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Vaughan v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

September 26, 2018



          Hancock Law Firm, by: Charles D. Hancock, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: David L. Eanes Jr., Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         Appellant Morgan Vaughan appeals her conviction by the Boone County Circuit Court. She challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction on a charge of aggravated robbery either as a principal or as an accomplice. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         On October 7, 2016, the State filed a felony information charging appellant with one count of aggravated robbery as an accomplice to her then live-in boyfriend, Shay Butler, in the alleged aggravated robbery of Jeremy Scroggins. A jury trial was held on September 5, 2017. Butler, an admitted accomplice, testified for the State. Butler was convicted of the June 27, 2016 aggravated robbery and murder of Scroggins and received a thirty-six-year sentence.

         Butler testified that on June 27, 2016, he told appellant that he was going to pick up Scroggins and beat him up and take anything he had on him-because Butler suspected Scroggins had stolen one of his cell phones and an ounce of methamphetamine from him. When Butler and appellant picked up Scroggins, Butler told him that they were going to collect some money and that he needed Scroggins for backup. Butler explained, however, that he never told appellant that he had a .22-caliber pistol in his possession that he had stolen from her family. Butler stated that appellant had no idea about what he was going to do once they stopped near a cemetery and he and Scroggins got out of the car. Butler testified that appellant was not involved in what he did to Scroggins on June 27, 2016.

         Butler said that when they arrived at the cemetery, he and Scroggins got out of the car, started walking to the cemetery, and hopped the fence. At that time, appellant followed Butler's directions to "[j]ust drive down the road." Butler explained that after Scroggins had begun asking him questions, he turned around, drew the gun, asked him about the stolen drugs, and shot Scroggins two times after he had received no answer. The first shot misfired, but then Butler shot Scroggins in the head. He took a pill bottle containing marijuana and pills out of Scroggins's pocket.

         Butler returned to the road where appellant picked him up approximately ten minutes after appellant had left him there, and Butler testified that appellant asked him what had happened. Butler stated that he told appellant that he thought he had killed Scroggins. Butler explained that appellant "started freaking out," which made him panic, so he told her that Scroggins was not dead. On the way home, Butler showed appellant the pill bottle he had taken from Scroggins. Without further discussion, the pair went to their home, and Butler put the gun away.

         Captain Bob King of the Boone County Sheriff's Department testified about the investigation. He explained that they identified Butler as the person Scroggins last had contact with via Facebook messenger records. That led to officers interviewing Butler and a few months later interviewing appellant, whose stories were similar but contained some conflicting information and timing discrepancies. Appellant acknowledged that she could not fill in more details because she had been "pretty strung out on meth," was confused about when and where she had met with Scroggins and Butler, and did not know what had happened to Scroggins that night. She tried to establish that she was at her grandmother's residence on the evening in question.

         Appellant subsequently was interviewed by Special Agent Buster Rink of the Arkansas State Police, to whom Butler had previously confessed. According to Rink's testimony and the transcript, appellant's memory of the events was more clear during the subsequent interview, but she continued to claim that her only involvement was to drive the car. She claimed that Butler did not tell her that he was going to beat up Scroggins or that he had a gun. She acknowledged that she did not go to the police after Butler told her that he was afraid he had killed Scroggins because she was scared. Appellant also acknowledged that Scroggins had left his cell phone in her car that evening because he thought he would be coming back to it.

         Special Agent David Small of the Arkansas State Police also testified regarding the discovery of Scroggins's remains and a spent .22-caliber casing, which were recovered after an interview with Butler.

         At the close of the State's case-in-chief, appellant moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the State had failed to present the circuit court with any type of corroboration, which would be independent of Butler's testimony, to sustain the aggravated-robbery charge against appellant. Counsel argued that the testimony of the accomplice, Butler, was uncorroborated and that a prima facie case was not made by the State. Counsel said the State had not given any distinct and independent evidence that would prove anything other than that appellant had been merely present. The circuit court denied appellant's motion for a directed verdict, finding that there was substantial corroboration of appellant's participation by her own statement to police independent of Butler's testimony.

         Appellant did not present any evidence in her defense. At the close of appellant's case, counsel renewed the motion for a directed verdict, arguing that the State had failed to present sufficient proof of corroboration independent of Butler's testimony. The circuit court again denied appellant's motion.

         Appellant was found guilty by the jury of aggravated robbery and sentenced to thirteen years in the Arkansas Department of Correction pursuant to a judgment and commitment order entered on September 7, 2017. Appellant filed a notice of appeal on September 22, 2017.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion for directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Hill v. State, 2018 Ark. 194, 546 S.W.3d 483. In a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this court considers only the evidence that supports the conviction in the light most favorable to the State and determines whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence that is forceful enough to compel a conclusion beyond suspicion or conjecture. Id. Circumstantial evidence may constitute substantial evidence to support a conviction if it excludes every other reasonable hypothesis other than the guilt of the accused; that determination is a question of fact for the finder of fact. Wilson v. State, 2018 Ark.App. 371, ___S.W.3d ___.

         Weighing the evidence, reconciling conflicts in the testimony, and assessing credibility are all matters exclusively for the trier of fact. Lovelace v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 146, at 6, 516 S.W.3d 300, 304. A jury may accept or reject any part of a witness's testimony, and its conclusion ...

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