Willoughby v. State, 49S00-8705-CR-461

Decision Date10 April 1990
Docket NumberNo. 49S00-8705-CR-461,49S00-8705-CR-461
PartiesJohn Richard WILLOUGHBY, Appellant (Defendant Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff Below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Nancy L. Broyles, McClure, McClure & Kammen, Indianapolis, for appellant.

Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen., Richard C. Webster, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for appellee.

DICKSON, Justice.

Patricia McCaslin, an Indianapolis police officer on medical leave, disappeared on November 28, 1983. Her personal effects and car were found in the following days. Two years later in 1985, her skeletal remains were discovered in a wooded area near the Indianapolis airport. Her death resulted from three fractures in the facial area caused by blunt-force injuries. The defendant was convicted of murder, felony murder, robbery, and confinement. He received consecutive enhanced sentences of sixty years for murder, fifty years for robbery, and twenty years for confinement. In this direct appeal, the defendant's issues have been grouped as follows:

1) jury selection;

2) general confession admissibility;

3) corpus delicti;

4) polygraph results; and

5) sentencing.

1. Jury Selection

The defendant claims that the trial court erred in refusing to dismiss for cause a prospective juror who recalled the media coverage of the victim's disappearance in 1983 and the defendant's arrest in 1985. He asserts that the juror's responses on voir dire indicate that she could not fairly decide the case.

"The function of the voir dire is to ascertain whether or not the prospective juror can render a fair and impartial verdict in accordance with the law and the evidence." Zachary v. State (1984), Ind., 469 N.E.2d 744, 747. Accord Murphy v. State (1984), Ind., 469 N.E.2d 750. The grant or denial of a challenge for cause to a prospective juror is within the trial court's discretion, which will be reversed only where the decision is illogical or arbitrary. Woolston v. State (1983), Ind., 453 N.E.2d 965.

On individual voir dire, the prospective juror stated that she vaguely recalled media coverage of McCaslin's disappearance, the discovery of her remains by a hunter two years later, and the arrest of a suspect. However, she also stated, "I am not sure enough of those recollections to let them sway me." She added that she was "fairly certain" that she would not consider her recollections in assessing the case, although it was very possible that hearing the evidence could spur her memory.

From the prospective juror's responses, the decision of the trial judge denying the defendant's challenge for cause does not constitute an abuse of discretion.

2. General Confession Admissibility

The defendant claims that the trial court erred in admitting his audiotaped confession of December 13, 1985, because it resulted from coercive tactics and an involuntary waiver of his rights. After the trial court in a pre-trial hearing denied his motion to suppress the confession, the defendant objected at trial to its admission. He contends that before the taped interview he requested an attorney and that he asked to call his wife to see if she had obtained an attorney, but was not allowed to call his wife and was not provided with an attorney. The defendant also contends that his confession was involuntary because the police threatened him with the electric chair, did not offer him anything to eat, and did not inquire about the effect of his medication on his ability to think.

To admit a confession into evidence, the State must prove to the trial court beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intelligently and knowingly waived his rights to not incriminate himself and to have an attorney present. Collins v. State (1987), Ind., 509 N.E.2d 827. On review, this Court does not reweigh the evidence, but rather determines whether there was substantial evidence of probative value to support the finding that the confession was voluntary. Id.

At the pre-trial hearing on the motion to suppress, both parties presented evidence on the voluntariness of the defendant's taped statement, in which he admitted to striking and confining the victim and to taking her car. On December 7, 1985, the defendant took a polygraph examination and gave a statement to detectives Wilson and Layton. Five days later, Detective Layton contacted the defendant and asked him to return to the police station for a second interview. That night the defendant and his wife discussed the possibility of retaining an attorney, but reached no decision.

