State v. Hallenbeck

Citation878 A.2d 992
Decision Date13 July 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2003-340-C.A.,2003-340-C.A.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island

Jane M. McSoley, Providence, for Plaintiff.

Thomas F. Connors, Providence, for Defendant.



SUTTELL, Justice.

The defendant, Mark A. Hallenbeck, appeals from a conviction of manslaughter for the stabbing death of Glenn Petersen at the Warwick Mall in the early morning of May 30, 2001. Indicted for murder under G.L. 1956 §§ 11-23-1 and 11-23-2, the defendant was tried before a jury in October 2002. After eight days of testimony and more than two days of deliberations, the jury acquitted the defendant of murder, but returned a guilty verdict on the lesser-included offense of manslaughter. The trial justice later denied the defendant's motion for a new trial, remarking that in his view the credible evidence was sufficient to satisfy the elements of first-degree murder. Hallenbeck was sentenced to thirty years at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI), with twenty years to serve and ten years suspended and ten years probation. He later filed a motion to reduce sentence that the trial justice also denied.

On appeal, Hallenbeck sets forth six distinct challenges to the Superior Court proceedings. He contends that the trial justice committed error (1) by failing to instruct the jury properly on the issues of self-defense and manslaughter; (2) by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal; (3) by denying his motion for a new trial; (4) by denying his motion to have the victim's criminal record admitted; (5) by improperly admitting an enlarged photograph of the crime scene into evidence; and (6) by improperly imposing sentence. For the reasons stated below, we affirm both the judgment of conviction and the sentence imposed.

Statement of Facts

After shopping for work clothes at Macy's in the Warwick Mall on May 29, 2001, Hallenbeck went to the Ground Round restaurant in the mall around 7:15 p.m. and took a seat at the bar. Over the course of the next several hours, he ordered two twenty-ounce beers and one smaller glass of beer, which he did not finish, but no food. Throughout the evening, defendant engaged in friendly conversation with the bartender, Christine Douthit. At one point, he intervened when an intoxicated patron became upset after Ms. Douthit "had to shut him off"; the defendant told the besotted man to calm down and leave Ms. Douthit alone. On two other occasions Hallenbeck interjected himself into conversations involving another customer; once when the latter ordered a drink that Ms. Douthit did not know how to prepare, and again when she undercharged the customer on his bill.

According to Ms. Douthit, Hallenbeck never appeared to be under the influence, and indeed drank only water after about 11 p.m.; but as the night went on, he became noticeably quieter and less talkative. It was such a complete change that she became concerned and asked him whether he needed a ride home. Apparently, this comment gave defendant the mistaken impression that she might have an amorous interest in him.

At some point that evening, Glenn Petersen entered the Ground Round before working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as a maintenance worker at the mall. He took a seat at the opposite end of the bar from Hallenbeck, and ordered a martini. He soon was joined by a fellow maintenance worker, Peter Cervone, also working the third shift, and Cervone's girlfriend. The defendant was overheard to make a comment that likened Petersen to Ron Jeremy, a pornographic film star. Cervone also testified that defendant shouted at Petersen, who was five-foot-two or five-foot-three-inches tall and smoking a pipe, "look at the little boy with a pipe." Hallenbeck denied making the second statement.

At 11:45 p.m. and again at 11:50 p.m. Ms. Douthit announced last call at the bar. She said that subsequently all the patrons at the bar left, with the exception of defendant, whom she said appeared to be waiting around.

Jason Webb, the cook at the Ground Round, testified that shortly before closing, Ms. Douthit came into the kitchen, worried that defendant still had not left the bar and expressing her concern that she did not want to take defendant home. The manager then directed Webb to escort defendant out of the restaurant.

When Webb approached the bar, he saw defendant and Ms. Douthit inside the bar area near the flip-up counter. He said he overheard a conversation with Ms. Douthit telling defendant he had to leave the bar and that she did not intend to take him home. Ms. Douthit confirmed in her testimony that she tried to coax defendant to leave. After he paid his bill and got up, she turned away and started cleaning the bar. When she turned around again, she saw defendant standing in the open flip-up doorway to the bar. She walked over to him and they were face to face when defendant grabbed her arms. The five-foot-six-inch-tall bartender told him: "Please, don't touch me." The defendant, however, who is six feet tall and weighed 220 to 225 pounds at the time, pulled her close to him. Nonetheless, Ms. Douthit managed to push him away, only to be grabbed again. After she pushed him away a second time, she, in tears, again told him to leave. The defendant asked her, "Are you sure that's what you want?" before finally leaving the bar.

