Wrinkles v. State, No. 82S00-9408-DP-741

Docket NºNo. 82S00-9408-DP-741
Citation690 N.E.2d 1156
Case DateDecember 31, 1997
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Page 1156

690 N.E.2d 1156
Matthew Eric WRINKLES, Appellant (Defendant below),
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
No. 82S00-9408-DP-741.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
Dec. 31, 1997.
Rehearing Denied March 23, 1998.

Page 1157

Michael C. Keating, Keating, Bumb & Vowels, P.C., Evansville, Michael J. Danks, Danks & Danks, Evansville, for Appellant.

Pamela Carter, Atty. Gen., James D. Dimitri, Deputy Atty. Gen., Indianapolis, for Appellee.

SULLIVAN, Justice.

Defendant, Matthew Eric Wrinkles, appeals his convictions and death sentence for

Page 1158

the murders of Debbie Wrinkles, Mark Anthony Fulkerson, and Natalie Fulkerson. We review and affirm the murder convictions and death sentence.

Background

On June 30, 1994, Matthew Eric Wrinkles (defendant) filed for divorce from Debbie Wrinkles. Prior to the institution of divorce proceedings, Debbie and the couple's two children, Lindsey and Seth, had moved into the home of Mark Fulkerson, and his wife, Natalie; Mark was Debbie's brother.

At a provisional divorce hearing on July 20, 1994, defendant and Debbie agreed that Debbie would retain custody of Lindsey and Seth, and that defendant would have reasonable visitation rights. Defendant and Debbie agreed to meet later that day at a local fast-food restaurant so defendant could see his children. Because Debbie was tired, she and the children did not show up at the arranged meeting place and time. Later that night, defendant tried to reach Debbie at the Fulkersons' home, but was unsuccessful. Debbie likewise tried to arrange another meeting with defendant, but to no avail.

In the early morning of July 21, 1994, defendant climbed over a fence into the Fulkersons' back yard, cut the phone lines, unlawfully entered their home, and shot and killed Debbie, Mark, and Natalie.

Defendant was charged with three counts of Murder, the knowing killings of Debbie, Mark and Natalie. 1 The State also sought the death penalty, alleging as an aggravating circumstance that defendant had committed another murder. 2 A jury found defendant guilty on all counts and recommended that the death penalty be imposed. The trial court, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced defendant to death.

We will cite additional facts as necessary.

Issues on Appeal

1. Evidentiary Claims

Defendant challenges the trial court's admission of evidence in two respects. We review the admission of evidence for an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Ross v. State, 676 N.E.2d 339, 345 (Ind.1996); Kindred v. State, 524 N.E.2d 279, 298 (Ind.1988). We find error reversible only if admitting the evidence affected a substantial right of the party. Ind.Trial Rule 61; Fleener v. State, 656 N.E.2d 1140, 1141-42 (Ind.1995); Hardin v. State, 611 N.E.2d 123, 131-32 (Ind.1993).

Hearsay. Defendant argues that the trial court erroneously admitted testimony from Lisa Shadrick regarding a telephone call Shadrick had received from Debbie Wrinkles a few days prior to Debbie's murder. Shadrick testified, over defendant's objection, as follows (prosecutor questioning):

Q: An [sic] in that conversation, did Debbie Wrinkles tell you ...

BY MR. DANKS [defense counsel]: Show my objection, Your Honor. That's hearsay.

BY MISS LLOYD [prosecutor]: Your Honor, if I could finish the question at least before the answer.

BY THE COURT: All right.

Q .... about her then existing state of mind?

BY MISS LLOYD: Which is an exception to the hearsay rule under the Indiana Rules of Evidence. In addition, it is where the declarant's unavailability is not in issue. If she answers yes that she mentioned how she was feeling basically at that time, that would be her state of mind present. State of mind and an exception to the hearsay rule.

BY THE COURT: You need some foundation as to how she knew who she was talking to.

BY MISS LLOYD: Okay.

Page 1159

Q: When you received the phone call, did you recognize the voice?

