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Lewis v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

September 13, 2017



          The James Law Firm, by: William O. "Bill" James, Jr., and Michael Kiel Kaiser, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Jacob H. Jones, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge

         Appellant Keenan Lewis was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Jason Harris. He was sentenced to thirty-one years' imprisonment, with an additional consecutive fifteen-year sentence for use of a firearm during the murder. On appeal, Lewis raises three major points, with several subpoints: (1) the circuit court abused its discretion by allowing the State to question Bree Hood, on redirect examination, about prior specific instances of conduct on redirect examination; (2) the circuit court erred by refusing to allow Lewis to testify about his knowledge of Harris's gang affiliation; and (3) there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction because Lewis proved he was justified in shooting Harris in self-defense.[1] We affirm.

         On April 29, 2014, Harris and his girlfriend, Jessica White, were visiting friends at an apartment complex on Sanford Drive in Little Rock. Shortly after Harris arrived, Lewis walked from a second apartment complex across the street and approached Harris. White testified she heard Harris ask Lewis if he knew him and if they had a problem, heard three gunshots, and saw Lewis leave in a black sedan. White denied Harris had said anything threatening to Lewis or had a gun on his person.

         A resident of the apartment complex, Levell Crump, who knew Harris by the nickname "Dreads, " witnessed the shooting. Crump explained he saw a person who looked like Lewis with his arm fully extended, pointing a gun at Harris's head; heard a few "quick loud words" from the man holding the gun; and then heard the gun fire. Crump described Harris as crouched down in a defensive position, leaning away from the person holding the gun, when he was shot. Crump testified Harris had a gentle disposition, was a non-threatening person, and he did not hear Harris say anything aggressive to the shooter.

         Bree Hood, Lewis's girlfriend, was called as a witness for the State; she testified she did not witness the shooting because she was inside their apartment, but that she did hear gunshots outside. Hood said she did not know Lewis carried a gun. Hood did not know Harris, but she said Harris had come to their door approximately a month before the shooting occurred and talked to Lewis; while she did not know what was said, she testified it scared Lewis and made him nervous. Hood stated that sometimes when she and Lewis were leaving the apartment, Harris would make Blood gang-affiliation sounds and point at Lewis, but Harris never made any statements directly to her. However, Hood claimed Harris would say things to her daughter that scared her while she was walking to and from the bus stop. Hood testified she never called police about any of the incidents because she did not want to be seen talking to the police because "snitches get stitches."

         Dr. Charles Kokes, the medical examiner who performed Harris's autopsy, testified that Harris was hit by nine bullets. It was his testimony that two of the wounds-one that entered through the left arm and injured the aorta, lodging in Harris's thoracic spine, and the other that entered the right chest and passed through the heart-by themselves would have been fatal. Additionally, Harris was shot through the left cheek and six times in his lower extremities; the wounds to his lower extremities were incurred while Harris was lying on the ground.

         Hood was also called as a witness for the defense. She testified that a lot of apartments were being broken into, her children were fearful about incidents that occurred while they were coming from and going to school, and while she and Lewis had talked about moving, they could not afford to do so at the time. Breanna Small, Hood's daughter, confirmed she had encountered Harris, whom she knew as "Dreads, " as she walked to and from her bus stop. She said Harris had asked her name and age, and once he asked her where her "punkass" daddy was; she was uncomfortable with these interactions, which she said began to happen out of the blue.

         Lewis testified in his own defense. According to Lewis, the first time he encountered Harris, he saw him coming out of an apartment with a television. Lewis surmised Harris had broken into the apartment, and he said Harris knew he had seen him. Lewis was also concerned that Harris was talking to Breanna. Lewis said the next time he saw Harris was when Harris came to his apartment a few weeks before the shooting, and at that time, Harris had a gun strapped to his hip and made threats that scared him, including statements that he would kill Lewis. Lewis indicated the threats were gang related. On the day of the shooting, Lewis said he had decided to talk to Harris "man-to-man" to resolve the situation. Although Lewis stated he had no intent other than to talk, he admitted he took a gun with him for self-protection, but he did not intend to use it. Lewis testified that when he confronted Harris, Harris became offensive and aggressive, and the discussion became an argument. Lewis claimed Harris had reached for his gun, and Lewis had shot him because he believed Harris was about to kill him.


         Though it is his third point, we must consider Lewis's sufficiency argument first on appeal, as preservation of Lewis's right against double jeopardy requires our court to consider challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence before alleged trial error is considered, even if the sufficiency-of-the-evidence issue is not presented as the first issue on appeal. See LeFever v. State, 91 Ark.App. 86, 208 S.W.3d 812 (2005). In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, considering only the evidence supporting the verdict, and affirm if there is substantial evidence to support the conviction. Taylor v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 331, S.W.3d . Substantial evidence is evidence of sufficient force and character that it will, with reasonable certainty, compel a conclusion one way or the other without resorting to speculation or conjecture. Id. Witness credibility and the weighing of evidence are matters for the finder of fact, who is free to believe all or part of any witness's testimony and whose duty it is to resolve questions of conflicting testimony and inconsistent evidence. Id.

         Lewis argues he proved the justification of self-defense because he possessed a reasonable belief Harris was about to use deadly force against him, and therefore, there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction for murder in the first degree. The State contends Lewis's sufficiency argument is not preserved for appellate review; we agree.

         Rule 33.1(a) of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that, in a jury trial, a directed-verdict motion must be made both at the close of the prosecution's evidence and at the close of all the evidence, and such motion shall state the specific grounds therefor. Subsection (c) of Rule 33.1 requires a directed-verdict motion to specify in what respect the evidence is deficient, as a motion merely stating that the evidence is insufficient does not preserve for appellate purposes issues relating to a specific deficiency, such as insufficient proof on the elements of the offense; the failure to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in the time and manner required in Rule 33.1(a) constitutes a waiver of any question pertaining to the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict.

         Lewis's counsel made the following directed-verdict motion at the close of the State's case:

Your Honor, I move for a directed verdict on the first-degree murder. There wasn't-and I just deal with the ones that don't count first-the purpose of causing the death, purpose of causing death of another person, Mr. Lewis caused the death of Jason Harris. There's-the State didn't meet their burden that, one, he caused the death of Mr. Harris. Two, that Mr. Lewis was identified as a person. They didn't prove that he had the purpose to kill Mr. Harris. And Judge, ...

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