Melissa to make sure that he was not missing any burns on her back or the back of her head. He indicated that there were no burns to her back or to the back of her head. In addition, he testified that his records indicated that the bathtub was half filled at the time of the incident. He further testified that as an emergency room physician he had seen cases involving children which included both intentional and unintentional burns.

Doctor Levitin indicated that he uses a number of factors in diagnosing intentional water burns:

"I would say the number one thing that I use is that history is incompatible of physical findings, meaning what they tell me happened and what you see in the body do not coincide, that would be number one. Number two, I look at the symmetry of the burn. It's very (Unintelligible) how child abuse burns are reported, one extremity, his burn, will look exactly like the other side, so both sides are very symmetrical. The third thing would be, burning of the soles of the feet and the palms of their hand are extremely rare in accidental burns but are very common in submersion burns. So that would be the third thing. And then the fourth thing would be, does the history compatible with the developmental stage of the child, meaning, a child who is too young to walk would not be expected to be able to climb into, say, for example, a bathtub, to cause his injury or is not old enough to reach out and grab a pot of hot water off the stove. So you look at the developmental age and also is that compatible with the history. And I'd say the last thing would be the demarcation of the lines, the burn lines, meaning, classically reported as an abusive burn is that you'll see a line where the burn occurs and a clear line where the burn stops. That is very classically defined as an abusive burn where often the literature will describe an accidental burn as you'll see a blurring of that margin, it's not such a clear separation between the two."

Further Dr. Levitin indicated that water at a temperature between 140 to 150 degrees would cause full-thickness burns to a child within seconds. He also noticed lack of splash marks elsewhere on her body. Doctor Levitin's opinion was that the burns were not the pattern of an accidental burning but were consistent with an abusive burn or forced immersion.

The State next called Dr. Tom Williams, a pediatric critical care physician, who examined Melissa. Dr. Williams noted severe burns on her lower extremities, hands, and wrists. He testified that there was a very clear line between the burned and unburned skin. He further testified that:

"Burns such as Melissa had, that is, that she had deep burns that were, seemed to be a very uniform depth, that are symmetrical or equal from one side to the other, have a very clear line of demarcation between burned and...

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16 cases
  • Ritchie v. State, 49S00-0011-DP-638.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 25 Mayo 2004
    ...State, 675 N.E.2d 1075, 1079 (Ind.1996). Both intentional and knowing actions may be inferred from the circumstances. Mitchell v. State, 557 N.E.2d 660, 664 (Ind.1990); Johansen v. State, 499 N.E.2d 1128, 1132 (Ind.1986); Cole v. State, 475 N.E.2d 306, 308 (Ind. 1985). Shooting a handgun, e......
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    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 25 Mayo 2004
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    • 19 Mayo 1995
    ...and the exercise of that discretion will not be disturbed absent a showing of abuse of that discretion. Mitchell v. State (1990), Ind., 557 N.E.2d 660, 665. Photographs which demonstrate a witness's testimony are generally admissible. Id. Photographs of a crime scene are relevant if they ai......
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