Stevens v. State, 79S00-9507-DP-828

CourtSupreme Court of Indiana
Citation691 N.E.2d 412
Decision Date31 December 1997
Docket NumberNo. 79S00-9507-DP-828,79S00-9507-DP-828
PartiesChristopher M. STEVENS, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).

Brent Westerfeld, Indianapolis, Jeffrey A. Baldwin, Indianapolis, for Appellant.

Jeffrey Modisett, Attorney General, Geoff Davis, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

Christopher M. Stevens was tried before a jury and convicted of murdering ten-year-old Zachary Snider. The jury recommended death. The trial judge found that the State had proved three aggravating circumstances and that these outweighed the mitigating circumstances. He sentenced Stevens to death. We affirm.


On February 17, 1993, the Marion Superior Court, after a jury trial, sentenced Christopher Stevens to four years for child molestation, with one year executed and three years suspended to probation. Stevens was released from the Marion County jail on probation in May 1993, and went to live at the home of his father in Stardust Hills, a subdivision located in Cloverdale, Indiana. On the night before he was released, Tracy Easton, a fellow inmate also incarcerated for child molesting, told Stevens he would be back in jail in two months. Stevens replied, "No, I won't. Next time I'll kill him." (R. at 4587-88.)

Zachary Snider lived with his parents and sister, also in Stardust Hills, about one-quarter mile from Stevens. During the early summer of 1993, Stevens attended at least one of Zachary's Little League baseball games, videotaped it, and offered money to anyone on the team who could hit a home run. On one afternoon in mid-June, Stevens and Zachary asked for and received Zachary's father's permission to go fishing. A little later, when Mr. Snider realized that the two were not at the pond located within Stardust Hills, he went looking for them. Upon finding them at a pond located outside of the subdivision, Zachary's father informed them both that Zachary was not to be in Stevens's car and that Stevens was to stay away from his son.

On July 15, 1993, Zachary left home about 11 a.m. and rode his bike to the home of his playmates, Alex and Andrew Krouse. They lived across the street from Stevens. At about 1:30 p.m., Zachary phoned his father to say he was then at the Krouse's but would soon be coming home. According to Alex Krouse, Zachary looked across the street at Stevens' house before he departed and said, "Good, Chris is home," and that he was going over there. (R. at 4102-03.) As Zachary rode down Krouse's driveway, Krouse went back into his house. A few minutes later, as Krouse and his mother left their home by car, Krouse noticed Zachary's bike parked in Stevens' yard.

According to Zachary's father, Zachary arrived home at approximately 2:30 p.m. The boy spoke to his father for a few minutes in their garage, gave his father some mowing money he had collected on his way home, and then went inside. Shortly thereafter Mr. Snider went inside to look for Zachary, but the boy had already left on his bicycle.

Later that afternoon Mark White, Stevens' fifteen-year-old neighbor, received a call from Stevens asking for White's immediate assistance in pushing a trailer back into Stevens' garage. White went over and helped Stevens, and then returned to his own home.

When Zachary did not arrive home at dinner time, which was around 7 p.m., the Sniders began searching the neighborhood. After a while they engaged the help of Alex and Andrew Krouse's parents, the Rumleys. During this search, the Rumleys encountered Stevens in front of his house. When asked, Stevens informed them that he had been asleep until 3:00 or 3:30 p.m. and had not seen Zachary all day. Finally, at 9 p.m. Mr. Snider called the police. At about 9:15 p.m., Stevens arrived at the Sniders' home, "made reference to having seen the police and wanted to know what was going on." (R. at 4169.) Stevens left soon after, but came and went to the Sniders' residence numerous times that evening, the final visit being around midnight. The next morning Stevens again showed up at the Sniders' home and inquired about their search for Zachary. He requested some of the flyers that Mr. Snider had printed up the previous evening for distribution. That day, Stevens and fifteen-year-old Jason Byrns, another resident of Stardust Hills, drove around searching for Zachary and passing out Snider's flyers. At one point during the trip Stevens said to Byrns, "I wonder where Zachary can be?" (R. at 4222.)

