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Geelhoed v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

February 22, 2017

JEROMY ALLYN GEELHOED APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE RANDOLPH COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 61CR-15-008] HONORABLE HAROLD S. ERWIN, JUDGE AFFIRMED

          Martin E. Lilly, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brooke Jackson Gasaway, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge.

         Jeromy A. Geelhoed was charged in the Circuit Court of Randolph County with committing second-degree domestic battering.[1] The State alleged that on November 16, 2014, Geelhoed used a leather belt to administer "licks" to his nine-year-old son, bruising the child's buttocks and the backs of his legs; made the child maintain a push-up position for up to 25 minutes; and slammed his head into concrete, causing a laceration. The State later filed a motion in limine under Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b) to admit evidence to the jury about prior violence and acts that Geelhoed had committed against the victim and other juveniles in the family. At a pretrial hearing, Geelhoed asserted that this evidence, prior bad acts of physical abuse in the family, was not relevant to the charge of committing domestic battering in 2014 and would prejudice the jury against him. The court ruled that the State could present Rule 404(b) evidence "only with a limit[ing] instruction and if you approach the bench prior to it being offered. It still has to be relevant and admissible." Over Geelhoed's objection at trial, witnesses testified about Geelhoed's prior physical abuse of juveniles in the family. The jury found him guilty, and the court sentenced him to 36 months' imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Geelhoed now appeals, contending that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence the prior allegations of physical abuse. We affirm.

         In its case-in-chief, the State first presented evidence of the 2014 incident that led to the charge of domestic battering. Sergeant Jessie McMillan of the Pocahontas Police Department testified that he had been dispatched to the home of the victim's mother the night of November 14, 2014, in response to a child-abuse call. He testified that he saw "pretty severe bruising . . . on the back of [the boy's] legs and butt from the bend of his knees up to the top of the waistline" and that the boy was terrified to go back home to his father's house, where he primarily lived. The child told McMillan that his father had given him thirteen licks with a belt, slammed his head into the concrete, and made him hold a push-up position. The child explained to McMillan that if "you hit the ground [from the push-up position] then it's automatic butt whipping. My brother's record was forty-five minutes. I had thirty-five."

         Sergeant McMillan, Officer Mike King, and Allison Starr-the Department of Human Services (DHS) investigator who was on call-went to Geelhoed's house. He told them that the bruising could have happened when the boy climbed out a window, jumped a fence, or played with his sister. Geelhoed denied the abuse and said,

The little girl in there and him seem to beat each other up with something. I don't hit them on the legs. There is no purpose in that. If I have a problem with him I put him in a push up position until he falls. Everybody knows that burn hurts. I don't have to whip that ass.

         He described the victim as "stubborn and crafty . . . very scripted by his mother."

         Allison Starr testified that she had spoken with the victim alone and photographed his bruises. She testified that other members of the family signed a protection plan the next day but that Geelhoed did not want to because, in his words, he "did not use physical discipline." However, in the garage he showed her a "cloth rolled up belt"; he said that he used it for spanking and that it would not have made those marks on the boy.

         Nurse practitioner Leah Privett testified that the victim said that Geelhoed hurt him "a lot" and recently had spanked him thirteen times with a belt, had made him stay in a pushup position for an extended time period, and had "pushed his head in the ground, " causing an abrasion above the left eye. She identified the photographs of his injuries as being consistent with what he had told her; her assessment and diagnosis was child abuse.

         The victim testified by closed-circuit television, explaining how he "got the bruises" at his dad's house in November 2014 for doing something wrong:

I was in the push-up position and he spanked me. I cannot recall how many times. He hit me with a belt. It was a leather belt that had metal [rings] on it; by the size and the pain I was in, it was more than ten times. All I could see was the ground. It hurt really bad. I had an injury to my forehead. Dad slammed my head onto the concrete. . . . He is the person who hit me and gave me the bruises but I think it was out of anger.[2]

         At this point in the trial, the State alerted the court that the State would attempt to elicit Rule 404(b) evidence from the years 2011 and 2012. Geelhoed objected that the evidence had no relevance to the ...


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