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Hill v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

May 31, 2018



          Baker, Schulze, Murphy & Patterson, by: Darryl E. "Chip" Baker, Bobbi Patterson, and J.G. "Gerry" Schulze, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Pamela Rumpz, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Appellant Jonathan Ryan Hill appeals an order of the Faulkner County Circuit Court convicting him of aggravated residential burglary and sentencing him to a term of life imprisonment. For reversal, Hill argues that the circuit court erred in (1) denying his motion for directed verdict, (2) refusing to admit character evidence of a victim, (3) admitting text messages from Hill's cell phone, and (4) refusing to allow the cross-examination of an investigating officer with a prior inconsistent statement. Pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(a)(2) (2017), we have jurisdiction of this appeal because Hill received a life sentence. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Officer Eric Woodward of the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office relayed the following facts constituting probable cause in an affidavit signed on August 20, 2015. According to Woodward, the Faulkner County Sheriff's Office responded to a Damascus residence in the early morning hours of July 10, 2015, for an alleged home invasion. Deputy Brian Kesterson met the two residents, Cornenia "Cle" Dillard and Donna Salvo, and performed a search of the premises. After discovering that the suspects had left the residence, he interviewed Dillard and Salvo. Dillard stated that he was asleep on the living room couch when a white male intruder woke him, held a knife against his throat, and demanded money and pills. Dillard stated that he did not have those items but that Salvo may have them. According to Dillard, the intruder proceeded toward Salvo's bedroom, and "a scuffle ensued." Dillard grabbed a small .25-caliber pistol and went into the bedroom where he saw the intruder holding a shotgun that had been stored in the bedroom. Dillard stated that he fired at the intruder until his gun jammed but did not know if he had hit the suspect. The intruder dropped the shotgun and exited the residence by jumping out the bedroom window. Dillard then felt a pain in his back and turned around to discover that an unknown white female had struck him. Dillard told the female that the male intruder had left, and she exited the residence at that time. The deputy investigated the scene, processed blood stains and personal effects, and found a spent shell casing in the bedroom that matched the type of pistol that Dillard had fired.

         Faulkner County police alerted surrounding law enforcement that a male suffering from a gunshot wound might seek medical treatment at a nearby hospital. The Clinton Police Department received a call and went to the hospital. There, the officers met Hill and his girlfriend, Stacy Wright, who had driven him to the hospital and who initially gave the officers a fictitious name. Hill was transported to Conway Regional Hospital, and Wright was transported to the detention center for multiple outstanding warrants. Salvo later identified Hill as the intruder in a photograph lineup. Testimony revealed that Dillard had passed away before trial.

         On September 30, 2016, the State filed an amended felony information charging Hill as a habitual offender with aggravated robbery, aggravated residential burglary, and aggravated assault. Before trial, the State filed a motion in limine to exclude testimony pursuant to Arkansas Rules of Evidence 404(a)(2) and 405. In its motion, the State requested that the circuit court grant the motion to prevent the defense from calling witnesses to provide testimony regarding specific instances of Dillard's conduct. The circuit court granted the motion.

         On February 22, 2017, the circuit court held a jury trial. After the State's case-in-chief, Hill moved for a directed verdict. The circuit court denied the motion and found that the State had made a prima facie case on all three counts. After the defense presented its case, Hill renewed his motion for directed verdict, and the circuit court again denied the motion. The jury found Hill guilty of aggravated residential burglary and sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment. The jury acquitted him of aggravated robbery and aggravated assault. Hill timely filed a notice of appeal and now brings his appeal to this court.

         II. Motion for Directed Verdict

         For the first point on appeal, Hill argues that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict. Specifically, Hill contends that the State lacked substantial evidence to support the residential-burglary element of the aggravated-residential-burglary offense, as set forth in Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-39-204 (Repl. 2013). He claims that the State failed to prove that he illegally entered or remained in a dwelling. Hill does not challenge the second element that he was armed with a deadly weapon or that he inflicted or attempted to inflict death or serious physical injury upon another person.

         A motion for directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Marshall v. State, 2017 Ark. 347, 532 S.W.3d 563. In a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this court considers only the evidence supporting the conviction in the light most favorable to the State and determines whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Sweet v. State, 2011 Ark. 20, 370 S.W.3d 510. Substantial evidence is evidence that is forceful enough to compel a conclusion beyond suspicion or conjecture. Id., 370 S.W.3d 510. Finally, the credibility of witnesses is an issue for the jury. Kinsey v. State, 2016 Ark. 393, 503 S.W.3d 772. 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., 503 S.W.3d 772.

         Hill was convicted of aggravated residential burglary. A person commits aggravated residential burglary if he or she commits residential burglary, as defined in section 5-39-201, of a residential occupiable structure occupied by any person, and he or she (1) is armed with a deadly weapon or represents by word or conduct that he or she is armed with a deadly weapon; or (2) inflicts or attempts to inflict death or serious physical injury upon another person. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-39-204(a). A person commits residential burglary if he or she enters or remains unlawfully in a residential occupiable structure of another person with the purpose of committing in the structure any offense punishable by imprisonment. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-39-201(a)(1). Serious physical injury is defined as a physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-1-102(21).

         In the case at bar, Salvo testified at trial that she had been asleep in bed when she heard her name and awoke. She saw Hill walk in the door, and he asked, "Where's the pills? Where's the money?" According to Salvo, Hill grabbed her and threw her down. When she "got up and went toward him, " Hill threw her on the bed, grabbed Dillard's twelve-gauge shotgun propped in the bedroom corner, pointed the gun at her, and pulled the trigger. She heard the click, but the gun did not fire. Salvo stated that Dillard then entered the room. Hill pointed the shotgun at Dillard, and Dillard fired a shot. Salvo said that she heard two shots, but she did not know who had been shot. Salvo testified that Hill pushed her backward and jumped out the window. She stated that she and Dillard went into the living room, where she saw "a lady" who asked, "Is he still in there?" Salvo responded, "No. Get out of here." She then called the police.

         Here, Salvo's testimony provides substantial evidence to support Hill's conviction. Her testimony reveals that Hill entered and remained in the bedroom and demanded money and pills. She testified that Hill picked up Dillard's shotgun and pointed it at her. According to Salvo, Hill pulled the trigger, and she heard a click. This testimony supports the elements of aggravated residential burglary because Hill (1) remained unlawfully in Salvo's bedroom with the purpose of committing an offense punishable by imprisonment (2) while armed with a deadly weapon (3) attempting to inflict serious bodily harm on Salvo. Thus, we hold that the circuit court did not err in denying Hill's motion for directed verdict.

         III. Character and Reputation Evidence

         For the second point on appeal, Hill argues that the circuit court erred in sustaining the State's objection to the admission of evidence from other witnesses about Dillard's character and reputation for engaging in sexual assaults. Hill asserts that this testimony should have been admissible pursuant to Rule 401 and Rule 405 of the Arkansas Rules of Evidence, because it was relevant to corroborate Wright's testimony at trial.

         During an in camera proceeding before trial, defense counsel stated that Hill's defense was that Dillard and Hill's girlfriend, Wright, had a relationship during which she periodically bought pills from him. Defense counsel claimed that he assaulted her the night of the offense, and that Hill "heard her scream and went in." Defense counsel sought to admit the testimony of other women to show that Dillard "would use that [time] as an opportunity to assault young women." The circuit court stated, "I think Ms. Wright can testify as to what she says occurred the night she went into the house. We're not going to bring all these other folks in here to testify about that." The circuit court further ruled that Wright could testify about what had occurred the night of the offense and stated that Hill could proffer the "other witnesses at some point during the proceedings today."

         At trial, testifying for the defense, Wright stated that she and Hill went to Dillard's residence to buy some pills on the night of the offense. She stated that she frequently bought pills from Dillard and would often resell the pills and turn a profit. Wright testified,

We were sitting on the couch and he kind of forced hisself [sic] over on me and started fondling like my crouch [sic] and my breast and I just started screaming and tell him get to off me [sic] and that's when Johnny [Hill] come in and we-I- when Johnny [Hill] come to the right side where I was and Cle pulled a gun out and it was in my face and I run around the back side of the-over the couch, stepped along the couch and went around to the left side and he started firing the gun and Jonathan ran into the bedroom that was right there to the right and he kept firing the gun and I-I didn't see Jonathan after that.

         Defense counsel later proffered the testimony of two witnesses who allegedly would corroborate Wright's ...

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