State v. Hansen, 97-342.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana
Citation989 P.2d 338,1999 MT 253
Docket NumberNo. 97-342.,97-342.
PartiesThe STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Chris Leonard HANSEN, Defendant and Appellant.
Decision Date21 October 1999

989 P.2d 338
1999 MT 253

The STATE of Montana, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Chris Leonard HANSEN, Defendant and Appellant

No. 97-342.

Supreme Court of Montana.

Submitted on Briefs December 17, 1998.

Decided October 21, 1999.

989 P.2d 340
William F. Hooks, Appellate Defender Office, Helena, Montana, for Appellant

Joseph P. Mazurek, Attorney General, Elizabeth Horsman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana; M. Shaun Donovan, Mineral County Attorney, Superior, Montana, for Respondent.

Justice JAMES C. NELSON delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Chris Leonard Hansen (Hansen) was convicted by a jury of deliberate homicide in the death of his wife, Nanette Hansen (Nanette). The District Court for the Fourth Judicial District, Mineral County, sentenced Hansen to 60 years in the Montana State Prison and declared him ineligible for parole for 30 years. From this judgment and sentence, Hansen appeals. We affirm.

¶ 2 Hansen raises the following issue on appeal: Whether the District Court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence of Nanette's out-of-court statements for the purpose of establishing the corpus delicti.

Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 3 Hansen and Nanette married in 1990 and divorced in late 1991. They continued to live together, however, and, in July 1994, they remarried. They owned 20 acres in a rural setting near De Borgia on which they built a house and barn. Nanette worked as a

989 P.2d 341
waitress at Lincoln's Silver Dollar restaurant in Haugan. Hansen had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993 and was not employed

¶ 4 Scott Abe (Abe), Hansen's son from a previous marriage, had recently reentered his father's life after 23 years of no contact. He had visited his father while on vacation in 1992 and soon thereafter moved in with Hansen and Nanette. Abe eventually moved to a trailer two or three miles from Hansen's property. Abe also worked at Lincoln's Silver Dollar in Haugan until he was injured jumping off a roof.

¶ 5 On the morning of November 28, 1995, Hansen called the Mineral County Sheriff's Office to report that Nanette had been "stomped" by a horse and was either dead or dying. When the emergency medical team arrived, Nanette was lying face up in the mud and manure in Hansen's barnyard. She was not breathing, did not have a pulse, and appeared to be dead. Nanette had purportedly left the house that morning to feed the horses, yet, despite the cold weather, she was wearing a light shirt and no jacket. Hansen and Abe were the only other individuals present.

¶ 6 The emergency medical team began resuscitation efforts on Nanette, but she did not respond or improve. At one point during the resuscitation efforts, air being released from Nanette's lungs made a sound like an exhale or a breath. Hansen asked the emergency medical team if Nanette was breathing. Abe, upon hearing Hansen's question, fell to the ground and hyperventilated. The emergency medical team continued their resuscitation efforts on Nanette until the ambulance arrived and transported her to the Mineral County Community Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

¶ 7 The State Medical Examiner, Dr. Gary Dale, performed an autopsy on Nanette the following day. He found multiple blunt force and other traumatic injuries to Nanette's head, face, neck, chest, back, arms and legs, yet none of the injuries to Nanette's head were severe enough to have caused her death. Dr. Dale also determined that Nanette's injuries were inconsistent with being trampled by a horse. Because of the pattern injuries on the back of Nanette's head and because Nanette's airways were plugged with mud and other soil-like materials, Dr. Dale determined that Nanette died from asphyxiation and that it was likely she had been forced face down into the mud and held there until she died. Hence, Dr. Dale certified her death as a homicide.

¶ 8 Deborah Hewitt, a forensic scientist with the State Crime Lab and an expert in fingerprint and other impression evidence, examined the photographs of the pattern injuries on Nanette's scalp and determined they were similar in size and tread design to a pair of boots that had been seized from Abe. Hewitt believed that the evidence was consistent with Dr. Dale's theory and that more than one person was involved in Nanette's death.

¶ 9 On February 26, 1996, the State charged Hansen and Abe with the offense of deliberate homicide in connection with Nanette's death. Abe's case was eventually severed from Hansen's and Abe was convicted of deliberate homicide by accountability on October 24, 1996. His conviction was affirmed by this Court on August 25, 1998. State v. Abe, 1998 MT 206, 290 Mont. 393, 965 P.2d 882.