By July 17, several hundred people, including police officers from various agencies, members of the volunteer fire department, and civilians, were engaged in a massive search for Zachary. At one point state police officers were outside the Snider residence when Stevens drove past. The officers approached the car and asked Stevens for an interview. Stevens agreed and followed the officers to the Putnamville state police post. When questioned, Stevens initially reported the same story he had previously told the Rumleys about sleeping until the afternoon of July 15th and having not seen Zachary that day. He did, however, state that Zachary may have knocked on his door while he was sleeping, but that he did not answer it. When the police informed Stevens that Zachary's bike had been seen parked outside of Stevens' house that day, Stevens became agitated and began to leave. One of the officers, however, talked Stevens into returning and continuing with the interview.

During this continued portion of the interview, which the police tape-recorded, Stevens stated that Zachary had arrived at his house shortly after 4 p.m. He claimed that Zachary visited for five or ten minutes, during which time Zachary confronted Stevens with a rumor he had heard about Stevens sleeping with Zachary's mother, which Stevens denied. Stevens said Zachary then left, claiming he would soon be picked up by a friend who was to give Zachary a ride to an uncle's house. When asked why he had previously denied seeing Zachary on the day of his disappearance, Stevens replied, "I didn't want anybody thinkin' that I had done somethin', because I hadn' done anything, and, and I figured that if I told you guys that, that you guys would think that I 'd done somethin', and I didn'." (Audio tape of interview, Ex. 9.) Asked at the end of the interview whether he had anything else to say, Stevens replied, "No, not other than, 'I didn' do anything.' " (Id.)

On the night of July 19, Stevens drove to the home of his older brother, Mark Stevens, and admitted killing Zachary Snider. According to Mark, Christopher stated that on July 15 he was home in bed when Zachary rode over to his house, parked his bike in the garage, came inside, and awakened Chris. The two engaged in a sexual encounter, and when Zachary threatened to tell his parents, Christopher got scared and "clicked." (R. at 4258.) He told Mark that he attempted to kill Zachary by various means of strangulation, such as a "choke hold," smothering him with a pillow, and choking him with a cord, (R. at 4249-50), although there were parts of this episode which Christopher could not remember because he had a blackout of some sort. Christopher then told Mark that he backed his car into the garage, placed Christopher's body and bike into the back, and covered them. He then drove out into the country and threw the body and bike over a bridge. The bike got caught in a tree, so Stevens went down to rearrange things so as to conceal them. He later returned to recover a plastic bag which he had left with the body. During this admission, Christopher gave Mark detailed directions to the location of the bridge.

Mark went to the state police with this information on the morning of July 21. After speaking with Mark, state police detectives went in search of the bridge described in Mark's recitation of Christopher's confession. They "went to a location where [one detective] thought Mark Stevens was talking about, but it was the wrong one." (R. at 1309.) After a call to Mark Stevens they realized that they "went one direction and it was actually back the other way," (id.), so they back-tracked and found a second bridge eight to ten miles from the first. It was on a gravel road in a remote, rural area, with no home or structure within sight of it, surrounded by thick, overgrown vegetation. Under the bridge the police found a bicycle and the fully clothed, decomposing body of a boy.

Based on Mark Stevens' statement and its corroboration by what officers found under the remote bridge, the police obtained an arrest warrant and arrested Christopher Stevens at his home on the evening of July 21. They informed him of the charges against him and drove him to the state police post in Putnamville. After being fully advised of his Miranda rights and signing a waiver of rights, Stevens submitted to an interview with the police.

In the videotaped confession which followed, Stevens told the officers that on Thursday, July 15, Zachary visited Stevens in the early afternoon, but stayed only for a short time, saying that he would return after he had picked up some money, talked to his father, and changed his clothes. When he returned, Zachary and Stevens talked for a while as Stevens flipped through the channels on his television, and then the two went to Stevens' bedroom and "messed around," which mainly included the two performing fellatio on each other but never anal sex. (R. at 1196-97, 1215.) This activity was not new to the pair, as they had had an ongoing sexual relationship since shortly after Stevens returned to Stardust Hills after serving his time in the Marion County jail. After they "did stuff for awhile," Zachary angrily confronted Stevens with a rumor he had heard concerning Stevens having sexual relations with Zachary's mother. Because of this rumor, Zachary threatened to reveal Zachary and Stevens' sexual relationship to his...

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