State v. Little, ED 101198

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtGary M. Gaertner, Jr., Judge
Citation473 S.W.3d 662
Parties State of Missouri, Respondent, v. Rufus Little, Appellant.
Decision Date01 September 2015
Docket NumberED 101198

473 S.W.3d 662

State of Missouri, Respondent,
v.
Rufus Little, Appellant.

ED 101198

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, DIVISION TWO .

FILED: September 1, 2015
Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Denied October 8, 2015
Application for Transfer Denied November 24, 2015


Amy E. Lowe, 1010 Market Street, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63101, for appellant.

Chris Koster, Richard A. Starnes, PO Box 899, Jefferson City, MO 65102, for respondent.

Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., Judge

Introduction

Rufus Little (Defendant) appeals from the sentence and judgment entered following a jury trial convicting him of assault in the second degree and child abuse. On appeal he asserts the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, failing to quash the entire venire panel, and finding him to be a prior and persistent offender. We affirm.

Background

The State charged Defendant as a prior and persistent offender with the class A felony of assault in the first degree (Count

473 S.W.3d 664

I) and the class C felony of abuse of a child (Count II), stemming from an incident when Defendant caused serious physical injury to his three-month-old son (K.L.) by shaking him. Before trial, Defendant filed a motion to suppress his statements made before and after his arrest, asserting his statements were not voluntary in that the interrogation was coercive and he was not advised of his Miranda rights.1 The trial court heard arguments on the motion to suppress where the following evidence was adduced.

Sergeant Jason Albers (Sergeant Albers) and Officer William Stevenson (Officer Stevenson) of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department testified that on December 11, 2011, they came to Defendant's home after medics had called to report possible child abuse. Officer Stevenson secured the scene and Sergeant Albers told Defendant about the report of abuse and asked Defendant "some questions about what happened." Sergeant Albers did not Mirandize Defendant before asking the questions. He did not handcuff Defendant because he "had no reason to," noting that he "didn't really know what was going on, other than ... just [wanting] to contain the scene, if there was a scene." He did not tell Defendant he could not leave but he told Defendant that some detectives would want to speak with him. While they waited for the detectives, Defendant made phone calls and moved about his home.

Also at the suppression hearing, Detective Daniel Fox (Detective Fox) testified to the following. He was a homicide detective for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and on December 11, 2011, he received a request for a homicide detective following an injury to a child. He and Detective Joseph Lankford went to the hospital to assess K.L.'s condition, and the doctor attending K.L. told the detectives that K.L. had serious bleeding in his brain and was not expected to survive. The doctor also told the detectives he suspected K.L. had fractured ribs2 and that K.L.'s injuries might be the result of abuse. No one suggested shaken baby syndrome specifically.

The detectives then went to Defendant's home where Defendant was with Sergeant Albers and Officer Stevenson. Detective Fox told Defendant that the police were investigating K.L.'s injury and asked Defendant to reenact briefly on camera what happened, in order to determine if there was a non-criminal explanation for K.L.'s injuries or if Defendant had been the only person present when the injury occurred. The video of the reenactment was 90 seconds long. Because Defendant revealed he was the only adult home and because his explanation did not account for K.L.'s injuries, Detective Fox requested that Sergeant Albers and Officer Stevenson place Defendant under arrest and bring him to the station for further questioning.

Once at the station, Detective Fox began the interrogation by reading Defendant his Miranda rights and asking him to explain in more detail what happened that night with K.L. Detective Fox testified that during his interrogation of Defendant, he did not threaten Defendant with the death penalty, did not make Defendant any promises, and did not knowingly lie to him. Defendant confessed to shaking K.L. and causing his injuries. After the suppression

473 S.W.3d 665

hearing, the trial court took the matter under advisement and before the start of trial denied Defendant's motion to suppress his statements to the police.

During voir dire, venireperson Annette Frazier (Frazier) identified herself as a caseworker for the Missouri Department of Social Services, Children's Division (Children's Division), and stated she worked with abused and neglected children. She stated she recognized the name of D.L., a potential witness in the case, and believed the children in the family were on her caseload. The trial court called Frazier to the bench where she clarified that although she knew she had a child named D.L. on her caseload, she was not positive that D.L. was the same D.L. who was a potential witness in this case, and she was not positive the children were in foster care. Counsel for Defendant then requested that the trial court strike the entire venire panel in light of Frazier's comment in front of the venire panel that D.L. and R.L. were in foster care. The trial court denied the request, noting that Frazier did not say the children were in foster care, but merely that she had them on her caseload.

At trial, the evidence revealed that on the night of December 11, 2015, Defendant called 911 to report that his 3–month–old son, K.L., was unresponsive. The emergency medical technician (EMT) arriving at the scene noted bruises on K.L.'s head, ligature marks around his neck, petechial in his eyes, which is a sign of asphyxiation, and that K.L.'s eyes were pointing to the left, which indicated a brain injury. From these physical indications, the EMT suspected shaken baby syndrome, which he whispered to his partner and to the firefighters at the scene. The EMT took K.L. to the hospital and Defendant remained home with his other children, R.L. and D.L.3 The pediatric critical care doctor who treated K.L. when he arrived at the hospital diagnosed K.L. with non-accidental trauma to his brain. The pediatric neurologist who treated K.L. testified that his injuries were consistent with having been shaken.

