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Kauffeld v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

September 13, 2017



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

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge

         Appellant Fred Albert Kauffeld appeals his convictions for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and residential burglary following a jury trial in Johnson County Circuit Court. Kauffeld was charged in relation to a break-in at the home of Bill Nobles and the subsequent shooting of Sonny Smith, an auxiliary sheriff's deputy who had responded to the call. On appeal, Kauffeld argues that the trial court erred (1) in denying his motion for directed verdict that challenged the sufficiency of the State's evidence on each conviction, and (2) in admitting a statement written on a jail-cell wall into evidence due to lack of proper authentication. We affirm.

         The first appellate issues we consider are the sufficiency-of-the-evidence arguments. On appeal, the appellate courts treat a motion for directed verdict as a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Anderson v. State, 2011 Ark. 461, 385 S.W.3d 214. The appellate court determines whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence that is forceful enough to compel a conclusion one way or the other beyond suspicion or conjecture. Id. The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, and only evidence supporting the verdict will be considered. Starling v. State, 2016 Ark. 20, 480 S.W.3d 158. Variances and discrepancies in the proof go to the weight or credibility of the evidence and are matters for the fact-finder to resolve. Id. The trier of fact is free to believe all or part of any witness's testimony and may resolve questions of conflicting testimony and inconsistent evidence. Id. Accordingly, when there is evidence of a defendant's guilt, even if it is conflicting, it is for the jury as fact-finder to resolve, not the court. Id.

         Circumstantial evidence may constitute substantial evidence to support a conviction. Brunson v. State, 368 Ark. 313, 245 S.W.3d 132 (2006). Guilt can be established without direct evidence, and evidence of guilt is not less because it is circumstantial. Id. Circumstantial evidence is substantial when it excludes every other reasonable hypothesis than that of guilt. Id. We will disturb the jury's determination only if the evidence did not meet the required standards so that the jury had to speculate and use conjecture to reach its verdict. Richardson v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 679, 449 S.W.3d 718. The sufficiency of the evidence is determined on the basis of the record as it stands, considering all the evidence heard at trial, whether properly or erroneously admitted. Bovee v. State, 2011 Ark.App. 158.

         The evidence at trial, viewed most favorably to the State, revealed the following. At the time of the crimes in May 2015, Kauffeld was involved in a "love triangle." Nancy Deatherage had on-again-off-again relationships with both Kauffeld and Bill Nobles, and they all knew each other.[1] On the night of May 14, 2015, Deatherage called Kauffeld to come get her from Nobles's mobile home, located off a rural Johnson County road. Nobles was not home when Kauffeld arrived. Deatherage and Kauffeld gathered her dog and some personal belongings; Kauffeld took Deatherage to his house, which was about ten miles away, and left her there.

         Kauffeld drove his truck back to the mobile home and went back inside, but Nobles returned, chasing Kauffeld out of his home and yelling at him. Nobles found a rifle that Kauffeld had dropped outside; Nobles took it inside and locked up his house. Nobles then went looking for Kauffeld, finding his truck parked about a quarter mile from the mobile home. Nobles slashed two of the truck's tires. When Nobles went back home, he discovered broken glass on his deck and that the rifle was no longer there. Nobles then went to his parents' house to call the police.

         Auxiliary Deputy Sheriff Sonny Smith and Deputy Curtis Bishop responded to the call, meeting Nobles at the mobile home. Nobles told them that someone had broken in and might still be inside. Nobles reported that several items were missing. Nobles told them that the perpetrator had a rifle, but he did not tell them that the perpetrator was appellant.

         Lieutenant Jeff Wood arrived and began to drive back and forth along the country road beside Nobles's home, using his vehicle's spotlight to search for the suspect. A canine unit was added to the search party. The dog picked up a scent and followed it toward a wire fence. Law enforcement's infrared heat sensor picked up a heat source on the other side of the fence where the dog was trying to lead them. Smith was the first to climb over the fence. Smith then yelled, "Show me your-" when shots were fired from the direction of the heat source. Law enforcement personnel described these shots as sounding like "pops, " whereas a second set of shots that followed were louder and sounded more like "banging." Smith suffered a gunshot wound to the torso and thigh; Smith dropped to the ground, and he died.

         Appellant was arrested by the other officers on scene, and nearby they found a black backpack, a plastic container of loose change, a cell phone, a clock, a flashlight, and a sex toy. Nobles confirmed that those items came from his home and that he did not give anyone permission to take the items. Law enforcement determined that, given the subsequent examination of the scene, appellant had shot his Marlin .22 rifle at Smith, and Smith had shot his .45-caliber service weapon at appellant.

         Deatherage testified that she never asked appellant to go back to Nobles's house to retrieve her things. She denied giving appellant permission to go back inside or asking him to get a container of loose change or a sex toy.

         Appellant testified that he drove his truck to Nobles's house that night, that he went armed with a rifle, that he reentered when he returned to the house, and that he took items from the house that did not belong to him. Appellant maintained that his only intent upon entering was to recover Deatherage's things so she would not have to go back. Appellant said that he ran and hid from Nobles when Nobles caught him there. He said that he hurt his knee as he was running away from the mobile home. Because Nobles was hunting for him, appellant hid in a low spot about halfway between the mobile home and his truck, near the dirt road. Appellant stated that he decided to stay hidden until daylight, and then he would find a way home. Appellant claimed that he fell asleep in his hiding place after a while and that he did not hear or see law enforcement looking for him.

         Appellant admitted that he had shot and killed Smith but said that he had been taken by surprise in the darkness. Appellant said that he thought it was Nobles coming after him, that he feared for his life, that the person shot at him first, and that he only shot in self defense.

         The State also presented evidence to the jury of a writing found on appellant's jail-cell wall, where he had been housed awaiting trial. This is a verbatim rendition of the writing:


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