FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, SEVENTH DIVISION [NO.
60CR-14-722] HONORABLE BARRY SIMS, JUDGE.
William R. Simpson, Jr., Public Defender, by: Clint Miller,
Deputy Public Defender, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Rachel Kemp, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
Pulaski County jury convicted appellant Melissa Stearns of
first-degree murder in the January 24, 2014 stabbing death of
Herschel Johnson. She was sentenced to thirty-five years in
the Arkansas Department of Correction. Stearns's sole
argument on appeal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting her conviction. We affirm.
James testified that on the day of the stabbing, he was at
the mobile home where Stearns had been living with Johnson.
He explained that Stearns and Johnson had been arguing and
that they had asked him to take Stearns to the store, which
he did. Upon their return, Stearns and Johnson continued to
argue. James testified that he went to use the bathroom and
that by the time he came out, Stearns had stabbed Johnson. He
explained that he heard Johnson call Stearns a "fucking
whore" and had told her to get out. James said he could
hear Stearns go to the kitchen and run back to Johnson
saying, "Call me a whore again. I dare you. I dare
you." After hearing a scuffle, James came out of the
bathroom and saw the blood on the back of Johnson's
shirt. He explained that it appeared Stearns had run out of
the room to get rid of the weapon and that she had come back
asking, "What happened here?"
explained that Johnson was coherent and said he was going to
call the police and "put her in jail, " so James
decided to go home. Stearns followed James to his car and
demanded he take her to her friend Josh Strong's house.
James did so. After dropping Stearns off, James stopped by
Johnson's home to check on him. According to James, about
three minutes had elapsed. He testified that when he arrived,
Johnson was intoxicated, but the bleeding had stopped and the
wound "didn't look life threatening." Johnson
told him he would get another beer and then call the police.
James had a warrant pending, so he did not want to be around
when the police arrived. Ultimately, the following day,
Johnson's brother, Roger Johnson, found him deceased in
his bed and called 911.
Hudson, who lived in the same community, went to check on
Johnson at his home when she was told that paramedics were
outside his mobile home. The detective asked Hudson if she
knew where Stearns was. Suspecting that Stearns was at
Strong's home, Hudson went to get her. When Hudson found
Stearns and told her Johnson had passed away. Stearns
responded, "Oh, my God, who would hurt Herschel?"
Hudson took Stearns back to the scene so she could talk to
explained that Stearns was living with Johnson because she
did not have a place to stay at the time and that their
roommate relationship was platonic. When Stearns went to him
after the incident she was hysterical, and Strong said that
Stearns told him that she had "nicked" Johnson with
a knife and that she was worried she had hurt him. Strong
said that Stearns did not say anything about Johnson being
violent toward her. The State then introduced a text Stearns
had sent to Strong on the day of the incident that said,
"About to kill this motherfucker."
Smith, who was incarcerated with Stearns at the Pulaski
County jail, testified that Stearns opened up to her about
the stabbing. Smith explained that Stearns first told her
that she had been cutting up apples in the kitchen and that
Johnson had fallen on the knife. Eventually, Stearns told
Smith that her biggest regret was not throwing the knife
away. Instead, Stearns had washed off the blood and hidden
the knife under the refrigerator. Smith testified that
Stearns also regretted that she had not changed Johnson's
shirt before she put a jacket on him after the incident.
Lastly, Smith explained that Stearns had asked her to call
Strong and tell him to delete all his text messages from
Stearns, specifically, the one that said, "About to kill
Jeff Allison testified that Stearns originally denied being
at the home when Johnson got hurt. She then changed her story
but said that she had "barely swung" the knife at
Johnson and that he had been so mean toward her. She told
Allison it was never her intention to hurt him; she just
"wanted him to take [her] more serious."
Jennifer Forsythe performed the autopsy on Johnson. She
testified that the wound was consistent with the size of the
knife found under the refrigerator. Dr. Forsythe explained
that the knife struck Johnson's aorta. She said that the
knife went halfway through his body and that the length of
the wound was 1.8 centimeters. She testified that the stab
wound was "100 percent cause of death" and that the
wound was "not an insignificant nicking of the
body"; rather, it was a "fatal stab wound."
contends that the incident was an accident and not
intentional, and she filed this timely appeal.
appeal, a motion for directed verdict is treated as a
challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. See
Reynolds v. State, 2016 Ark. 214, at 3, 492 S.W.3d 491,
494. This court views the evidence in the light most
favorable to the State and affirms if there is substantial
evidence to support the verdict. Id. Substantial
evidence is that which is 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. This court does not weigh the
evidence presented at trial or assess the credibility of the
witnesses, because those are matters for the fact-finder.
Id. The trier of fact is free to believe all or part
of any witness's testimony and ...