After Defendant was arrested and taken to the station for questioning, Detective Fox videotaped Defendant's entire four-hour detainment in the interrogation room. Defendant was handcuffed during the interrogation period by a long chain from one wrist to the floor. Over a period of four hours and twenty minutes, Detectives Fox and Lankford interviewed Defendant three times for approximately an hour total of interrogation time. Detective Fox gave Defendant Miranda warnings at the start of the interrogation but not again after each break. Detective Fox explained to Defendant that he had been arrested because his earlier explanation for what happened did not match K.L.'s injuries, which were broken ribs inconsistent with CPR and blood in his brain. Defendant was surprised by the report of broken ribs and posited that he could have done that while trying to resuscitate K.L. When the detectives asked Defendant if it was possible that he squeezed K.L. too hard due to the nerve damage in his hands,4 Defendant agreed it was possible he did so by accident while trying to calm K.L.'s crying before he went to bed. Defendant denied shaking K.L. or being rough with him. Defendant provided the same explanation

473 S.W.3d 666

he had before: that K.L. had had vaccinations earlier that day and was fussy, that he had discovered K.L. unresponsive about an hour and a half after putting him down to sleep, and that approximately one week earlier, K.L. had fallen off the bed and hit his head.

Detective Fox challenged Defendant that K.L.'s injuries had occurred that night and Defendant was the only person in the home capable of inflicting the injuries. He warned that if K.L. died of his injuries and Defendant had not provided an explanation for his mindset, he would have to assume the injuries to K.L. were intentional, in which case Defendant would be charged with the highest level of charge, which was first-degree murder. When asked if he knew what the sentence was for first-degree murder, Defendant responded that it was the death penalty. Detective Fox told Defendant he needed to explain if the injuries were an accident because then they would be "looking at something very different from murder first." Defendant then acknowledged he shook K.L. "a little" while he was trying to calm him down and that K.L.'s head was bouncing. Finally, Defendant admitted that he was overwhelmed and had been frustrated with his older two children, R.L. and D.L., and that he lost control and "exploded," taking his frustration out on K.L., who had been crying. Defendant was adamant that he did not mean to shake K.L. or to harm him, and that he did not realize he had injured K.L. until he discovered K.L. unresponsive an hour and a half later.

At the prior and persistent hearing, the State entered exhibits 100 and 101, authenticated copies of court records from Virginia stating Defendant pled guilty to felony possession of cocaine on...

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6 practice notes
  • State v. Joseph, No. ED 103554
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • December 6, 2016
    ...App. E.D. 2005). Whether a suspect was in custody at the time of questioning is an issue of law we review de novo . State v. Little , 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). A criminal suspect is entitled to Miranda warnings to protect his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,......
  • State v. Trent, No. SD 36468
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • December 15, 2020
    ...624 (Mo. banc 2016) ). Whether a suspect was in custody for Miranda purposes is an issue of law that we review de novo. State v. Little , 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). The right to Miranda warnings is not triggered during non-custodial interrogations. State v. Glass , 136 S.W.3d......
  • State v. Barnett, No. ED 103062
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • September 13, 2016
    ...absent manifest error. Id. However, whether a suspect was in custody is an issue of law that we review de novo. State v. Little, 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo.App.E.D.2015). A criminal suspect is entitled to Miranda warnings, consistent with his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, o......
  • State v. Schneider, No. ED 102582
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • March 15, 2016
    ...the credibility of witnesses. Id. However, whether a suspect was in custody is an issue of law that we review de novo. State v. Little, 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo.App.E.D. 2015).483 S.W.3d 501B. Totality of the Circumstances Test Statements made during a custodial interrogation are inadmissibl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • State v. Joseph, No. ED 103554
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • December 6, 2016
    ...App. E.D. 2005). Whether a suspect was in custody at the time of questioning is an issue of law we review de novo . State v. Little , 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). A criminal suspect is entitled to Miranda warnings to protect his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,......
  • State v. Trent, No. SD 36468
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • December 15, 2020
    ...624 (Mo. banc 2016) ). Whether a suspect was in custody for Miranda purposes is an issue of law that we review de novo. State v. Little , 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). The right to Miranda warnings is not triggered during non-custodial interrogations. State v. Glass , 136 S.W.3d......
  • State v. Barnett, No. ED 103062
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • September 13, 2016
    ...absent manifest error. Id. However, whether a suspect was in custody is an issue of law that we review de novo. State v. Little, 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo.App.E.D.2015). A criminal suspect is entitled to Miranda warnings, consistent with his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, o......
  • State v. Schneider, No. ED 102582
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • March 15, 2016
    ...the credibility of witnesses. Id. However, whether a suspect was in custody is an issue of law that we review de novo. State v. Little, 473 S.W.3d 662, 667 (Mo.App.E.D. 2015).483 S.W.3d 501B. Totality of the Circumstances Test Statements made during a custodial interrogation are inadmissibl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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