State v. Hillard

Decision Date23 July 2021
Docket NumberNo. 121,715,121,715
Citation491 P.3d 1223
CourtKansas Supreme Court
Parties STATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Heidi L. HILLARD, Appellant.

Reid T. Nelson, of Capital and Conflicts Appeals Office, argued the cause, and Debra J. Wilson, of the same office, was with him on the briefs for appellant.

Lance J. Gillett, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Lesley A. Isherwood, assistant district attorney, Marc Bennett, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were on the brief for appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by Wilson, J.:

Following a failed drug deal, Heidi L. Hillard—along with several other codefendants—participated in events over the course of November 5-6, 2016, that involved the kidnapping and rape of S.S. and culminated in the murder of S.S.'s boyfriend, Scott "Scottie" Goodpaster Jr. After a joint jury trial with her husband, Jeff Hillard, Hillard was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder, felony murder (in the alternative), two counts of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, and rape.

Hillard has directly appealed, raising eight issues for our consideration. We agree that the State presented insufficient evidence to support Hillard's conviction for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and reverse that conviction. Finding no other errors, we otherwise affirm the district court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Jeff and Hillard lived with her children on property that had a house and a shed, along with other outbuildings. The property was covered by several security cameras.

Brian Bussart had also been living with the Hillards for a few months by the beginning of November 2016. Bussart did not pay the Hillards rent; instead, he ran errands for them. For his part in the events of November 5-6, Bussart would ultimately plead guilty to first-degree felony murder in exchange for the dismissal of other charges, including premeditated first-degree murder. He hoped to obtain leniency by entering this deal, although he had not yet been sentenced as of the time of the Hillards' trial.

Willie Earl Morris was also involved in these events. Morris did not testify in the Hillards' trial, and his relationship to the others was left somewhat nebulous for the jury. Morris' separate jury trial ultimately resulted in several convictions, including one for premeditated first-degree murder. We affirmed these convictions, albeit on different issues than are presented here. State v. Morris , 311 Kan. 483, 484, 463 P.3d 417 (2020).

Alexandria Scott would ultimately plead guilty to kidnapping and aggravated robbery for her part in these crimes. Scott had known S.S. for roughly a year and a half before the events, but she had only met most of the other individuals involved less than a week before. At Goodpaster's urging, Scott had recently participated in an unsuccessful attempt to recoup $600 owed to Hillard by an unrelated individual. This individual was supposed to supply an ounce of methamphetamine in exchange for the money but failed to deliver. According to Bussart, the Hillards were unsuccessful in recovering all their money. Additionally, Scott was a "really good friend" of Andrew Cummings, who was a drug dealer.

The precise relationship between Goodpaster and the Hillards is also somewhat unclear, although he had been involved in the previous week's failed $600 deal. S.S.—who had been Goodpaster's girlfriend for about a month—did not know the Hillards at all. Like many others involved in this case, S.S. was addicted to methamphetamine. At trial, the defense explored S.S.'s credibility at some length and through various angles. Ultimately, the State never charged S.S. with any crimes in connection with the events of this case.

After their previous attempt to obtain methamphetamine failed, the Hillards again tried to acquire an ounce of methamphetamine through Goodpaster on November 5. As part of the purchase price, the Hillards provided Goodpaster with $185. The rest of the price was to come from a pistol supplied by a friend of Goodpaster. When Bussart contacted Goodpaster to inquire about the transaction, Goodpaster informed him that he had paid his rent at the hotel with a portion of the money, then given the rest to Cummings for an ounce of methamphetamine.

As they had in the case of the failed $600 deal, the Hillards enlisted the services of Morris, Bussart, and Scott in an effort to settle matters. When Cummings could not be found, Scott suggested that the group visit Goodpaster at the Executive Inn, where she knew him to be staying. Once there, Hillard directed Jeff, Bussart, and Morris to go to Goodpaster's room; but Hillard soon decided to follow. She asked Scott to go as backup, providing her with a set of brass knuckles in addition to the knife Scott already carried. Hillard was armed with a taser.

In the hotel room, the group found Goodpaster and S.S. and began discussing the missing money. When Scott attempted to contact Cummings about the methamphetamine, Cummings informed her that he had been pulled over and would be going to jail. If that were true, which some of them doubted, any methamphetamine he had would be seized.

