Overstreet v. State

Decision Date24 February 2003
Docket NumberNo. 41S00-9804-DP-217.,41S00-9804-DP-217.
Citation783 N.E.2d 1140
PartiesMichael Dean OVERSTREET, Appellant (Defendant below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Teresa D. Harper, Bloomington, IN, Jeffrey Baldwin, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Timothy W. Beam, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee. SULLIVAN, Justice.

Defendant Michael Dean Overstreet was convicted of murder, rape, and criminal confinement and sentenced to death for abducting, sexually assaulting, and killing a young woman. The principal aggravating circumstance supporting the sentence is intentional murder while committing rape. In this opinion, we review Defendant's claims that evidence against him was improperly admitted at his trial, that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction for rape, and that he should not have been sentenced to death. Our review finds his claims unavailing and we affirm the convictions and death sentence.

Background

Many of Defendant's claims in this appeal relate to the way in which the evidence against him was obtained or presented at trial. As such, we begin with a rather detailed review of that evidence.

The facts, presented in the form most favorable to the trial court's judgment, indicate that at 10:00 p.m. on September 26, 1997, 18-year old Eckart finished her shift at Wal-Mart. Her boyfriend, Anthony Evans, and his mother met her after her shift and the three shopped at the Wal-Mart for about an hour. Afterward, Eckart decided to go home because it was late. Evans decided to go home as well.

Eckart and Evans left for their respective homes in separate cars. Both headed north on U.S. 31 but Eckart turned right onto Earlywood Drive and Evans continued north on U.S. 31. Evans testified that he did not see her alive again.

Between midnight and 12:30 a.m., Eckart's car was found at the intersection of Graham and Earlywood Drive by two passers-by. The car was slightly off the road, its lights were on, the keys were in the ignition, and Eckart's purse was on the car seat. The police were called to investigate.

Franklin Police Officer Michael Moore drove to the scene and saw Eckart's car on the side of the road. The car's rear bumper had been damaged but the car was otherwise still in working order. Eckart's mother, Connie Sutton, testified that she had not noticed the mark on the car before. Police searched the area but did not find Eckart.

Defendant's brother, Scott Overstreet, testified that Defendant telephoned him sometime after midnight on September 27, 1997, and asked him to come to the Franklin Days Inn because his car had broken down and he needed a ride home. When Scott arrived at the hotel, Defendant approached him. Defendant said that he and his "girlfriend" had been drinking and asked Scott to drive him and his girlfriend to Edinburgh in Defendant's van. In the periphery of his vision, Scott saw something white in the back of the van.

Scott further testified that as he was driving southbound on Highway 31 toward Edinburgh, Indiana, Defendant asked him to drive to Camp Atterbury instead because he had "taken a girl" and was going to take her into the woods and get her lost. (R. at 3223, 3226, 3229.) Scott followed Defendant's directions, finally stopping at a gravel turnaround in Camp Atterbury. Defendant asked Scott to come pick him up in two hours but Scott refused. Defendant then told Scott to have Defendant's wife, Melissa Overstreet, pick him up at the Atterbury shooting range in two hours. Scott placed his hands over his face while Defendant got out of the van.

After hearing the sliding door to the van close, Scott drove to Defendant's home and gave Melissa Defendant's instructions. Melissa drove Scott back to his car at the Days Inn. She then returned home to ask Scott's wife to baby-sit while she went to pick up Defendant.

Melissa testified that before driving to the shooting range, she searched the van and found several empty shell casings and a container of mace that she had not seen before that night. Melissa then drove to the shooting range where she found Defendant sweating with his flannel shirt unbuttoned. He was also carrying a blanket and had a gun strap over his shoulder.

When Defendant and Melissa arrived home, Defendant immediately went into the bathroom. He came out, undressed, and went to bed. Later that night, Scott called Defendant's home two or three times because he wanted his wife to come home. After one of these calls, Defendant got on the phone. Scott told Defendant that he had said "some pretty fucked up stuff." (R. at 3234.) Defendant explained that he could not get caught because he had a child and a wife and that his "girlfriend" had a boyfriend and lived with her father. Defendant then hung up the phone, got dressed, and walked out of the house. An hour or so later, Melissa heard the van return. Defendant came back in the house, and went back to bed.

