State v. Jones, No. 24406-0-I

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
Writing for the CourtWINSOR; GROSSE, Acting C.J., and PEKELIS
Citation801 P.2d 263,59 Wn.App. 744
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Ronald Hampton JONES, Appellant. Division 1
Docket NumberNo. 24406-0-I
Decision Date10 December 1990

Page 744

59 Wn.App. 744
801 P.2d 263
STATE of Washington, Respondent,
v.
Ronald Hampton JONES, Appellant.
No. 24406-0-I.
Court of Appeals of Washington,
Division 1.
Dec. 10, 1990.

[801 P.2d 264]

Page 745

Appellate Defenders, Lenell Nussbaum, Seattle, for appellant Ronald Hampton Jones.

Norm Maleng, King County Pros. Atty. and Lynn E. Moberly, Deputy County Pros. Atty., Seattle, for respondent the State.

WINSOR, Judge.

Ronald Hampton Jones appeals his conviction and sentence for manslaughter in the first degree. He argues that expert opinion evidence on the victim's cause of death improperly invaded the province of the jury, and that the trial court erred in imposing an exceptional sentence based on the vulnerability of the victim. We affirm.

On September 13, 1988, Jones babysat his 4-month old son, Kaylon, while his wife Phyllis was at work. Kaylon

Page 746

appeared normal and healthy when Phyllis left for work. Jones called Phyllis around 4:15 p.m., however, and reported that Kaylon had stopped breathing.

Medics arrived at the Jones' residence some time around 4 p.m., but were unable to revive the infant. When the medics left the scene, they believed the cause of death to be Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While examining Kaylon's body the next day, however, Dr. Schmunk, an assistant medical examiner for King County, noticed that the child had a bump on the side of his head. He also noticed bruising on Kaylon's back. Upon performing an autopsy, Dr. Schmunk discovered internal bleeding beneath the scalp and a complex skull fracture. Dr. Schmunk determined that the skull fracture was the cause of Kaylon's death.

Two days after Kaylon's death, Jones was questioned by a Seattle police detective. At first, Jones stated that he had put Kaylon down for a nap in the afternoon. When Jones went in to check on him about a half-hour later, Kaylon had stopped breathing. Jones also stated that Kaylon may have hit his head the week before as a result of his older brother pushing him off the couch.

While questioning Jones, the police interviewer learned of the medical examiner's conclusion that Kaylon died as a result of a complex skull fracture. When informed of this conclusion, Jones changed his story. [801 P.2d 265] Jones then told the interviewer that he had yanked Kaylon out of a baby swing in an effort to make him stop crying, and accidentally bumped the baby's head on the iron top bar of the swing.

Police recovered the swing from Jones' residence and showed it to Dr. Schmunk as well as Dr. Reay, the Chief King County Medical Examiner, and Dr. Ken Feldman, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse cases. After examining the swing, all opined that the severity of Kaylon's injury was inconsistent with Jones' explanation. Jones was charged with first degree manslaughter.

At trial, the State called Dr. Schmunk, Dr. Feldman, and Dr. Reay to testify. Over a defense objection, Dr. Feldman

Page 747

testified that in his opinion, the injury was "a non-accidental blunt injury." He further explained how he arrived at that conclusion:

Whenever we are making the judgment, we look at two things: the history of the injury and the injury itself, and whether the history explains the trauma we see or not.

In this case, we're not offered any plausible historical evidence or plausible historical data for the injuries received, and the characteristics of the injury are very impressive, very discrete, and if there had been a history to explain it, it would have been a very obvious accidental history.

Dr. Feldman also stated his reasons for disbelieving Jones' story that the injury resulted from the swing:

[O]ne is that this history wasn't derived until after the defendant was aware that the child had died of blunt impact. It wasn't revealed initially.

Number two: If an infant who was angry and struggling, such as this child was, was lifted from the swing, chances are the legs would have hung up and something that top-heavy would have tipped over rather than the child coming up out of it and striking the top.

Number three: To lift a child out of there is a position of mechanical disadvantage. It's hard to get a lot of inertia in lifting something out of the swing. I guess we're up to about four. If the child in fact had come free of there and had been lifted, the swing itself has very little mass, and we know that injuries of this type require a great deceleration, velocity striking the immovable mass. That is not an immovable mass.

. . . . .

... Number five, I guess: If the child had been lifted out--a child that age does not have much neck tone. One would have expected the head to have flopped forward. The point of impact would likely have been about the crown. This child's point of impact was far on the side, so the head would have had to have fallen acutely off to the side. Unusual position to occur for an injury like that.

Six: There are sharp surfaces there. Everything was un-unique. The scalp--if the child had struck that with force, likely there would have been some surface evidence of trauma where the line of the swing struck the child. And in sum, there just isn't enough force--the types of injuries that cause this sort of fracture, this sort of head injury, require much greater force than you could have ever generated with an accident scenario like that.

He also testified that Kaylon's fracture could not have occurred as a result from a fall from a bed or couch, but instead would have to have resulted from a force equivalent to a 6 or 8 foot fall onto a hard surface or an automobile accident.

Page 748

Dr. Feldman also discounted the possibility that Kaylon had received the injury prior to the day of his death. He opined that an impact rendered Kaylon unconscious and that he stayed unconscious until his death shortly thereafter.

Dr. Reay also testified. He, too, opined that the injury was inflicted, stating:

The nature of the injury is such that this injury could only really be sustained by some sort of inflicted manner, whether it be an object, including a hand or a fist or some other object. I think the usual activity that a four-month-old child [801 P.2d 266] would experience would not expose him to that kind of injury.