For several possible reasons—including Scott's suggestion that S.S. might be an undercover police officer, that S.S. should be searched for a "wire," and that the whole exercise might be a setup—the group's suspicions quickly fell on S.S., who was evasive, defensive, and/or argumentative in response to their questioning. Accounts vary as to the level of verbal and physical abuse heaped upon S.S. in the hotel room.

The group remained in the hotel room for a couple of hours, but they only found frustration. Eventually, Hillard told everyone to "take a ride to cool off," so the group left sometime between 2:15 and 2:30 a.m. on the morning of November 6. S.S. did not want to leave with them but was surrounded and outnumbered; she did not scream because Hillard threatened her with a knife, saying "that if I acted like anything was happening ... I would get hurt." It is somewhat less clear whether Goodpaster also went willingly, but he went along nevertheless.

Goodpaster, Bussart, and Morris boarded a white truck, while Scott, the Hillards, and S.S. got into the group's other vehicle, an Equinox SUV. At Scott's request, the group dropped her off at a friend's house. Before departing, however, Scott obtained a white T-shirt for Hillard to use as a blindfold on S.S.

According to S.S., after Scott departed, Hillard tied S.S.'s hands behind her back and blindfolded her. During the ensuing drive, Hillard continued to demand S.S. "tell us the truth" while repeatedly tasing her. Hillard's questioning centered on her belief that Goodpaster and/or S.S. were trying to set the Hillards up in some way. When the SUV finally stopped, Jeff leaned into the back seat and one of the Hillards wrapped a cord or rope around S.S.'s neck. Then one of the Hillards—S.S. presumed it was Jeff—pulled her pants down and "put the taser inside me and tased me" several times "[i]nside my vagina area."

After that, S.S. told the Hillards that Goodpaster and another man were going to set them up so that law enforcement would get involved. S.S. claimed later that the story was false, but that she said it in order to stop the Hillards from hurting her further. The Hillards ultimately brought the still-blindfolded S.S. to the shed on their property and tied her arms to a chair with zip ties.

Meanwhile, Bussart, Morris, and Goodpaster were passing the time. After they arrived at the Hillards' property around 4:00 a.m., they got high on methamphetamine. Afterwards, they went inside and ate; Bussart apparently took a shower and a nap, while Morris and Goodpaster chatted. Eventually, Bussart noticed that the Equinox had returned, so he went to investigate. In the shed, Bussart found that the Hillards had S.S. blindfolded and sitting in a chair. As Bussart arrived, Hillard commanded S.S. to tell him that she and Goodpaster "had a plan to call DCF on the kids and call the police on the drugs" and then rob the residence once the Hillards were in jail. The Hillards then ordered Bussart to bring Goodpaster to the shed.

Once he arrived at the shed, Goodpaster was eventually forced to sit in a chair. Following an attempt to escape, he was zip-tied to the chair. Goodpaster repeatedly denied the existence of any plan to do the Hillards ill. Accounts vary of the ordeal that followed, but, generally, the evidence suggested that Hillard grew angry at Goodpaster's repeated denials and—with the aid of Jeff and Morris—began to torture him. Hillard cut into Goodpaster's earlobe and sliced his shorts open with a knife, threatening to remove one of his testicles while he screamed. (Jeff's iPhone recorded the audio of a roughly 80-minute portion of this interrogation, as discussed below.) The group then beat Goodpaster with a variety of improvised weapons, inserted cuticle sticks into his ears, strangled him with an extension cord, and attached a car battery—via jumper cables—to his nipples (although the battery turned out to be dead). According to S.S., Hillard said that "if he didn't tell her what was really going on, that they would eventually hang him." Bussart also recalled that someone mentioned hanging Goodpaster—possibly as a joke—but he claimed he was not paying attention.

The interrogation went on for hours, with the physical violence lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. At about 9:54 a.m., the Hillards' security system recorded Jeff leaving the shed to start up his motorcycle, ostensibly to drown out Goodpaster's screams. Shortly later, Bussart left the premises to procure some cigarettes. By that point, he had observed Goodpaster being either hit, cut, or threatened with the following items: a taser, fists, battery cables, an ax, a paint sprayer, and a knife. S.S. herself had hit Goodpaster at least once with a wooden stick, though she claimed it...

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