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Antoniello v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

February 7, 2018



          Knutson Law Firm, by: Gregg A. Knutson, for appellant.

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

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge.

         On December 7, 2016, a Miller County jury convicted appellant Ronald Anthony Antoniello of thirty counts of distributing, possessing, or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child in violation of Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-27-602 (Repl. 2013). He received ten-year sentences on each count, to run consecutively, for a total of 300 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. He now appeals, arguing that the circuit court erred in (1) admitting evidence of other child pornography for which he was not charged; (2) admitting testimony from Antoniello's former stepdaughter about past molestation by Antoniello; and (3) denying Antoniello's Batson challenge. We affirm.

         This appeal centers around three pretrial motions and the consequences of those rulings. The relevant facts are these. At the trial, the State presented evidence that the cyber-crimes unit of the Arkansas Attorney General's Office had identified a computer that had downloaded videos of child pornography using a BitTorrent client. The investigator, James Lett, subpoenaed the internet service provider to find out the name and address of the subscriber corresponding to the IP address identified during the investigation. The information returned identified Antoniello. A search warrant was issued, and a search was conducted at Antoniello's home.

         During the search, the investigators discovered a computer and a hard drive that contained suspected videos and images of child pornography. The computer and hard drive also contained search terms that are known to be used by people searching for illegal child pornography. There were also lists of websites, DVDs, CDs, and other items found at the home.

         Before trial, the State indicated its intention to introduce evidence pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Evidence Rule 404(b). The trial court allowed the introduction of Rule 404(b) evidence over Antoniello's objection. In particular, Agent Chris Cone testified that Antoniello's computer had "over three thousand" images or videos depicting child pornography. However, Antoniello was not charged with possession of these images or videos and none of the "three thousand" images or videos were introduced at trial. The court overruled Antoniello's objection and allowed Agent Cone to testify to the amount of child pornography he found through his investigation.

         In that same motion, the State also sought to offer evidence of "other instances of sexual acts involving children." The court granted the motion, and at sentencing, the State introduced evidence that involved Antoniello's former stepdaughter, who lived in Florida and whom he had not seen for nearly forty years. The stepdaughter testified about how Antoniello had sexually assaulted her when she was only nine or ten years old.

         Finally, Antoniello challenges on appeal the State's peremptory strikes against two black jurors during jury selection. Antoniello, however, made his challenge on this point to the court after the jury had been sworn in. Antoniello argued that the State did not provide a race-neutral reason for the strikes. The court found the motion was not timely and denied it.

         This appeal follows.

         I. References to Additional Child Pornography

         As previously mentioned, the circuit court permitted the State to introduce, over Antoniello's objection, testimony that Antoniello's computer contained "over three thousand" child-pornography images, for which Antoniello was not charged with possessing. Antoniello objected to the Rule 404(b) evidence on the basis of Arkansas Rule of Evidence 403, which provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

         Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides that evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove character, but the evidence may be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. Circuit courts are afforded wide discretion in evidentiary rulings; specifically, a circuit court's ruling on issues relating to admission of evidence under Rules 401, 403, and 404(b) ...

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