The following Monday, September 29, 1997, Defendant told Melissa that he wanted to clean the van. After going to Defendant's father's house to borrow money, Defendant, Melissa, and their children drove to Mike's Express Car Wash. Defendant spent about an hour cleaning and vacuuming the inside rear of the van. When Melissa started cleaning the front of the van, Defendant told her not to worry about it.

Melissa testified that in the days after Eckart's disappearance, Defendant watched the news with increased frequency. He would sit in front of the television, flipping from channel to channel, watching news coverage. When a station was airing a story on Eckart, he would watch it and after the story was finished he would resume switching channels. Melissa stated that Defendant "got to the point where he knew which channel was going to have the coverage over Kelly Eckart first." (R. at 3886.) Defendant also wanted to read news articles concerning Eckart. When he finished reading a story on Eckart, he would usually stop reading the newspaper.

On September 30, 1997, Shelia Woodcock and Pat Burks were looking for some puppies they had seen on the side of the road in Camp Atterbury. Instead, Shelia Woodcock found Eckart's body lying in a ravine. She reported the discovery to the police.

Indiana State Police Trooper J.D. Maxwell went to the scene. He found Eckart with her bib overalls down around her ankles. She was wearing her bra and panties and her white shirt was tucked in the back of her bra. She also had a ligature around her neck.

On October 18, 1997, Franklin Chief of Police found Eckart's shoes and socks stuffed into a pit toilet at Camp Atterbury.

On November 6, 1997, police received a tip that Scott had information about Eckart's murder. Scott voluntarily recounted what happened that night and directed the officers to the gravel turnaround where he had left Defendant on the morning of September 27, 1997. In a search of the area, the officers found Eckart's glasses, hair scrunchie, pager, necklace, locket, earring posts, and buttons from her overalls.

On November 7-8, 1997, the Franklin Police Department executed search warrants on Defendant's home. The police seized a hand-drawn map of Camp Atterbury and a blanket from the living room. They also seized a carpet standard from Defendant's van for analysis. The fibers were found to match fibers found on Eckart's shirt and overalls. The officers also measured the height of the van's front bumper and found that, at 15-22 inches off of the ground, it was at the same height as the damaged area of Eckart's car.

Doctor Michael Allen Clark later conducted an autopsy and discovered that Eckart's shoestring and a strap to her bib overalls had been wrapped around her throat. He also found a circular wound in the forehead consistent with a gunshot wound. In addition, he discovered numerous post-mortem abrasions that were caused by dragging her body on the ground. He concluded that the cause of Eckart's death was ligature strangulation. The time of death was estimated to be between 11:00 p.m. on September 26, 1997, and 6:38 a.m. on September 27, 1997.

Dr. Clark also conducted a sexual assault examination consisting of taking swabs from Eckart's mouth, vagina, and anus. He made slides of each and examined them for the presence of sperm. He identified the presence of semen in the vaginal test but not in any of the others.

After preparing these slides, Dr. Clark gave them to the evidence technician, Trooper Maxwell. Trooper Maxwell placed the swabs on individual envelopes to dry. During the drying process, a lab attendant moved them across the room. Trooper Maxell then placed the swabs in different envelopes without knowing whether he placed the swabs in the corresponding anal, mouth, and vaginal envelopes.

Paul Misner, an Indiana State Police serologist, analyzed the swabs and slides from Eckart's sexual assault kit. Based on his evaluation of the slide and his knowledge, experience, and training, he determined that Maxwell had placed the vaginal swab in the anal swab envelope and the anal swab in the vaginal swab envelope. Misner then looked at the slides that were prepared from the swabs and saw that the vaginal smear slide was "typical of a vaginal smear slide" and the anal slide was "typical of an anal slide." (R. at 4353.) He found no sperm on the anal slide.

Jennie Wood, a DNA analyst, examined a sample of Defendant's blood and made a DNA profile using both the polymerase chain reaction ("PCR") copying process and short tandem repeat ("STR") typing system. Using the PCR process, Wood determined that the sperm found in Eckart's underwear was consistent with Defendant's profile and occurs in approximately 1 in 9 thousand. Using the STR typing system, Wood found that the male fraction found in Eckart's underwear was consistent with Defendant's DNA profile and occurs in 1 in 12 billion.

Dr. Michael Conneally, a Professor of Medical...

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