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Suchey v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

April 27, 2016



Thomas W. Haynes, for appellant.

Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rachel Kemp, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


A Craighead County jury convicted appellant Paul Suchey of first-degree battery of his then three-month-old son, L.S. Suchey argues that the trial court erred in denying his motions for directed verdict. We affirm.

I. Standard of Review

A directed-verdict motion is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Steggall v. State, 340 Ark. 184, 8 S.W.3d 538 (2000). The test for determining sufficiency of the evidence is whether there is substantial evidence to support the verdict. Id. Evidence is substantial if it is of sufficient force and character to compel reasonable minds to reach a conclusion and pass beyond suspicion and conjecture. Id. On appeal, the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the State, and only evidence supporting the verdict will be considered. Id. This court makes no distinction between circumstantial and direct evidence when reviewing for sufficiency of the evidence; however, for circumstantial evidence to be sufficient, it must exclude every other reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence. Id. Whether the evidence excludes every hypothesis is left to the jury to determine. Id. Guilt may be proved in the absence of eyewitness testimony, and evidence of guilt is not less because it is circumstantial. Id. The credibility of a witness's testimony is for the jury to assess—and it may believe all, part, or none of a witness's testimony. Wheeler v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 281. The jury is also tasked with resolving conflicting testimony and any inconsistent evidence. Id.

II. Trial Testimony

Britney Hockett was living with Suchey, who is now her ex-husband, and their infant son, L.S., at her parents' home. Because Suchey was disabled, he cared for L.S. while Hockett worked at two jobs. On the morning of September 2, 2013, Hockett was scheduled to work from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Hockett said that, when she awoke around 7:30 a.m., L.S. was "his normal self" and that she left for work around 8:30 a.m. Her parents, who were getting a nearby house ready to sell, left that morning around 10:30 a.m. Hockett's mother, Debbie, said that she thought that L.S. seemed "fine" when she returned briefly around 2:00 p.m. for drinks. According to Hockett's sister, Dana Johnson, L.S. was "very happy and giggling" when she saw him around 2:00 p.m. Debbie came home again around 4:00 p.m. to prepare supper by putting a roast in the crockpot, and she left shortly afterwards.

When Hockett arrived home around 6:20 p.m., Suchey told her that a barking dog had wakened L.S. from his nap, which caused him to become "fussy." Hockett could not comfort the baby, who continued to cry. When Johnson stopped by around 7:00 p.m., L.S. was crying and moaning, and Johnson offered to hold him. Unlike Hockett, Johnson held the baby such that the right side of his head was not pressed against her arm, and L.S. calmed down. It was then that Johnson commented that L.S.'s head seemed "deformed." On closer inspection, Johnson said that it looked as though L.S. had "an egg-shaped tumor" on the right side of his head.

Hockett drove L.S. to the hospital by herself, as Suchey had insisted on following them in his own vehicle. Hockett testified that she and her family were crying and "all panicked" but that Suchey sat playing a game on his phone. Hockett testified that she was told by the doctor that L.S. had one of the worst skull fractures that he had seen and that it looked like L.S. had been struck in the head with a baseball bat. Debbie recalled that, when the doctor was speaking, Suchey never looked at him or at L.S. Debbie testified that she asked Suchey whether he had done something to the baby and that Suchey only looked at her but said nothing.

Joe Robinson, a patrolman with the Jonesboro Police Department, was dispatched to the hospital with a report of possible child abuse. Robinson said that he could not get much information from Hockett and the grandmother because they were crying. Suchey, on the other hand, did not show much emotion. Suchey first told Robinson that he did not know what had happened to the baby. He then said that, while he was bouncing the baby on his knees, the baby slipped and hit his head on Suchey's knee. Next, Suchey said that, as he was carrying the baby down the hallway, his legs just "gave out, " he lost his balance, and the baby's head hit a doorframe. Robinson said that Suchey quickly changed the subject to his disability. Sergeant Brad Rossman, who was also with the Jonesboro Police Department, testified that he had been informed by doctors that L.S.'s injury was caused by blunt force trauma and that he told Suchey that the baby could not have been hurt in the manners he had described to Robinson. According to Rossman, Suchey said, "That's my story[, ] and I'm sticking to it."

Dr. Mickey Deal, an emergency-room physician at St. Bernard's Medical Center in Jonesboro, described feeling fluid and moving bones when he touched L.S.'s head and diagnosed a depressed skull fracture. Dr. Deal stated that the parietal plates in an infant's skull are not easy to break and that a break results from a substantial impact. He further stated that such injuries were generally caused by being struck with objects like a hammer, a baseball bat, or steel-toed boots. Dr. Deal said that skull fractures like L.S.'s are potentially life-threatening and that surgery is generally considered. Dr. Deal determined that L.S. needed to see a neurosurgeon immediately, so the baby was airlifted to Memphis.

Dr. Karen Lankin, a physician at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Tennessee, testified that a 3-D CT image of L.S.'s head showed a large crack all the way across his skull, separation, and some depression, which she diagnosed as a complex skull fracture. Dr. Lankin stated that it took a lot of concentrated force to cause that injury. Dr. Lankin said that such fractures are caused by significant blows to the head resulting from, for example, car accidents, a fall from a balcony, and being struck with a baseball bat, a hammer, or a brick. According to Dr. Lankin, L.S. also suffered subdural bleeding, the pain from which she described as "the worst headache" one could ever have. She further stated that the subdural bleeding in connection with the complex fracture was "a very serious injury" and that such trauma to a three-month-old infant is "certainly life threatening." When asked how such trauma could threaten a baby's life, Dr. Lankin said that any major impact or trauma to the brain that results in a fracture is "a significant ...

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