Mitchell v. State

Decision Date18 April 2000
Docket NumberNo. 49S00-9803-CR-163.,49S00-9803-CR-163.
Citation726 N.E.2d 1228
PartiesShirley MITCHELL, Defendant-Appellant, v. STATE of Indiana, Plaintiff-Appellee.
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Katherine A. Cornelius, Marion County Public Defenders Office, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorney for Appellant.

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General of Indiana, Randi E. Froug, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana, Attorneys for Appellee.

DICKSON, Justice

The defendant, Shirley Mitchell, was convicted of murder1 and neglect of a dependent, a class B felony.2 The victim was her granddaughter. For murder, the trial court ordered a sentence of sixty-five years but suspended five years. For neglect of a dependent, the trial court entered the conviction as a class D felony and sentenced the defendant to three years. The sentences were to be served concurrently.

On appeal, the defendant claims seven errors: (1) erroneous admission of hearsay testimony; (2) inappropriate comments by the trial court; (3) improper admission of autopsy photographs; (4) jury misconduct; (5) inconsistent jury verdicts; (6) improper and confusing instructions on lesser-included offenses; and (7) use of an inappropriate aggravating factor in sentencing. In its appellee's brief, the State also claims error, asserting that the trial court improperly modified the conviction for neglect of a dependent from a class B felony to a class D felony.

Hearsay Evidence

The defendant claims that the trial judge erred by allowing a social worker to testify regarding comments made by Auinia, the murder victim's sister, during counseling sessions conducted after the victim's body was discovered. Auinia was nine years old when the counseling began and when she testified at trial.

On the evening of November 11, 1996,3 the defendant repeatedly struck her six-year-old granddaughter, Emporia, with a two-foot-long wooden rod. Auinia, Emporia's older sister and also the defendant's granddaughter, was present and observed the beating. On the morning of November 12, 1996, the defendant woke Auinia and told her that Emporia was not breathing. Auinia observed as the defendant wrapped Emporia's body in a sheet and bedspread and hid it in a locked outdoor closet. The defendant told Auinia not to tell anyone about what happened to Emporia, saying that "it would be all [Auinia's] fault" and that the grandchildren would have to go to foster homes. Record at 663. Emporia's body was discovered by the authorities on December 11, 1996. On December 18, 1996, Auinia began receiving counseling from a social worker. During a counseling session on January 21, 1997, Auinia first told the social worker that the defendant told Emporia to "die, die" while the defendant was beating her. Record at 931.

The trial of the defendant began on October 14, 1997. On October 15, 1997, Auinia testified that, during the beating incident, the defendant told the victim to "die and different things like bad words and just telling her to die." Record at 658. To the question whether the defendant was saying this when she was hitting the victim with the stick, Auinia answered, "No." Record at 659. On cross-examination, defense counsel asked Auinia whether she had spoken with certain people about the beating, including the social worker, and Auinia indicated that she had. Defense counsel asked Auinia the following: "Now you also indicated—you also told [one of the prosecutors] that when your grandma was—was hitting Emporia that she was saying some bad things; right?"

Record at 680. After Auinia answered in the affirmative, defense counsel asked: "And then you told [that same prosecutor] that sheshe said something about Emporia dying; right?" Record at 680. Auinia responded, "Yes." Record at 680. This was followed immediately by the following:

Defense Counsel: Now when Detective Hornbrook and Detective Buttram talked with you, you also told them that she said something. Do you remember that?

Witness: Yes.

Defense Counsel: Okay. And do you remember saying that she just said— that your grandma just said that she was going to whip Emporia until she told the truth?

Witness: No.

Record at 680. Shortly thereafter, the following questioning occurred:

Defense Counsel: Okay. And you have stated that—that she was—she was hurting Emporia.

Witness: Yes.

Defense Counsel: And that she was, at that time in the bedroom, that she was saying things to her.

Witness: Yes.

Defense Counsel: Okay. Now, do you recall telling Detective Buttram and Detective Hornbrook that your grandma said to Emporia at that time, I'm going to whip you and if you don't tell me the truth, you know, then it's going to be worse. Do you remember telling Detective Hornbrook and Detective Buttram that?

Witness. No.

Record at 683.

Later in the trial, when the State asked the social worker on direct examination whether Auinia had talked with the social worker specifically about what the defendant was saying while she was beating Emporia, the defendant objected to the testimony as hearsay, arguing that the testimony did not satisfy the requirements of Indiana Evidence Rule 801(d)(1)(B). The defendant argued that, on cross-examination of Auinia, she had simply presented a statement that was inconsistent with what she had testified to and did not suggest that Auinia had falsified a statement or fabricated testimony. Regarding the admission of the social worker's testimony, defense counsel argued:

Your Honor, we would note also that I never asked Auinia about that question [whether the defendant said "die, die"] on cross-examination at all. I never asked her. I never said isn't it true that [the defendant] never said that. I said—I never said to her, isn't it true that you did not make the statement to Detective Hornbrook. I never asked her, isn't it true that you didn't tell us this in the deposition. [The State] is absolutely wrong. All I did was present to the jury an additional statement that she had made or another statement that she had made. I did not make any follow up there that it was a statement that was in contrast with the die, die, die. I didn't touch it. Therefore, it clearly isn't at issue. It simply isn't.

