Stredic v. State

Decision Date11 May 2022
Docket NumberPD-1035-20
PartiesVINCENT DEPAUL STREDIC, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

ON STATE'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM THE FOURTEENTH COURT OF APPEALS HARRIS COUNTY

Keller, P.J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which Hervey, Richardson, Newell, Keel and McClure, JJ., joined. Yeary, J., filed a concurring opinion in which Slaughter, J. joined. Walker, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

KELLER, P.J.

In this murder prosecution, the jurors disagreed about certain testimony. By statute, testimony may be read back on a point on which the jurors disagree. But instead of merely reading back the testimony in question, the trial court gave the jury a written transcript of that testimony. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred in doing so and that Appellant was harmed by the error. We agree that the trial court erred in giving the jury a written transcript, but we conclude that the error was harmless.[1] We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

I. BACKGROUND
A. The Incident

On November 10, 2016, Appellant drove around in his car with three friends- Christopher Barriere, Rodrick Harris, and another man. They stopped at a gas station. At some point after the gas had been pumped, Appellant opened the trunk of his car, retrieved a shotgun, and pointed it at Barriere. It is undisputed that the shotgun fired and that Barriere was shot and killed as a result.

What exactly happened during that sequence of events was disputed at trial. According to Harris, Appellant shot Barriere without any apparent provocation. Harris characterized Appellant's conduct as a "murder." Appellant testified that he caught Harris and Barriere smoking PCP and told them to get out of the car. He testified that they were resistant to this demand, so he pointed the shotgun at them just to scare them. Appellant claimed that he was scared of them because of the effects PCP could have on them. Appellant testified that he did not intend to shoot Barriere, did not intend to fire the shotgun, and did not even have his finger on the trigger. He said, "I don't know how it went off. I mean, been friends for a long time. That I did not -- I did not mean to shoot him or not try to shoot him. I didn't know why the gun went off." On redirect examination, he insisted that the shooting was an accident.

After Barriere was shot, Harris jumped at Appellant. According to Harris, this was in reaction to the shooting, and he said to Appellant, "What is wrong with you." According to Appellant, Harris charged at him because he was under the effects of PCP. Appellant pointed the shotgun at Harris, and Harris ran to the front of the car. Appellant got into the driver's seat of the car and drove off.

Appellant later returned to the scene and shot Harris. According to Harris, the shooting occurred without provocation. According to Appellant, he shot Harris because Harris "came at" him. Appellant admitted that he shot Harris intentionally. He claimed that Harris was a big man, weighing 360 pounds or more, and he was afraid that Harris would hurt him. As a result of being shot, Harris suffered injuries to his face-from which he was still recovering at the time of trial.

Surveillance cameras caught most of the events on video, at two different angles. The events occurred at night, the events depicted are, for the most part, relatively far away, there is some blurring, some of the relevant events are obstructed or not caught on video, and there is no sound. Nevertheless, a significant amount of the encounter involving Appellant, Barriere, and Harris is depicted. The videos show the following events: Appellant's trunk is open. Appellant walks slowly from the driver's side door to the trunk. He then moves suddenly behind the trunk, Harris moves suddenly towards him, and Appellant points the shotgun at Harris. Harris then runs around the passenger side towards the front of Appellant's car. Appellant walks towards the driver's side of the car and points the shotgun at Harris. Harris then runs to the convenience store. Appellant then goes to the back of the car and closes the trunk. Harris stands outside the store, watching. Appellant gets in the car and drives slowly towards the store. He stops and opens the driver's side door. Harris walks towards him. Appellant gets slowly out of the car and appears to be taking something out of it. He then turns around and moves toward Harris with shotgun in hand. Harris backs away. Appellant then raises the shotgun and continues to advance on Harris. Harris runs away from Appellant and back towards the store. Appellant then walks back to his car and drives away. Once Appellant drives away, Barriere's body can be seen lying on the ground. Harris walks back toward the spot where Barriere was shot and looks at Barriere's body. Appellant drives back up to the spot, gets out of the car, walks towards Harris and points the shotgun at him. Harris then runs back to the store. Appellant then gets back in the car and drives away again. Harris later walks back to the location of Barriere's body. Appellant's car returns a second time, and Harris can be seen running back to the store as the car backs away.

