State v. Huddleston, No. 106,273.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas
Writing for the CourtThe opinion of the court was delivered by LUCKERT
Citation298 Kan. 941,318 P.3d 140
PartiesSTATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Sharon HUDDLESTON, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 106,273.
Decision Date14 February 2014

298 Kan. 941
318 P.3d 140

STATE of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Sharon HUDDLESTON, Appellant.

No. 106,273.

Supreme Court of Kansas.

Feb. 14, 2014.


[318 P.3d 142]



Syllabus by the Court

1. A prosecutor misstates the law by indicating that premeditation can occur after a defendant commits an act that results in a death.

2. A prosecutor's misstatements of the law, even if gross and flagrant, do not require reversal where there is no showing of ill will on the part of the prosecutor, the prosecutor's misstatements are a small part of the prosecution's argument, the statements are tempered by other statements that correctly state the law, the jury instructions correctly state the law, and the evidence is sufficient to convince an appellate court beyond a reasonable doubt that the misstatements did not affect the outcome of the trial.

3. A jury may draw an inference of intent when a defendant's actions or words demonstrate that the defendant is conscious of his or her guilt. Evidence of a consciousness of guilt may also be relevant to show identity, plan, or other matters.

4. Under the facts of this case, reasonable people could agree with the trial judge's determination that the probative value of the defendant's letters providing circumstantial evidence of his or her intent when committing an act that caused death outweighed any prejudice caused by vague references in the letters to the defendant's incarceration.


Meryl Carver–Allmond, of Capital Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

Boyd K. Isherwood, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Nola Tedesco Foulston, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with him on the brief for appellee.


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

In this direct appeal, Sharon Huddleston presents two arguments for reversing her conviction of premeditated first- degree murder. We reject both arguments. As to her first issue, although we agree the two prosecutors who made arguments to the jury misstated the law by suggesting premeditation could occur after a homicidal act, we conclude it is not reasonably probable that these misstatements affected the outcome of the trial given the strong evidence of premeditation, the jury instructions, and the prosecutors' correct statements of the law regarding premeditation. As to the second issue, we hold the trial judge did not err when he admitted into evidence two jailhouse letters written by Huddleston because the letters were relevant and reasonable people could agree with the trial judge's assessment that their probative value outweighed any potential prejudicial impact.

[318 P.3d 143]

Facts and Procedural Background

Huddleston's conviction for premeditated first-degree murder arose from the death of Todd Stover in 2000. No charges were brought in the case for over 10 years.

In May 2000, Stover's body was found in a ditch by the side of a dirt road in Greenwood County. Because of decomposition, Stover's face was unrecognizable, but forensic scientists were able to identify him by his fingerprints. At that time, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) was assigned to the case. The KBI discovered that Stover's family had last seen him approximately 13 days earlier and that Stover had been picked up from an apartment in Wichita around May 25, 2000, between 9 and 10 a.m. by three women in a tan, four-door sedan. The only name the KBI developed was “Rhonda,” who was possibly living in the Park City area. These leads were insufficient to produce a suspect or suspects at that time.

The investigation became dormant and remained so for many years until, in March 2010, law enforcement officers in Carthage, Missouri, contacted the Park City Police Department and reported that a woman named Sharon Edwards had information regarding a 10–year–old murder involving Sharon Huddleston and Rhonda Pischel. Upon looking for unsolved murders in the area, a Park City police officer came across the case involving Stover in Greenwood County. The officer contacted the KBI for assistance, and Edwards, Huddleston, and Pischel were located and interviewed.

At the time of Stover's death in 2000, Huddleston and Edwards had been domestic partners who lived in Park City with Pischel, Huddleston's sister. The three women had been acquainted with Stover through his friendship with Pischel. In the years between Stover's death in 2000 and Edwards' report to law enforcement in 2010, the three women had moved to separate residences.

Officers first interviewed Huddleston on May 27, 2010. She acknowledged she had been in a relationship with Edwards in 2000, but she denied knowing Stover. When the officers showed her a photograph of Stover, Huddleston said she did not recognize him. At one point in the interview, however, Huddleston said her sister, Pischel, had been “involved” with a tall, skinny man with a ponytail. These details matched the general description of Stover's body as it was discovered in 2000. According to Huddleston, Pischel's friend had spent one night at the Park City house and “they” had driven him back to an apartment in Wichita the next day.

On June 24, 2010, officers conducted a second interview with Huddleston at her residence. This time she admitted that she had known Stover and that he had promised to get her a job. Huddleston explained that she got angry because she had spent money on Stover but he did not actually have the resources to get her a job. Huddleston felt Stover was “conning her out of money,” which made her feel stupid. She told Edwards that she “wanted to kill that son of a bitch.” Edwards, who was diabetic, suggested that Huddleston could kill him by giving him a shot of insulin. Huddleston indicated she considered Edwards' plan for a couple of days. At another point in the interview, Huddleston also mentioned Stover's alleged mistreatment of a disabled veteran at a Wichita bar. She told officers that she felt like a “vigilante,” paying Stover back for the way he treated the veteran.

According to Huddleston's statement, on a May morning in 2000, the three women—Huddleston, Edwards, and Pischel—drove Edwards' tan 2000 Mitsubishi Diamante sedan to an apartment in Wichita where Stover was staying. When they arrived, Huddleston looked into the apartment window and saw Stover sleeping on the floor. They roused him, and the foursome got into the car and drove back to the Park City house. When they arrived, Huddleston and the others got drunk and used cocaine.