The defendant confirmed this incident, but said that he only went to the flip-up counter to give Ms. Douthit his signed check. When he gave her his check, he said, he put his other arm on her arm and asked: "You know, are we going to go do something when you get off? You said before about giving me a ride home." He said the bartender made it clear to him that this was not what she had meant, then she pulled her arm away and backed up. When he realized he had misunderstood her, he said it made him feel like a "jerk," and he "basically tucked [his] tail between [his] legs and left."

The chain of events that occurred after Hallenbeck left the restaurant was the subject of significant disparity at trial. The defendant testified that he left the Ground Round the same way he had come in, through a set of doors with push bars leading into the food court of the mall. From there he attempted to exit through another set of doors with push bars into the parking lot where he had parked his car. According to his testimony, he tried all the doors but they all were locked. He then started to make his way back to the Ground Round doors, when he heard someone yelling at him. He said he saw two people, whom he recognized from the bar and identified at trial as Glenn Petersen and Peter Cervone, approach and tell him: "What are you doing in here? The mall's closed. You're not supposed to be in here. You've got to come with us." To this he replied: "Who the hell are you? Why do I have to go with you?" Petersen then informed him that he did not have keys to the doors opening into the parking lot.

Three eyewitnesses testified about the ensuing events: Peter Cervone, Jason Webb, and Mark Hallenbeck. Cervone testified that he and Petersen were cleaning the floor under the tables in the food court near the Ground Round when he saw defendant leave the Ground Round and head toward the doors to the parking lot. The defendant was trying to open the doors to the parking lot, and started swearing when he was not successful. When Petersen and Cervone approached him, and Petersen told him "The mall doors are locked. The mall is closed[,]" defendant swore at them and walked toward them. Glenn Petersen who, according to Cervone, was smoking his pipe at this time, offered to show Hallenbeck out through a door in the egress corridor near Taco Bell, about 150 feet into the food court. Petersen then began to lead the way around a carousel and toward Taco Bell, followed by Hallenbeck and Cervone.

Cervone testified that he knew that Petersen carried a folding knife with him in a snapped holster on the right side of his belt, which he used for work-related purposes, such as scraping gum off the floor. He further said that, after they had proceeded for about one-third of the way toward the egress corridor, Hallenbeck, who was carrying a shopping bag, started kicking and punching Petersen, and threw him to the ground "like a rag doll." Cervone said that when Petersen got up again, Hallenbeck began to punch and kick him again. Nevertheless, Petersen continued his way toward the egress corridor. As they approached Taco Bell, defendant knocked him to the ground again. Cervone said that, at some point, he called 911 from his cellular phone and tried to intervene in the situation by stepping in front of Hallenbeck and Petersen. He testified that defendant then told him: "Do you want me to take both of you guys on?"

According to Cervone, Petersen continued to proceed in the direction of the egress corridor, while defendant continued to strike him. He knocked Petersen down four or five times more. Cervone emphasized that while defendant hit Petersen, the latter never reached for his knife in the sheath on his belt or attempted to strike back at Hallenbeck; instead, Petersen simply tried to protect himself by blocking defendant's punches. When they reached the entrance to the egress corridor, Petersen was knocked down again and did not get up. Petersen was face up, with his head on the tile floor against the wall. The defendant knelt down, pinning Petersen against the wall. Cervone then observed defendant punch Petersen in the face five or six times with a closed fist. Cervone further saw defendant put his hands down to Petersen's right side. At this moment, Jason Webb came running toward them and jumped on Hallenbeck's back in a bear hug. Cervone then saw defendant's hand come up, holding a knife. When he raised the knife, Cervone said, Webb grabbed his hand, but Hallenbeck proceeded to stab Petersen in the groin area. When defendant raised the knife again,...

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