State v. Watts

Decision Date28 December 1983
Docket NumberNo. 18847,18847
Citation675 P.2d 566
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. DeLyle V. WATTS, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Sumner J. Hatch, Salt Lake City, for defendant and appellant.

Robert N. Parrish, Salt Lake City, for plaintiff and respondent.

HOWE, Justice:

A jury convicted the defendant of second degree murder in the death of fourteen month old Christopher Goodman, after the trial judge denied defendant's motions to dismiss and to direct a verdict of acquittal. Defendant claims that the evidence was insufficient to link him to the crime and thus the trial court should not have submitted the case to the jury. We recapitulate the facts in a light most favorable to the jury verdict.

Defendant and Deborah Goodman, mother of Christopher and of another son, three year old Adam, met in April of 1981. About September 12, 1981, defendant and Deborah moved into a home together. Deborah had a part-time job, and defendant babysat both children during her absence. One incident, requiring medical attention, had happened shortly before the couple established a common household. On September 1, defendant was alone with Christopher. Deborah returned home from the doctor just moments after defendant had pushed Christopher with sufficient force and pressure to lift him off the ground and cause him to fall on his head. The resulting triangular bruise extended from the bridge of his nose to the hairline. The child vomited two hours later and the mother took him to the doctor because she feared a concussion. Defendant's explanation for that incident was that Christopher "didn't want his mother to leave and had been a little monster." He was picking at the plants, rolling the records and throwing food on the floor. Defendant had become upset. Photographs admitted into evidence showed that on that day Christopher had three bruises on his face and two on his back. Defendant left Deborah's home immediately after the incident.

On Saturday, September 19, Deborah left for work around 10:00 a.m. and defendant testified that he awoke the children shortly thereafter. He changed Christopher after breakfast when he noticed his runny diaper. Defendant admitted that he did not like changing diapers and that he was upset with the baby, but not enough to hurt him. He put him in the bathtub to rinse him off with a shower massage. The child screamed when he sprayed him but stopped after defendant finished. Deborah's two brothers dropped in around 11:30 a.m. Defendant sprayed Christopher once more with the showerhead before he put the children down for a nap. Purportedly Deborah's brothers were there at that time. When Deborah returned home around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. she noticed that the children were sleeping longer than normal. Defendant then told her that the thump they had heard in the children's bedroom directly above theirs around 6:00 a.m. earlier that day probably was Christopher falling out of his crib; that he was on the floor outside his bed when defendant picked him up that morning. Deborah went to wake the children at 4:30 p.m. and noticed that Christopher had just vomited. The child had been well the night before when she had last seen him. Deborah took his temperature and it registered at 101? . She bathed him and noticed three scratches near his navel. She and the defendant felt the child's stomach to see if he was hurting. The child winced and they took their hands off. Christopher was listless and threw up twice more that night.

On Sunday, September 20, Christopher drifted in and out of sleep. He had no bowel movement but was grunting. He could not hold food down. He continued vomiting. His temperature was 102? . That night he had a fine blue or silver line around his lips. His stomach started to get hard and swollen. Defendant left the house after he had a quarrel with Deborah over whether they should have moved in together. He spent the night outdoors and went to his mother's house the next morning.

On Monday, September 21, Christopher's condition worsened. A blue bruise started to appear around the navel. His stomach was hard and hot and his feet were cold. Blue blotches appeared on his legs. Deborah called the doctor in the early afternoon and took the child to the hospital around sunset. Christopher died on the way there.

The night after Christopher died, Deborah had a conversation with the defendant in which he said "I hope I didn't hurt him when I put my hand on his stomach."