Around 2 or 2:30 p.m., Huddleston injected insulin twice into Stover's back as he walked from the kitchen into the living room. Huddleston indicated that each injection contained half a bottle of insulin or 50 units; thus, Stover received approximately 100 units of insulin. When Huddleston first injected Stover, he turned to her and said, “[Y]ou just gave me a shot of insulin.” Huddleston told him, “[N]o, it was Valium.” She

[318 P.3d 144]

told Stover to go lie down and that he would be okay.

The insulin overdose caused a long, drawn-out death. Shortly after the injections, Stover lay down in one of the bedrooms. Around 6 p.m., Edwards left for work. By that time, Stover was having trouble breathing and was sweating, so Huddleston and Pischel decided to move him to a couch in the garage. Huddleston revealed that at some point after taking Stover to the garage, they tried to counteract his low blood sugar level by attempting to put “sugar water” into his veins, but this technique did not work. Huddleston went to rest in her bedroom while Pischel stayed with Stover for a while, holding his head and combing his hair. Eventually Pischel also left Stover and went to sleep. Around 11 p.m., Pischel woke up and, upon looking into the garage, saw that Stover was not breathing. She woke up Huddleston, and they went into the garage together.

Huddleston determined Stover was dead. She explained to the officers that she had training and experience as a nurse's aide and, therefore, was able to make the determination of death. She also indicated that because of her training and experience she knew the effects of insulin on a nondiabetic person and knew it would eventually cause the heart to stop. But at various points during her interview, Huddleston also said she “didn't mean to kill him,” she “just wanted to knock his ass out,” and she merely wanted to “mess him up.” At other times she equivocated by stating, “I didn't think it would really kill him. In a way I did and in a way I didn't.”

Recounting what happened after Huddleston determined Stover was dead, Huddleston told the officers she drove her pickup truck to Edwards' place of employment and traded vehicles with her. Huddleston then drove the tan Diamante back home, where she and Pischel loaded Stover's body into the trunk and covered it with a blanket, planning to dump the body into Grand Lake in Oklahoma. On their journey, the body started to have a foul odor. They decided to stop and dispose of the body in a field, but when they got the body out of the trunk, it was too heavy for them to carry. So Huddleston and Pischel left the body in a ditch near the road. They took the blanket with them on their drive back to Wichita and disposed of it in a construction-site dumpster. Huddleston also power washed the vehicle's trunk.

Huddleston admitted to law enforcement officers that she had told her daughter and another sister about the incident. Through more investigation, the officers learned that Huddleston had also told another individual, Albert Greenly, about the incident and had pointed out to him the location where she had dumped the body.

At trial, Huddleston's statements were admitted into evidence. In addition, over defense counsel's objections, the court admitted two jailhouse letters written by Huddleston to Pischel. We will discuss the contents of the letters in more detail, but both letters implicated Huddleston in the events surrounding Stover's death and...

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61 practice notes
  • State v. Smith, No. 104,245.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • June 27, 2014
    ...(3) substantial competent evidence does not support a finding of fact on which the exercise of discretion is based. State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 960, 318 P.3d 140 (2014). But “[w]hen the adequacy of the legal basis of a district judge's decision on admission or exclusion of evidence i......
  • State v. Crawford, No. 103,881.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 19, 2014
    ...have had little weight in the minds of jurors. No one factor is controlling. Tosh, 278 Kan. at 93, 91 P.3d 1204; see State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 953–54, 318 P.3d 140 (2014); Bridges, 297 Kan. at 1012, 306 P.3d 244. The Court of Appeals panel cited and applied these factors. Crawford,......
  • State v. Crawford, 103,881.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 19, 2014
    ...have had little weight in the minds of jurors. No one factor is controlling. Tosh, 278 Kan. at 93, 91 P.3d 1204 ; see State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 953–54, 318 P.3d 140 (2014) ; Bridges, 297 Kan. at 1012, 306 P.3d 244.The Court of Appeals panel cited and applied these factors. Crawford......
  • State v. Kettler, No. 103,272.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • May 23, 2014
    ...instructions, the court's guidance served to mitigate any potential harm caused by the prosecutor's statements. See State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 956, 318 P.3d 140 (2014) (“Although these instructions do not give the prosecutor a free pass on misconduct, they are appropriate considerat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
62 cases
  • State v. Smith, No. 104,245.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • June 27, 2014
    ...(3) substantial competent evidence does not support a finding of fact on which the exercise of discretion is based. State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 960, 318 P.3d 140 (2014). But “[w]hen the adequacy of the legal basis of a district judge's decision on admission or exclusion of evidence i......
  • State v. Crawford, No. 103,881.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 19, 2014
    ...have had little weight in the minds of jurors. No one factor is controlling. Tosh, 278 Kan. at 93, 91 P.3d 1204; see State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 953–54, 318 P.3d 140 (2014); Bridges, 297 Kan. at 1012, 306 P.3d 244. The Court of Appeals panel cited and applied these factors. Crawford,......
  • State v. Crawford, 103,881.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 19, 2014
    ...have had little weight in the minds of jurors. No one factor is controlling. Tosh, 278 Kan. at 93, 91 P.3d 1204 ; see State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 953–54, 318 P.3d 140 (2014) ; Bridges, 297 Kan. at 1012, 306 P.3d 244.The Court of Appeals panel cited and applied these factors. Crawford......
  • State v. Kettler, No. 103,272.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • May 23, 2014
    ...instructions, the court's guidance served to mitigate any potential harm caused by the prosecutor's statements. See State v. Huddleston, 298 Kan. 941, 956, 318 P.3d 140 (2014) (“Although these instructions do not give the prosecutor a free pass on misconduct, they are appropriate considerat......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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