APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST DIVISION. NO. CR2012-515. HONORABLE LEON JOHNSON, JUDGE.
Robert M. " Robby" Golden, for appellant.
Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Kent G. Holt, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.
HANNAH, C.J., and CORBIN, J., join. HANNAH, C.J., and CORBIN and DANIELSON, JJ., dissent.
Appellant Henry Harmon appeals from his convictions for first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault. Harmon's sentences were enhanced because he used a firearm during the commission of the offenses and because he is classified as a habitual offender, and he received an aggregate sentence of 105 years' imprisonment. For his sole point on appeal, Harmon argues that the circuit court abused its discretion in granting the State's motion in limine seeking to exclude DNA evidence. Our jurisdiction is pursuant to Ark. S.Ct. R. 1-2(e) (2014), as we granted Harmon's petition for review of the decision of the Arkansas Court of Appeals affirming his convictions. Harmon v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 70. We reverse and remand to the circuit court and vacate the court of appeals' opinion.
Harmon was charged with capital murder, aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault in connection with the robbery of Christine Dyer and John Williams on January 5, 2012, at the Heritage House Motel in Little Rock. Williams was shot and killed during the course of the robbery. Although Harmon does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, a brief review of the facts and the evidence presented at trial is helpful in understanding the issue presented on appeal.
Dyer testified that, at around midnight on January 5, 2012, she and her fiancé, Williams, had just turned in for the night in their room at the Heritage House Motel when someone knocked on their door, kicked it in, and then ran into the room screaming, " Where's the money?" The assailant fired several shots as he entered the room, and Williams was fatally shot in the chest. The assailant proceeded to search the room for money, and Dyer managed to escape from the room as shots were being fired at her. Dyer hid behind a bush and saw the assailant leave the room and get into the driver's side of a vehicle that Dyer described as a brown, older model 4-door sedan similar to an El Dorado. When police officers began to follow a vehicle meeting that description, the driver led police on a high-speed chase. The officers eventually lost sight of the vehicle in the vicinity of Wright Avenue and Marshall Street; however, shortly afterward, police were notified that the vehicle had been abandoned in a parking lot at Arkansas Children's Hospital. The hood was still hot to the touch when police arrived, and several items of discarded clothing, including a jacket, a sweatshirt, a glove, and a bandana were found near the fence on the playground. A loaded pistol, later determined to be the murder weapon, was found in a pocket of the jacket, along with a receipt with Harmon's name on it. Surveillance video from the hospital that shows the vehicle pulling into the parking lot and a male and a female exiting the car and running toward the playground area near Marshall Street was admitted into evidence.
Although Dyer was unable to identify Harmon in a photo line-up, Nikita Smith testified that she was with Harmon on the night of January 5, 2012. Smith stated
that she and Harmon had gotten high and then drove to the Heritage House to obtain more drugs. Smith stayed in the vehicle but stated that she saw Harmon, who was wearing blue jeans, a black hoodie, and a black coat, put a bandana on his head and approach one of the motel rooms. Smith then heard Harmon kick in the door, and several shots were fired. Smith next witnessed a woman run out of the room yelling for help, and Harmon returned to the vehicle carrying a pistol. When Smith asked Harmon what had happened, he stated that he had " shot that man." Harmon then fled from the scene and from police until he stopped the vehicle in the Children's Hospital parking lot. According to Smith, Harmon told her to run, and she saw him abandon several items of clothing and throw his gun over a gate. The two then split up and fled from the scene. Although Harmon warned Smith not to tell anyone what had happened, Smith told her cousin, who reported it to the police.
Jennifer Beatty, a forensic DNA examiner, testified that she had collected DNA samples from Harmon and the victim. She then tested the items of clothing that had been discarded near the hospital. Beatty stated that Williams's blood was found on the pistol, jacket, sweatshirt, glove, and bandana. In addition, Beatty testified that Harmon's blood was found on the sweatshirt and bandana. On cross-examination, Beatty further explained that there were major and minor contributors to the DNA found on the sweatshirt and the bandana.
Prior to Beatty's testimony at trial, the State had moved to exclude from evidence that portion of the DNA results that indicated the presence of more than one contributor to the DNA profiles on the sweatshirt and the bandana. The State argued that this evidence raised only a speculative inference of third-party guilt and was inadmissible pursuant to our holdings in Zinger v. State, 313 Ark. 70, 852 S.W.2d 320 (1993), and Birts v. State, 2012 Ark. 348. Defense counsel asserted that these cases were distinguishable from the present case, as Harmon was seeking to challenge the credibility of the DNA evidence introduced by the State that linked Harmon with the commission of the crimes, not to introduce independent evidence of third-party guilt. The defense also argued that the ...