A. Yes.

Q. Whose voice was it?

A. Debbie Wrinkles.

Q. How many times had you talked to Debbie before that?

A. Lots.

Q. And you knew that was Debbie's voice?

A. Yes[.]

BY THE COURT: Any further objection?

BY MR. DANKS: Yes, Your Honor. It still goes to the truth of the matter asserted. And it's still hearsay. I don't believe the state of mind of Debbie Wrinkles is at issue.

BY THE COURT: Objection overruled. Go ahead.

Q. What did Debbie tell you about how she felt at that time?

A. She said that she was a nervous wreck, and that she was on medication. And every time she heard a noise she would jump 'cause she was scared. And that she had to sleep with a gun underneath her pillow now. And, uh, she was just scared.

Q. Did she say of what?

A. Of Eric [defendant].

(R. at 2517-19.)

Defendant contends that Shadrick's testimony is inadmissible hearsay not falling within the present state of mind exception, because Debbie Wrinkles' state of mind at the time of her murder was not an issue at trial. He further argues that Shadrick's testimony was not relevant to any issue introduced at trial and that, regardless of its relevance, the prejudicial impact of the testimony far outweighed any probative value.

Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Ind.Evidence Rule 801(c). Hearsay is generally inadmissible. Evid.R. 802. However, a statement of a declarant's then existing state of mind is not excluded by the hearsay rule. Evid.R. 803(3). The State claims that Shadrick's testimony, to the extent it is hearsay, falls within this exception, and that defendant placed Debbie Wrinkles' state of mind at issue by claiming in his opening statement that she was the initial aggressor after he entered the Fulkersons' home. Defendant testified that after he entered the house, he saw Debbie in the hallway; she said to him, "Die, you bastard, die," and then shot at him. The State argues that Shadrick's testimony about Debbie's telephone call tends to show that Debbie feared for her life and that it was highly unlikely that she attacked defendant first. See Dunaway v. State, 440 N.E.2d 682, 686 (Ind.1982) ("The [hearsay] statements indicate a fearful state of mind which would circumstantially explain her later action of attempting to hit defendant.").

Shadrick's testimony qualifies as hearsay to the extent it was offered to prove that Debbie was fearful of defendant, and we are unable to conclude that her state of mind was relevant to an issue in this case. Cf. Angleton v. State, 686 N.E.2d 803, 809 (Ind.1997); Lock v. State, 567 N.E.2d 1155, 1159 (Ind.1991). However, any error resulting from the trial court's admission of Lisa Shadrick's testimony is harmless, because her testimony was merely cumulative of other evidence demonstrating the stormy and often violent nature of the relationship between defendant and Debbie Wrinkles. 3 We find that the admission of Shadrick's testimony did not prejudice defendant's substantial rights.

Chain of Custody. Defendant's other argument regarding erroneously admitted evidence is that the State failed to establish an adequate chain of custody for the ballistic and serological evidence it introduced at trial. The State introduced several shell casings and bullets retrieved from the murder scene and victims and it introduced blood evidence linking defendant to the crime

Page 1160

scene and establishing his movements through the house on the night of the murders.

"The State's burden in an attack on the validity of a chain of custody is to show the continuous whereabouts of the evidence. The mere possibility the evidence could have been tampered with or that an alteration or substitution could have been accomplished does not make the evidence inadmissible. The State is not required to exclude every possibility of tampering. However, when the evidence is fungible, ... the importance of a proper chain of custody is enhanced. The proper showing of a chain of custody must give reasonable assurance that the property passed through the hands of the parties in an undisturbed condition."

Gorman v. State, 463 N.E.2d 254, 256 (Ind.1984) (citations omitted). See also Kennedy v. State, 578 N.E.2d 633, 639 (Ind.1991). Non-fungible evidence, such as the ballistics samples, requires a less stringent foundation, because any tampering with the evidence is more likely to be noticed due to the unique character of the evidence. Hough v. State, 560 N.E.2d 511, 517 (Ind.1990) (citing Dier v. State, 442 N.E.2d 1043, 1046 (Ind.1982)). The proponent of the evidence does not have to establish a perfect chain of custody; any gaps in the chain of custody go to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility. Bell v. State, 610 N.E.2d 229, 233 (Ind.1993); Kennedy, 578 N.E.2d at 639.

