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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 26, 2016



          Willard Proctor, Jr., P.A., by: Willard Proctor, Jr., for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Evelyn D. Gomez, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          CLIFF HOOFMAN, Judge

         Appellant Henry Williams appeals after he was convicted by a Pulaski County Circuit Court jury of first-degree battery in connection with the shooting of Jacent Winston. On appeal, appellant contends that (1) the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed prior bad-acts evidence that was not independently relevant and was unduly prejudicial and (2) the trial court abused its discretion when it denied appellant's motion for a mistrial. This appeal returns to our court after we ordered appellant to provide a supplemental addendum to include the jury-verdict forms. See Williams v. State, 2016 Ark.App. 261. We hold that the trial court abused its discretion in its evidentiary ruling and reverse and remand on that basis.

         Appellant was charged by information with battery in the first degree, possession of firearms by certain persons, [1] a firearm enhancement, and a child enhancement. Prior to trial, appellant filed a motion in limine to exclude any references to a separate alleged criminal incident that was used by law enforcement in developing him as a suspect. At the pretrial hearing, Detective Jarrod McCauley testified that he investigated the shooting of Jacent Winston that occurred on February 22, 2014. He explained that appellant was developed as a suspect after law enforcement received a separate call from appellant's alleged ex-girlfriend, Cassandra Thomas, stating that appellant had assaulted her. Thomas's description of appellant and his clothing matched the description of the alleged shooter, and the alleged assault occurred approximately a block away from the shooting and was reported only minutes later. After appellant's counsel argued that evidence regarding his alleged assault of Thomas should be excluded under Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b) and because the probative value was outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice, the trial court stated that it would "consider it" and that "I don't understand how I could keep that out[.]"

         Defense counsel renewed his motion immediately prior to trial, and the trial court stated that it would stand by its prior ruling. During opening statements, defense counsel objected again that this separately reported crime was not admissible. The State responded that this information was relevant on the issue of how appellant was developed as a suspect. The trial court overruled the objection.

         At the jury trial, Jacent Winston testified that appellant approached him while he was washing his truck in front of his home. His girlfriend and several children were at the home celebrating one child's birthday. Winston stated that appellant pointed a gun at him and told him to "get broke." Winston explained that he slapped the gun away and ran between his truck and the boat in his yard. Appellant shot Winston in the legs. Winston said that appellant tried to shoot him in the head but that appellant's gun either jammed or was out of bullets. The children ran toward Winston, who was on the ground, and appellant proceeded to walk away from the scene. Winston had identified appellant in a photographic lineup presented to him prior to trial, and Winston reaffirmed in open court that appellant was the man who shot him.

         Lenya Harmon, Winston's neighbor, and Mary Holmes, Winston's girlfriend, both testified that they heard the gunshots. Harmon said that she ran outside after she heard the shots, saw Winston on the ground, and called 911; she observed a bald, light-skinned person wearing all red walking away from the scene. Holmes testified that she ran to a window from inside Winston's home after she heard multiple gunshots and saw appellant pointing a gun toward the ground. The State asked Holmes to describe what the man was wearing, to which she replied, "He looked like a gangster. He had on all red." Defense counsel objected and moved for a mistrial based on her description of the assailant as a gangster. The trial court denied the motion for mistrial but instructed the jury to disregard the statement.

         Detective McCauley testified at trial that he spoke with the victim after responding to the scene and that Winston described the shooter as a light-skinned black male with a shaved head, wearing all red. McCauley stated that he made contact with Cassandra Thomas, which drew a hearsay and relevancy objection. The State responded that this was not to prove the truth of the matter but to show how appellant became a suspect. After the trial court overruled the objection, McCauley continued his testimony:

Yes, I responded to 700 West Markham to our police headquarters. I made contact with a Cassandra Thomas. She advised me that she had just been in an altercation with her boyfriend, a Henry Williams, Jr. Ms. Thomas stated that she had been assaulted at the address of 3319 Short Springs in Little Rock, Arkansas. She had multiple injuries to her face, split lip, things of that nature. She had stated that during the altercation, her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend had choked her around the neck and threatened her and also had - -

         Defense counsel approached the bench for another objection, stating, "Your Honor, we think this is - - this is far afield. It's 404(b). It's an act that has nothing to do with this incident." The prosecutor offered to "skip over the details, " but defense counsel stated that it was too late and that the State had "already got into the fact that she was supposedly bruised and all those sorts of things, and this is a battery case." The trial court ruled that it would allow what had been said but that the State should move on with its questions.

         Detective McCauley indicated that Thomas provided a description of appellant that matched the description provided by Winston, and there was close proximity in time and space between these incidents. Therefore, Detective McCauley developed appellant as his suspect. McCauley created a photo lineup, and Winston identified appellant as the shooter.

         Appellant testified at trial, and his version of events vastly contradicted that of Winston's version. Appellant did not deny that he spoke with Winston that day. However, he denied that he took out a gun and threatened Winston. Appellant testified that Winston initiated a conversation with him about someone trying to steal Winston's boat motor. Appellant further testified that Winston pulled out a gun, that he tried to grab it away, and that ...

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