B. Closing Arguments

The prosecutor briefly addressed a number of aspects of the charged offense that were essentially uncontested: e.g., that the defendant was the person who shot the victim, that the shooting caused the victim's death, and that the shooting was accomplished with a firearm. The prosecutor then focused on the mental-state element for murder and discussed it at length.

The prosecutor argued that Appellant acted within a short period of time and that his conduct appeared to be purposeful throughout the entire incident. The prosecutor contended that the incident did not involve an argument behind the trunk of the vehicle but involved "the defendant specifically going around behind the trunk of that vehicle with one purpose in mind." And the prosecutor argued that this was not a case of "Harris being aggressive or trying to come at him." The prosecutor emphasized that the jurors "get to watch the video" and that the jury already had. He also argued that the defendant had fled and that, when caught by the police, the defendant failed to explain that the shooting was an accident because he had not figured out his story yet.

Defense counsel started closing argument by saying, "It was an accident. It was a horrible, horrible accident." Later, defense counsel said, "They're being aggressive with him, and he raises the shotgun. The shotgun goes off. It was an accident. He would never intentionally shoot one of his best friends."

In his rebuttal argument, the prosecutor stated, "People point guns at people all the time and guns don't just go off." He continued with this theme for some time and argued that Appellant pulled the trigger on purpose. The prosecutor also argued that the claim that the shooting was an accident was inconsistent with the claim that Barriere and Harris acted aggressively: "Is this a case of self-defense where the defendant had to do it and that's why he got his gun out, or is this a case of it's an accident?" The prosecutor argued that it was neither and that, "The defendant had no reason to raise that firearm but to shoot the complainant, and that's exactly what he did here." The prosecutor also pointed to the video as showing that Barriere was shot in the side of the head, meaning that Barriere was "not looking at the defendant when it happens" but was looking at a store and some girls passing by. Referring to the video, the prosecutor also said that "not once is Rodrick Harris coming at the defendant in any form of an aggressive manner." Later, the prosecutor argued that "it wasn't an accident" and "it wasn't self-defense" and told the jury, "You can see that from the videos." He also pointed to various actions on the video to support the conclusion that the shooting was intentional.

B. The Jury Notes and Response

During deliberations, notes were sent back and forth between the jury and the trial court about the jury's request for Appellant's testimony about feeling threatened by Barriere or Harris.

The trial court told the jury that there had to be a disagreement about a statement of the witness before it could have the information.[2] Ultimately, the jury said that it was "in disagreement as to the statement of a witness," and asked, "Can we see the court reporter's notes when Vincent Stredic was the witness, when the State Attorney was questioning him, regarding his statement on if Vincent felt threatened by Christopher Barriere and Rodrick Harris?"

A transcript of the following testimony was submitted to the jury:
[Defense counsel] Q. Yeah. And so at some point we saw the video, right, the surveillance video - -
A. Yes.
Q. -- from the gas station? And looks like Christopher comes towards you. He takes a couple steps toward you. Is that what happened?
A. Yes.
Q. And then at that point, what did you do?
A. I raised the shotgun up just to scare him, just to back him up.
Q. Were you afraid at that point?
A. Yes.
Q. Why were you afraid?
A . Because, you know, I was assaulted with a bat and I can't see out of my eye . So I'm - - I'm already be paranoid, and then when I know the type of things that can happen when people get on that . So - -
Q. When they get on what?
A. PCP.
[Prosecutor] Q. You were standing by the trunk and they got out of the vehicle and came back to you. Is that what you're saying?
A. Yes.
Q. Okay. And you said that at that point Mr. Harris -- Mr Rodrick Harris started saying something to the effect of you're not going to leave me here; is that right?
...

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