We first examine the chain of custody the State established for the ballistics evidence admitted over defendant's objection. 4 Officer Taylor, the crime scene technician, collected the shell casings, sealed them in packages, and initialed the packages. Officer Ford observed Dr. Heidingsfelder, the pathologist, remove the shell casings from the bodies of Debbie Wrinkles and Mark Fulkerson during their autopsies. Officer Ford placed those casings in separate containers and marked them with his initials. To perform ballistics testings on the samples, Sergeant Wessel removed them from the sealed containers; he resealed the containers after testing. Sergeant Wessel testified at trial that he could recognize and identify the exhibits because his initials were on them.

Defendant objected to the introduction of the shell casings as follows:

Well, this officer testified those particular items he looked at and tested. I haven't heard anything else about what he did after the except put them in the bags. I don't know what happened to those bags after that was done.

...

Again, I have no particular objection except for foundational reasons. And my understanding is that whomever [sic]...

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39 practice notes
  • Wrinkles v. Buss, No. 05-2747.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2008
    ...the incident. The Indiana Supreme Court later characterized the Wrinkles' relationship as "stormy and often violent." Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1159 (Ind.1997) ("Wrinkles I"), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 861, 119 S.Ct. 148, 142 L.Ed.2d 121 In June 1994, Debbie moved herself and the chi......
  • Stevens v. McBride, No. 4:03-CV-005 AS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • January 13, 2005
    ...is not constitutionally impermissible. Assessing slightly different arguments, we reach the same conclusion today in Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156 (Ind.1997). This Court still automatically reviews the appropriateness of all death sentences. Moreover, our system, even with its life wit......
  • Wisehart v. State, No. 48S00-9005-PD-378
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • March 19, 1998
    ...that the absence of prior criminal history mitigator is unconstitutionally vague. We recently rejected this claim. Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1167-68 (Ind.1998). See also Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 257, 96 S.Ct. 2960, 2969, 49 L.Ed.2d 913 (1976), reh'g denied, 429 U.S. 875,......
  • Sweeney v. State, No. 10S00-9603-CR-231
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 18, 1998
    ...must support its argument with citations to appropriate sections of the record. See Ind. Appellate Rule 8.3(A)(7); Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1164 In this argument, defendant also complains that the State performed no tests to exclude the possibility of suicide. We find no merit to......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
39 cases
  • Wrinkles v. Buss, No. 05-2747.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 12, 2008
    ...the incident. The Indiana Supreme Court later characterized the Wrinkles' relationship as "stormy and often violent." Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1159 (Ind.1997) ("Wrinkles I"), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 861, 119 S.Ct. 148, 142 L.Ed.2d 121 In June 1994, Debbie moved herself and the chi......
  • Stevens v. McBride, No. 4:03-CV-005 AS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • January 13, 2005
    ...is not constitutionally impermissible. Assessing slightly different arguments, we reach the same conclusion today in Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156 (Ind.1997). This Court still automatically reviews the appropriateness of all death sentences. Moreover, our system, even with its life wit......
  • Wisehart v. State, No. 48S00-9005-PD-378
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • March 19, 1998
    ...that the absence of prior criminal history mitigator is unconstitutionally vague. We recently rejected this claim. Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1167-68 (Ind.1998). See also Proffitt v. Florida, 428 U.S. 242, 257, 96 S.Ct. 2960, 2969, 49 L.Ed.2d 913 (1976), reh'g denied, 429 U.S. 875,......
  • Sweeney v. State, No. 10S00-9603-CR-231
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • December 18, 1998
    ...must support its argument with citations to appropriate sections of the record. See Ind. Appellate Rule 8.3(A)(7); Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1164 In this argument, defendant also complains that the State performed no tests to exclude the possibility of suicide. We find no merit to......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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