¶ 10 On December 19, 1996, the District Court granted leave to the State to file an amended information charging Hansen with deliberate homicide in violation of § 45-5-102(1)(a), MCA, or, alternatively, deliberate homicide by accountability in violation of §§ 45-5-102(1)(a) and 45-2-302, MCA. Thereafter the State filed notice of its intent to offer evidence, pursuant to Rule 404(b), M.R.Evid., of acts of physical abuse alleged to have been committed by Hansen against Nanette. These acts were allegedly committed between the winter of 1992 and the spring of 1993. However, the court cautioned that if the State attempted to introduce such evidence, the door would be open for the defense to bring up Nanette's failure to complain to law enforcement officers about Hansen's conduct. Thereafter, the State withdrew its notice of intent to introduce evidence of other acts and stated it would

989 P.2d 342
limit its evidence of such alleged acts to the two-week period preceding Nanette's death

¶ 11 In addition, the State disclosed that it intended to introduce at trial evidence of several out-of-court statements allegedly made by Nanette to family members, friends and fellow employees in the two-week period prior to her death. The State contended such evidence was admissible as part of the corpus delicti of the charged offenses. Along with statements by Nanette that "something big is going to happen in the next few days" and, if something happened to her, Nanette's friends would know who did it, Nanette's statements pertained to alleged acts of physical violence toward her by Hansen; Nanette's fears relating to the continuation of her relationship with Hansen; Hansen's removal of Nanette's name from their bank accounts and other property; and Nanette's plan to terminate her relationship with Hansen and to leave the area. The State also disclosed that it intended to introduce various out-of-court statements made by Abe in which he expressed anger at Nanette and threatened to kill her.

¶ 12 Defense counsel objected to the admission of this evidence asserting that not only was it inadmissible hearsay, it was inflammatory and unfairly prejudicial and should be excluded by application of Rule 403, M.R.Evid. The District Court issued an Opinion and Order on January 31, 1997, wherein the court resolved a number of pretrial issues, but reserved ruling on the admissibility of specific statements. The court stated that

if the sole purpose of statements of the victim which the State wishes to draw from its witnesses is to establish the victim's state of mind, such statements are not relevant. However, if the victim's statements are directly connected to the chain of events leading up to her death such that they are an inseparable, and vital, part of the corpus delicti of the crimes charged, they are not hearsay, and as such, are admissible.

Thus, the court sustained the defense's objection with regard to evidence which goes solely to the state of mind of the victim and overruled the defense's objection as to evidence which is "an inseparable, and vital, part of the corpus delicti of the crimes charged." The court determined that any rulings as to which of the two categories specific evidence might fall, must necessarily be reserved for trial.

¶ 13 On February 3, 1997, the first day of trial, the State tried to introduce Nanette's statements into evidence as part of the corpus delicti. The defense objected maintaining that the statements were inadmissible hearsay and not part of the corpus delicti. So that the District Court could make specific rulings on the statements, the State broke them down into six types or categories. Over defense counsel's objections, the court ruled that the following four categories of Nanette's statements, as characterized by the State, were admissible: (1) "If anything happens to me, you'll know who did it;" (2) "Something big is going to happen in the next few days;" (3) "He and Scott have taken my name off the house and accounts;" and (4) "This is my home. I'm not going to let them run me off."

¶ 14 Hence, the State called several witnesses to testify concerning statements made to them by Nanette to the effect that she was afraid of Hansen and Abe; that she was going to leave for a few days with a girlfriend and then leave for good; that Hansen had taken her name off of everything including the bank accounts and the truck; and that she wanted to buy a vehicle in her own name. The jury was instructed that the testimony with regard to these statements attributed to Nanette was not offered to show the truth of the matter asserted. In fact, as the State pointed out, Hansen had not taken Nanette's name off their joint checking account as she had stated. Instead, Hansen had his own name removed from their joint account prior to opening a new account in his and Abe's names.

¶ 15 Additionally, an employee of the Mineral County Clerk and Recorder's office and a Norwest Bank representative testified about financial changes Hansen made prior to Nanette's death. On October 20, 1995, Hansen removed Nanette's name from the title to their property. However, he did not remove her name from the mortgage to the

989 P.2d 343
property held by Norwest. Nanette was the primary borrower on...

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