Stephenson v. State, 87S00-9605-DP-398.

Citation742 N.E.2d 463
Case DateJanuary 25, 2001
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

742 N.E.2d 463

John M. STEPHENSON, Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below)

No. 87S00-9605-DP-398.

Supreme Court of Indiana.

January 25, 2001.

742 N.E.2d 470
Brent Westerfield, Indianapolis, IN, Janet S. Dowling, Albuquerque, NM, Attorneys for Appellant

Jeffrey A. Modisett, Attorney General of Indiana, Michael A. Hurst, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

742 N.E.2d 464
742 N.E.2d 465
742 N.E.2d 466
742 N.E.2d 467
742 N.E.2d 468

742 N.E.2d 469

After an eight-month jury trial with a record of proceedings covering 33,000 pages, Defendant John Matthew Stephenson was convicted of three murders and sentenced to death. He now appeals his convictions and sentences, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions, the trial court committed reversible error in several respects, and the death sentence was not appropriate. We find the testimony of the State's two key witnesses and additional circumstantial evidence sufficient to support the convictions. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reject Defendant's claims that the trial court both improperly allowed certain hearsay, opinion, prior misconduct evidence, and photographic evidence and improperly refused evidence of a State's witness's criminal history. We also analyze and reject Defendant's claims that his convictions and sentence should be reversed because of alleged juror misconduct in compiling notes on a home computer, prosecutorial misconduct in several respects, violations of his right to a speedy trial, and three violations of his right to be present at all critical stages of the proceedings. Lastly, we review his challenge to the propriety of the death sentence and find the sentence to be appropriate.


In large part because Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, we will present the facts in some detail. In the early evening on March 28, 1996, Defendant John Matthew Stephenson and his friend, Dale Funk, drove around Warrick County. The two ended up at the residence of Brian Mossberger, a friend of the Defendant and an acquaintance of Funk. While there, Defendant and Funk shot off rounds of firearms with Defendant shooting his own SKS assault rifle. Defendant and Funk left to go target shooting at a railroad crossing on Red Brush Road located near Mossberger's home. Afterwards, Defendant, who was still accompanied by Funk, drove to the mobile home of Brandy Southard and her fiance, Troy Napier. According to Funk's testimony, they both got out of the car and walked around the mobile home. Defendant yelled for someone but after no one answered, Funk returned to the car and Defendant proceeded toward the mobile home. A few moments later, Funk observed Defendant walk out the front door carrying a splitting maul.

Defendant and Funk returned to Mossberger's house. Shortly thereafter, a pick-up truck briefly pulled into Mossberger's driveway. John "Jay" Tyler was the driver of the truck and his wife, Kathy Tyler, and friend Brandy Southard were the passengers. Mossberger testified that Defendant said, "There goes Jay and I've got to catch him." (R. at 24,669.) Funk testified that Defendant said, "If you're coming, come on." (R. at 23,969.)

The evidence as to what happened next comes solely from Funk's testimony at trial. Funk testified that Defendant began chasing the Tyler truck through Warrick County rural roads. The Tyler truck stopped at the intersection of Eble and Youngblood roads and Defendant also stopped his car. The driver-side door of the truck opened slightly, and Jay leaned out of the truck to look at Defendant. At that point, Defendant grabbed his SKS assault rifle, exited the car, and began firing several shots at the Tyler truck. Defendant got back into the car, drove around a corner, stopped his car and got

742 N.E.2d 471
out. Defendant walked towards the Tyler truck and returned a few minutes later. Defendant threatened Funk stating, "You breathe a word of this and I'll kill you." (R. at 23,980.)

Defendant and Funk then drove directly back to Mossberger's house. Mossberger testified that Defendant held a knife with "red smears" on the blade, by his (Defendant's) face and said, "Jay, Kathy, and Brandy are no more." (R. at 24,674-75.) Mossberger also testified that Defendant washed his knife in the kitchen sink and that Defendant instructed him to "[d]o something with the SKS; get rid of it; make it gone." (R. at 24,678.) Funk offered similar testimony, stating that he observed Defendant "hand[ ] the gun to [Mossberger]; told him to get rid of it." (R. at 23,982.) The next day, Mossberger buried the SKS assault rifle and ammunition in the woods.

Early Friday morning, March 29, police officers discovered the Tyler truck. Inside the truck, the police officers found victims John "Jay" Tyler, Kathy Tyler, and Brandy Southard dead from gunshot and stab wounds. The police officers also discovered bullet holes in the truck and found spent shell casings scattered across the width of Youngblood Road. Forensic testing revealed that the fatal bullets matched those fired from the SKS assault rifle belonging to Defendant. The spent shell casings matched the ammunition discovered in Southard and Napier's mobile home. Other testing revealed Funk's shoe prints were at the mobile home, directly below a broken window. Although the knife used in the killings was not recovered, Defendant owned a similar knife that could have caused the victims' injuries. On that Friday night, Defendant contacted police about the murders and gave a written statement indicating that Brandy Southard had received a threat from one Jimmy Knight.

On Saturday, March 30, while at home, Defendant voluntarily gave a taped statement to Officers Michael Hildebrand and Gary Gilbert and consented to a police search. In his taped statement, Defendant admitted to having seen and talked to the victims on March 28th at around 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. at a local Circle S store. Defendant also stated that afterwards, he went to Mossberger's house and then went straight home.