The State Medical Examiner's credentials included a publication he had written on blunt force injuries. He testified that an external autopsy performed on Christopher on September 22 revealed numerous bruises, predominantly on his left side, estimated to be 3 to 4 days old. An internal examination revealed three bruises of the scalp, two in the area of the left ear and one on top of the head. There was a depressed skull fracture above and behind the left ear, apparently the result of a blow struck by the corner of an object, consistent with the corners of the showerhead. The fracture and bruises were 3 to 4 days old. The skull fracture had to have been caused by the application of a great deal of force. It was a definite coup injury, an injury medically defined as resulting from a moving object hitting the stationary head. An internal examination of the child's abdomen revealed a perforation of the small intestine with resulting peritonitis, again 3 to 4 days old. The rupture was caused by a severe blow from an object sustained in the area of the external bruise near the umbilicus, again consistent with the size of the showerhead. The medical examiner determined the cause of death as peritonitis, probably contributed to by the head injury, and the manner of death as a homicide. The general health of the child, apart from the separate injuries to the head, face, front and back of the body, was good. There was no evidence of any natural disease.

Reduced to essentials, the issue is simply whether there was evidence adduced at trial from which the jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of murder in the second degree. Contradictory testimony alone is not sufficient to disturb a jury verdict. To overturn a verdict on appeal for insufficiency of evidence, this Court must find that reasonable minds must necessarily entertain a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt. State v. Petree, Utah, 659 P.2d 443 (1983); State v. Nebeker, Utah, 657 P.2d 1359 (1983); State v. Howell, Utah, 649 P.2d 91 (1982). Nor is it our function to determine guilt or innocence or the credibility of conflicting evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom. State v. McCardell, Utah, 652 P.2d 942 (1982); State v. Wilson, Utah, 565 P.2d 66 (1977); State v. Romero, Utah, 554 P.2d 216 (1976).

The defendant assails the jury verdict on the ground that there was not a scintilla of evidence in the record from which the jury could have found the defendant guilty of murder in the second degree. He maintains that the jury failed to consider the included crimes of manslaughter or negligent homicide, but fails to buttress that contention by more than bald assertions.

The jury was instructed on the elements of murder in the second degree, manslaughter and negligent homicide. U.C.A., 1953, §§ 76-5-203, 76-5-205 and 76-5-206 respectively. In defining negligent homicide for the jury, the court instructed it that "criminal negligence," was the failure to perceive a risk, a deviation from ordinary care which is marked by conduct that is of an utterly careless nature with an indifference to consequences. To find the defendant guilty of the crime of manslaughter, the jury was instructed that it must find the defendant to have acted unlawfully and recklessly, or that he acted under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable excuse. The jury was instructed on those elements of murder in the second degree applicable to this defendant set out in § 76-5-203 as follows:

Criminal homicide constitutes murder in the second degree if the actor:

(a) Intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another; or

(b) Intending to cause serious bodily injury to another, he commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of another; or

(c) Acting under circumstances evidencing a depraved indifference to human life, he engaged in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another and thereby causes the death of another;

The essential terms of that section, as well as the lesser included offenses just referred to, were defined for the jury in language directly borrowed from the statute, gainsaying defendant's inference that no consideration was given to the instructions on manslaughter and negligent homicide. It thus became the task of the jury to assess the manifestation of the defendant's conduct under various distinct degrees of culpability: (1) his failure to perceive the risk of death, § 76-2-103(4), constituting negligent homicide; (2) his conscious awareness of, but equally conscious disregard for, the probable consequences of his conduct, § 76-2-103(3), constituting manslaughter; and (3) intent, knowledge or "depraved indifference" as set out under § 76-5-203 ante. "Depraved indifference to human life" is a term not defined in the statute, State v. Day, Utah, 572 P.2d 703 (1977), but defined for the jury as "evidenced by ill will, hatred, spite or evil intent. A 'depraved' mind is a mind which has become inflamed by some cause to such a degree that it ceases to care for human life and safety."

It is the exclusive province of the jury to grade the degree of culpability. Intent need not be directly proved but may be inferred. State v. Wardle, Utah, 564 P.2d 764 (1977). The conduct and circumstances manifesting...

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