Record at 928. The trial court remarked that "that's not my recollection, counsel," and indicated that defense counsel had made such "inferences" during cross-examination. Record at 928, 930.

The trial court overruled the defendant's objection and indicated that it would allow limited testimony by the social worker on this matter. The social worker then testified that Auinia told her that the defendant had said "die, die" to Emporia while she was beating her. Record at 931.

A ruling on the admissibility of an arguably hearsay statement is within the sound discretion of the trial court. Horan v. State, 682 N.E.2d 502, 511 (Ind. 1997) (citing Jones v. State, 655 N.E.2d 49, 56 (Ind.1995); Taylor v. State, 587 N.E.2d 1293, 1302 (Ind.1992)). We will reverse "`only where the decision is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances.'" Jackson v. State, 697 N.E.2d 53, 54 (Ind.1998) (quoting Joyner v. State, 678 N.E.2d 386, 390 (Ind.1997)). Even if a trial court errs in admitting hearsay evidence, we will only reverse when the error is inconsistent with substantial justice. Timberlake v. State, 690 N.E.2d 243, 255 (Ind.1997). Thus, evidence improperly admitted under Indiana Evidence Rule 801(d)(1)(B) will not give rise to a new trial if its "`probable impact on the jury, in light of all the evidence in the case, is sufficiently minor so as not to affect the substantial rights of the parties.'" Bouye v. State, 699 N.E.2d 620, 626 (Ind.1998) (quoting Brown v. State, 671 N.E.2d 401, 408 (Ind.1996)). See also Ind. Evidence Rule 103(a); Ind. Trial Rule 61.

Although hearsay evidence is generally not admissible, Indiana Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B) provides that a statement is not hearsay if "[t]he declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross examination concerning the statement, and the statement is ... consistent with the declarant's testimony, offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive, and made before the motive to fabricate arose."

Challenging the trial court's ruling allowing the testimony, the defendant contends first that Auinia's prior statement was not consistent with her trial testimony. We disagree and find Auinia's prior statement sufficiently consistent with her trial testimony. In both statements, Auinia described the defendant, at approximately the same time, hitting Emporia and speaking about Emporia dying. Minor inconsistencies between trial testimony and prior statements do not necessarily render the prior statements inadmissible for purposes of Indiana Evidence Rule 801(d)(1)(B). Brown, 671 N.E.2d at 407.

The defendant also contends that her defense counsel neither challenged the veracity of Auinia's testimony nor expressly or implicitly suggested that Auinia's testimony was a fabrication or that someone had improperly influenced the testimony. Because the defense cross-examination presented a prior statement and thereby suggested that Auinia had previously described the earlier incident without mentioning that the defendant told Emporia to die, we find that the defense implied that Auinia had fabricated her trial testimony.

Finally, the defendant challenges the trial court ruling by urging that the prior statement was made after the motive to fabricate would have arisen. The defendant contends that, if there was ever an improper motive on the part of Auinia, it would have existed prior to the statement she made to the social worker. The State responds that the defendant implied that Auinia fabricated her "die, die" testimony while preparing for trial and argues that Auinia made the statement to the social worker before any such motive for fabrication would have arisen. Because this is not an unreasonable...

To continue reading

Request your trial
118 cases
  • Stephenson v. State
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court
    • January 25, 2001
    ... ...         A party may file a motion to correct error when there is newly discovered evidence such as alleged juror misconduct. See Ind. Trial Rule 59(A); Mitchell v. State, 726 N.E.2d 1228, 1238 (Ind.2000), reh'g denied. When reviewing a trial court's denial of a motion to correct error on newly discovered evidence, our review is deferential and we will reverse only upon a showing of an abuse of discretion. See Slaton v. State, 510 N.E.2d 1343, 1347 ... ...
  • Canaan v. Davis, Cause No. IP 97-1847-C H/K (S.D. Ind. 1/10/2003)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • January 10, 2003
    ... ... Petitioner Keith Canaan was convicted of her murder, as well as burglary and attempted criminal deviate conduct. The State of Indiana sentenced him to death. In this action for a writ of habeas corpus, Canaan seeks relief from his convictions and death sentence ... State, 575 N.E.2d 617, 621 (Ind. 1991); accord, Mitchell v. State, 726 N.E.2d 1228, 1242 (Ind. 2000) (fundamental error doctrine based on due process) ...         In his brief in Canaan II, ... ...
  • McQuarrie v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
    • October 10, 2012
  • Fields v. Jorden
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • November 3, 2023
    ... ... OPINION ...           ... MURPHY, CIRCUIT JUDGE ...           A ... state jury convicted Samuel Fields of breaking into an ... elderly woman's home, slashing her throat, and stabbing a ... knife through her ... Cir. 1969); an experiment in which jurors hit a jury-room ... "leather chair" with an admitted "wooden ... rod," Mitchell v. State , 726 N.E.2d 1228, 1233, ... 1237 (Ind. 2000), abrogated on other grounds by Bealtie ... v. State , 924 N.E.2d 643 (Ind. 2010); ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT