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Hyatt v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 15, 2018



          Phillip A. McGough, P.A., by: Phillip A. McGough, for appellant.

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

          Hart, J., joins.

          JOHN DAN KEMP, Chief Justice

         A Miller County jury found appellant Virginia Hyatt ("Virginia") guilty of the capital murder of Patricia Wheelington ("Patricia").[1] Virginia was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. For reversal, Virginia contends that the circuit court erred by denying her motion for directed verdict on the charge of capital murder because the State failed to prove that she committed the murder or that she acted with premeditation and deliberation. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         A. Before the Murder

         Virginia and her husband, James Hyatt ("James"), met Patricia and her husband, Ray Wheelington, [2] at the Guys & Dolls Club (the "Club") in Texarkana, where Patricia and Ray taught square dancing. Virginia and James attended dances and lessons at the Club. In 2009, James and Patricia began having an affair.

         James, along with several members of the Club-Eddy "Reese" Baker, Harvey Cook, Barbara Ricketts, and Phyllis Nabors-testified that Virginia is a jealous person and that she would frequently accost other women who attempted to dance with James at Club events. Barbara testified that Virginia often complained about marital problems and blamed everything on Patricia. Multiple witnesses testified that they had heard Virginia say that she hated Patricia.

         In November 2013, James decided to divorce Virginia. He testified that he had contemplated divorce for a while and that he and Virginia had been sleeping in separate bedrooms for at least ten years. James stated that he finally decided that he had to leave because he was afraid that Virginia was going to kill him. His fear stemmed, in part, from conversations he had with his sisters and his knowledge that Virginia had a gun.

         James testified that the week before Thanksgiving 2013, his sisters told him that they feared Virginia might harm him. His sister Sheila told him that she "[had] word through [one of their relatives] that Virginia Ann is concerned about you committing suicide because of your failed relationship with [Patricia]." James said that suicide was the "[f]urthest thing from [his] mind, " but after hearing what Virginia had said, he "believed [he] was dead." James retained a divorce attorney but asked that the attorney not file the divorce complaint until he was safely out of town for fear that Virginia would harm him or Patricia.

         James knew that Virginia had a .38-caliber revolver that he had purchased for her, and he said that Virginia was "a lot better shot than [he] was." On Thursday, November 28, 2013, during Thanksgiving dinner, Sheila asked Virginia if she still had the gun. Virginia responded that she and James lost the gun during their move from Doddridge to Texarkana.

         1. Friday, November 29, 2013

         On Friday, November 29, while Virginia was visiting her mother at a nursing home, James left town with his sister Debra and headed to Miami, Florida. He testified that Debra took him to Florida to "save [his] life." Virginia called James several times while he was traveling. James answered the first call and told Virginia that he was leaving and was not coming back. Patricia had left town that morning for a trip to New Orleans. James said that he called Patricia repeatedly and told her that she should not return to Texarkana because Virginia was distraught.

         That afternoon, Virginia called Phyllis, "hysterical" and "just screaming he's gone, he's gone." Virginia told Phyllis that James was with Patricia. Phyllis and Virginia spent part of the afternoon driving around to look for James. Virginia also called Patricia's cell phone that afternoon and left four voicemail messages between 2:16 p.m. and 2:22 p.m. In the audible portions of the voicemail messages, Virginia can be heard pleading with Patricia to send James back to her.

         3. Saturday, November 30, 2013

         Virginia left Patricia another voicemail message at 7:58 a.m. on Saturday, November 30, stating, "Patty, please, please give me my husband back. Please give me my husband back. Please, it's horrible. I need my husband back. You can get any man you see anywhere. Please give me my husband back, please. Call me back. Are you there? Can you hear me? Please call me back."

          4.Sunday, December 1, 2013

         Virginia called Club member Reese Baker on Sunday morning, asking if he knew where James and Patricia were. Virginia told Reese that James had left her on Friday and that she believed James and Patricia were together. Reese said that Virginia told him that she had driven by Patricia's house "at least twice" that weekend to see if James was there. She also drove by several motels looking for James's or Patricia's vehicle. Virginia called Reese again on Sunday afternoon and asked him if he had heard from either James or Patricia. Reese told her that he had not.

         That night, Barbara, Phyllis, Harvey, and Patricia played cards at Barbara's house. Phyllis testified, "I told [Patricia] . . . I will try to keep Virginia away from you. I know she's going to harass you, you know, she just won't get it out of her mind that you and James were together. And [Patricia] said, well, if you're going to be with Virginia maybe you know I'll just kind of distance myself a little bit from you." Phyllis responded, "[W]ell, if I know where you are then I'll know where not to take her."