On the following day, December 13, 1985, the defendant went to the police station, arriving at 3:15 p.m. He had not eaten since before noon. After a brief discussion with detectives Wilson and Layton, the defendant was conducted to a room to take a polygraph examination. The examining officer in the presence of Detective Wilson advised the defendant of his rights. The defendant stated that he understood them and wished to waive them. After the conclusion of the examination, the defendant was again advised of his rights by Wilson and Layton and thereafter signed a waiver-of-rights form at 6:55 p.m. The defendant read the document and acknowledged that he understood his rights. Detectives Wilson and Layton then questioned the defendant for about one hour and forty-five minutes. During this time coffee was provided for the defendant. Prior to making the taped statement, the defendant asked that he be allowed to call his wife when the statement was over. After the audiotape recorder was started, the detectives again advised the defendant of his rights, and he again stated that he wished to waive them. When the recorded interview was completed, the detectives learned that the defendant's wife had tried to contact the defendant earlier in the evening. According to the defendant's wife, she repeatedly called and went down to the station twice in an effort to talk with her husband about retaining an attorney, but was told that no messages could be taken to him. Shortly after his arrest, the defendant was allowed to call his wife around 10:30 p.m.

At the suppression hearing, the detectives denied that the defendant requested an attorney. Detective Layton denied that he threatened the defendant with the possibility of facing the electric chair. The defendant presented evidence that on the day of the confession he was taking medication for a bronchial condition. However, he had last taken the medicine around noon and could not show that it or its absence affected his ability to think. The detectives were unaware of the defendant's medication.

The evidence reflects that the defendant was advised of his rights three separate times on December 13, 1985. In each instance, including one on tape, the defendant stated that he understood his rights and wished to waive them. He also signed a waiver-of-rights form, which tends to support the trial court's ruling. Speed v. State (1986), Ind., 500 N.E.2d 186. The detectives testified that the defendant never requested an attorney. The evidence supporting the ruling also shows that the defendant was not subjected to threats or the withholding of food. Lastly, the defendant's medication does not appear to have affected his decision-making abilities. We therefore find that there was ample evidence before the trial court to support the conclusion that the defendant's confession was voluntary. The trial court did not err in admitting the confession.

3. Corpus Delicti

When the State called David Matson to testify about the defendant's admissions of guilt to him while both were in jail, the defendant objected that the State had not proved the corpus delicti of each of the crimes. By agreement, the objection extended to the following witness, Detective Layton, who testified about the defendant's taped interview. The trial court overruled the defendant's objection. Matson then related the defendant's statements, which described how the defendant took the victim in her car to a remote area, struck and bound her, and then drove off with her car. During the examination of Detective Layton, the defendant's taped interview was presented to the jury. The defendant claims that the trial court erred in admitting his admissions and taped interview because the prerequisite for their admissibility, independent evidence corroborating the commission of the crimes, was wholly lacking.

The defendant's claim presents the difficult matter of applying the corpus delicti rule to a confession or admission of guilt where the defendant faces multiple charges for several acts committed within a criminal episode.

In Indiana, to support the introduction of a defendant's confession into evidence, the corpus delicti of the crime must be established by independent evidence of 1) the occurrence of the specific kind of injury and 2) someone's criminal act as the cause of the injury. Hudson v. State (1978), 268 Ind. 310, 313, 375 N.E.2d 195, 196. Most states have a similar requirement. McCormick on Evidence Sec. 145 at 366 (E. Cleary 3d ed. 1984). The corpus delicti rule arose from judicial hesitancy to accept without adequate corroboration a defendant's out-of-court confession of criminal activity. Brown v. State (1958), 239 Ind. 184, 190, 154 N.E.2d 720, 722 (plurality opinion), cert. denied (1960), 361 U.S. 936, 80 S.Ct. 375, 4 L.Ed.2d 360; Griffiths v. State (1904), 163 Ind. 555, 72 N.E. 563. The primary function of the rule is to reduce the risk of convicting a defendant based on his confession for a crime that did not occur. Cambron v. State (1975), 262 Ind. 660, 665, 322 N.E.2d 712, 715. Other justifications include the reduction of confessions produced by coercive tactics and the encouragement of thorough police investigations. State v. Parker (1985), 315 N.C. 222, 337 S.E.2d 487; Note, Confession Corroboration in New York: A Replacement for the Corpus Delicti Rule, 46 Fordham L. Rev. 1205, 1207-10 (1978); Comment, California's Corpus Delicti Rule: The Case for...

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