Dr. Reay also testified that unconsciousness probably occurred shortly after impact, and that death probably occurred within 10-15 minutes after impact.

The jury was instructed on both first and second degree manslaughter, as well as excusable homicide. Jones was convicted of first degree manslaughter. The court imposed an exceptional sentence of 82 months, twice the upper standard range, based on the following finding: "The victim being only 4 months old left in the sole custody of the defendant was particularly vu[l]nerable & helpless."

I.

EXPERT TESTIMONY

Jones first argues that by allowing Dr. Feldman and Dr. Reay to testify that they believed the injury to be inflicted, the trial court allowed improper opinion evidence of guilt and credibility. He further contends that it was only their dissatisfaction with his explanation of the cause of the injuries which led them to that conclusion. The result of this improper evidence, Jones concludes, is that the testimony invaded the jury's role as the judge of credibility. He relies on State v. Black, 109 Wash.2d 336, 348, 745 P.2d 12 (1987), and State v. Fitzgerald, 39 Wash.App. 652, 694 P.2d 1117 (1985).

In Black, an expert witness testified to the existence of a specific profile of symptoms exhibited by rape victims,

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known as the rape trauma syndrome. The expert also specifically testified that the victim in that case fit the profile. 109 Wash.2d at 339, 745 P.2d 12. In reviewing the propriety of admission of that evidence, the Supreme Court found that the rape trauma syndrome was not a scientifically reliable means of proving lack of consent in a rape case, and the expert's testimony that the victim fit the profile invaded the province of the jury. An expert's opinion that the victim suffered from rape trauma syndrome, in essence, improperly told the jury that the victim was telling the truth. 109 Wash.2d at 348-50, 745 P.2d 12.

In Fitzgerald, an expert physician testified that, based on her interview with two complaining witnesses, she believed they had been molested....

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37 practice notes
  • State v. Farr-Lenzini, FARR-LENZIN
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 8 janvier 1999
    ...of the average layperson, and does not mislead the jury to the prejudice of the opposing party." State v. Jones, 59 Wash.App. 744, 750, 801 P.2d 263 (1990) (citing State v. Cunningham, 23 Wash.App. 826, 854, 598 P.2d 756 (1979), rev'd on other grounds, 93 Wash.2d 823, 613 P.2d 1139 (1980)).......
  • State v. Cahill, No. 30885-1-II (WA 3/14/2006), No. 30885-1-II.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 14 mars 2006
    ...of caseworkers, Dolan, 118 Wn. App. at 328; police officers, Heatley, 70 Wn. App. at 578; and other experts, see State v. Jones, 59 Wn. App. 744, 748, 801 P.2d 263 (1990), review denied, 116 Wn.2d 1021 (1991). But it remains improper for lay witnesses to state a direct or inferential opinio......
  • Mancini v. City of Tacoma, NO. 97583-3
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 28 janvier 2021
    ...on the standard of care to be employed by such professionals was appropriate in this case. See State v. Jones , 59 Wash. App. 744, 750, 801 P.2d 263 (1990) ("The basic approach of the current rules of evidence is to admit expert opinions when helpful to the trier of fact. ER 702."). "Genera......
  • State v. Cahill, 30885-1-II.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 14 mars 2006
    ...73 P.3d 1011; police officers, Heatley, 70 Wash.App. at 578, 854 P.2d 658; and other experts, see State v. Jones, 59 Wash.App. 744, 748, 801 P.2d 263 (1990), review denied, 116 Wash.2d 1021, 811 P.2d 219 (1991). But it remains improper for lay witnesses to state a direct or inferential opin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • State v. Farr-Lenzini, FARR-LENZIN
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 8 janvier 1999
    ...of the average layperson, and does not mislead the jury to the prejudice of the opposing party." State v. Jones, 59 Wash.App. 744, 750, 801 P.2d 263 (1990) (citing State v. Cunningham, 23 Wash.App. 826, 854, 598 P.2d 756 (1979), rev'd on other grounds, 93 Wash.2d 823, 613 P.2d 1139 (1980)).......
  • State v. Cahill, No. 30885-1-II (WA 3/14/2006), No. 30885-1-II.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 14 mars 2006
    ...of caseworkers, Dolan, 118 Wn. App. at 328; police officers, Heatley, 70 Wn. App. at 578; and other experts, see State v. Jones, 59 Wn. App. 744, 748, 801 P.2d 263 (1990), review denied, 116 Wn.2d 1021 (1991). But it remains improper for lay witnesses to state a direct or inferential opinio......
  • Mancini v. City of Tacoma, NO. 97583-3
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • 28 janvier 2021
    ...on the standard of care to be employed by such professionals was appropriate in this case. See State v. Jones , 59 Wash. App. 744, 750, 801 P.2d 263 (1990) ("The basic approach of the current rules of evidence is to admit expert opinions when helpful to the trier of fact. ER 702."). "Genera......
  • State v. Cahill, 30885-1-II.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 14 mars 2006
    ...73 P.3d 1011; police officers, Heatley, 70 Wash.App. at 578, 854 P.2d 658; and other experts, see State v. Jones, 59 Wash.App. 744, 748, 801 P.2d 263 (1990), review denied, 116 Wash.2d 1021, 811 P.2d 219 (1991). But it remains improper for lay witnesses to state a direct or inferential opin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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