         5.Monday, December 2, 2013

         Early Monday morning, Virginia went to Patricia's house and confronted her. At 7:41 a.m., Patricia texted James and said, "Virginia is here at the house and wants you to call her." James testified that he called Virginia while she was on the porch with Patricia and told her to leave Patricia alone. He told Virginia that he was out of state and that he was not coming back. At 7:48 a.m., Patricia texted James again, stating, "Thank u, she left." That afternoon, Phyllis sent a text message to Patricia and said, "Just talked to virginia I am sorry she came out there I told her that is exactly why she dont have a husband but she want [sic] listen."

         On Monday evening, several members convened for dance class at the Club. Barbara testified that when she arrived for class, she noticed that Patricia was "pale, " so she asked her what was wrong. Patricia said that Virginia had come to her house that morning and was "ranting and raving and screaming and throwing a fit looking for James." Barbara said that Patricia's exact words were "Virginia has got me freaked out."

         Virginia arrived at the Club at approximately 7:00 p.m. Phyllis got to the Club about ten minutes later and noticed that Virginia was "staring a hole through" Patricia, so she suggested to Virginia that they leave and go play bingo. Virginia rode with Phyllis to the bingo parlor, and after they played one session, Phyllis took Virginia home.

         Later that night, Virginia returned to the Club with a red shirt that belonged to James. Testimony at trial revealed that Virginia confronted Patricia, threw the shirt at her, and said, "[Y]ou give it to him, you'll see him before I will." Patricia told Club members that she feared Virginia would be waiting for her when she got home. Reese testified that Patricia said she "hoped Virginia didn't come up on her porch again in the morning like she did that morning."

         B. The Day of the Murder, Tuesday, December 3, 2013

         Phone records indicate that on Tuesday, December 3, at 7:57 a.m., an outgoing call from Patricia's phone was made to her friend Ken Caldwell. The call lasted one minute and fifty-two seconds.[3] Shortly thereafter, at around 8:00 a.m., neighbors heard five or six gunshots coming from the direction of Patricia's house. At 8:55 a.m., Barbara sent Patricia a message, stating, "Did she show up on your porch again today?" Patricia did not respond.

         Phyllis testified that Virginia came to her house at around 10:00 a.m. that morning. Phyllis said that she "chewed [Virginia] out" for returning to the Club the night before and told her that she had to stop harassing Patricia. Phyllis said that Virginia told her, "You and [Patricia] are my only friends." Phyllis responded, "[W]hat are you talking about . . . you have been accusing her of being with your husband for four days and now you want to tell me she's your friend . . . I said that ain't going to get it. I said and if you don't quit going out there harassing her, I knew you was on that porch, she'd never said a word to me the morning before." A few minutes later, Phyllis noticed that Virginia was smiling. Phyllis said that Virginia "hadn't smiled in four days" and hadn't "quit whimpering in four days, where's my James, where's my James." That day, however, Virginia did not mention his name. Phyllis said that she did not know what had happened but she knew "something was different" because Virginia was "grinning from ear to ear." At 10:06 a.m., Phyllis texted Patricia, "Just text if u r ok virginia is very unstable n I am worried."

         After Patricia failed to return missed phone calls and text messages for the rest of the day, Barbara and Phyllis went to check on Patricia at her house. Around 5:30 p.m., Barbara found Patricia--she had been shot to death on the porch of her home. Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Erickson testified that Patricia had died of multiple gunshot wounds and that the manner of death was homicide. Specifically, Dr. Erickson testified that an examination of Patricia's body revealed five gunshot wounds. One wound was located on the right chest, just below the clavicle. Erickson stated that this wound struck both lung lobes and would have been fatal in and of itself. A second wound was discovered on the right breast. This wound also went through both lung lobes and would have been fatal in and of itself. A third wound was discovered in the fold of Patricia's armpit. Erickson stated that this wound struck the lungs, "devastated the heart, " and would have been "rapidly fatal." He stated that the three wounds "produce[d] an almost immediate loss of blood pressure throughout the body." Patricia would have collapsed in about fifteen to twenty seconds. Two other wounds were found-one on the upper back and one on the right forearm. Erickson testified that neither wound would have been independently fatal. He further testified that stippling[4] on Patricia's lips, chin, and nose indicated that at least one of the shots was fired from as close as three feet.

         C. After the Murder

         After responding to the crime scene and gathering information, officers from the Texarkana Police Department went to Virginia's home around 2:00 a.m. on December 4. Detective Paul Nall called Virginia and asked her to surrender herself outside. After several minutes, she walked outside and was placed under arrest. When officers entered the house ...

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