On Sunday, March 31, Mossberger retrieved the SKS assault rifle and ammunition, placing the SKS in the house and the ammunition in his garage. Police officers arrived at Mossberger's house to question him, and he explained the events that occurred on the day of the killings. Mossberger also showed the officers the SKS assault rifle, but not the ammunition. The same day, Mossberger directed the officers to Funk's apartment in Hatfield. Police officers questioned both Mossberger and Funk and took Funk into custody for further questioning at the Warrick County Security Center. Funk was released on or about April 1. On April 3, 1996, Defendant surrendered himself to the Owensboro Police Department.

The State charged Defendant with Burglary,1 Theft,2 and three counts of Murder3 of each of Jay Tyler, Kathy Tyler, and Brandy Southard. The State also sought the death penalty, alleging as aggravating circumstances that Defendant intentionally discharged a firearm from a vehicle,4 committed at least one of the murders by lying in wait,5 and committed multiple murders.6

742 N.E.2d 472
The trial commenced on September 23, 1996. On May 8, 1997, after deliberating for approximately three hours, the jury found Defendant guilty of Burglary, Theft, and all three counts of Murder. On May 19, 1997, the trial court conducted the penalty phase and the jury recommended that the death penalty be imposed based upon the multiple murder aggravator.7 The trial court held a sentencing hearing on June 16, 1997. The trial court followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Defendant to death.

We will recite additional facts as necessary.



Defendant contends that the trial court committed reversible error when it allowed State witness Alan Utzman to testify concerning the contents of Dale Funk's out-of-court statements. The State responds that Utzman's testimony was not hearsay because it met the requirements of Indiana Evidence Rule 801(d)(1)(B).8

In a July 16, 1996, deposition, defense counsel asked Funk if, while traveling from Evansville on March 29 (the day after the murders), he spoke to his friend Utzman regarding the events surrounding the triple murder. Funk denied ever having had such a conversation with Utzman. And when first asked by police officers about any such conversation, Funk had similarly denied it. At trial, Funk, as an eyewitness to the multiple murders, was one of the State's key witnesses. The State called Funk to the stand to testify about the circumstances surrounding the murders, but never questioned Funk about such a conversation with Utzman. On cross-examination, defense counsel attempted to impeach Funk with inconsistencies between his cross-examination trial testimony, his deposition testimony, and his initial statements to police. In this regard, defense counsel succeeded in getting Funk to admit that he had indeed discussed the murders with Utzman, and thus he had lied in his deposition and to the officers. Defense counsel did not question Funk about the contents of his discussion with Utzman; the defense's goal here apparently was only to make out Funk as a liar for having denied any such discussion took place.

In response, the State sought to rehabilitate Funk's testimony by demonstrating that what Funk had told Utzman on March 29 was consistent with Funk's trial testimony. It did so by calling Utzman as a witness. Utzman testified that he had a conversation with Funk on March 29 and that in the course of this conversation, Funk said, "I took the wrong ride. I was there when it happened."9 (R. at 25, 636-37)

742 N.E.2d 473
(emphasis added). Defense counsel immediately objected on grounds that Funk's out-of-court statements made to Utzman were inadmissible hearsay. The State replied that Utzman's testimony was admissible under...

To continue reading

Request your trial
155 cases
  • State v. Fauci, (SC 17402) (Conn. 4/10/2007), (SC 17402)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 10, 2007
    ...People v. Nevitt, 135 Ill. 2d 423, 448-53, 553 N.E.2d 368 (1990) (using term "prosecutorial error"); Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 482-85 (Ind. 2001) (using terms "prosecutorial impropriety" and "prosecutorial misconduct" interchangeably), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1105, 122 S. Ct. 905,......
  • State v. Fauci
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 10, 2007
    ...v. Nevitt, 135 Ill.2d 423, 448-53, 142 Ill.Dec. 854, 553 N.E.2d 368 (1990) (using term "prosecutorial error"); Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 482-85 (Ind.2001) (using terms "prosecutorial impropriety" and "prosecutorial misconduct" interchangeably), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1105, 122 S.......
  • Stephenson v. State
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Indiana
    • April 26, 2007
    ...the jury's recommendation, sentenced Stephenson to death. We affirmed both the convictions and death sentence. Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463 (Ind. 2001), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 1105, 122 S.Ct. 905, 151 L.Ed.2d 874 During both the guilt and sentencing phases of trial, Stephenson was fo......
  • State v. Pauline, 22961.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • December 26, 2002
    ...the trier of fact in understanding and evaluating the evidence." 2 McCormick on Evidence § 216 (5th ed.1999). See e.g., Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463 (Ind.2001); Garrett v. Commonwealth, 48 S.W.3d 6 (Ky.2001); State v. Perkins, 32 Wash.2d 810, 204 P.2d 207 (1949); American Family Mut.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Say what? Confusion in the courts over what is the proper standard of review for hearsay rulings.
    • United States
    • Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy Vol. 18 No. 1, February - February 2013
    • February 1, 2013
    ...State v. Chacon, 186 P.3d 670, 672 (Idaho 2008) (same); People v. Caffey, 792 N.E.2d 1163, 1188 (Ill. 2001) (same); Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 473 (Ind. 2001) (same); State v. Miller, 163 P.3d 267, 288 (Kan. 2007) (same); Martin v. Commonwealth, 170 S.W.3d 374, 382 (Ky. 2005) (sam......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT