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Hensley v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 24, 2018



          Scholl Law Firm, P.L.L.C., by: Scott A. Scholl, for appellant.

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


         Appellant Jason Douglas Hensley was convicted in a jury trial of kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, and aggravated residential burglary. The victim was appellant's estranged wife, Melissa Hensley. For these offenses, Mr. Hensley was sentenced to thirty years in prison.

         Mr. Hensley now appeals, raising two arguments for reversal. First, he argues that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the hearsay testimony of Officer Melissa Smith regarding statements made to her by Mrs. Hensley at the hospital after the attack. Next, he argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict on the aggravated residential-burglary charge. We affirm.

         On appeal, we treat a motion for directed verdict as a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Harris v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 264. When an appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, we address the sufficiency argument prior to a review of any alleged trial errors. Kennedy v. State, 49 Ark.App. 20, 894 S.W.2d 952 (1995). In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we determine whether the verdict was supported by substantial evidence, either direct or circumstantial. Armour v. State, 2016 Ark.App. 612, 509 S.W.3d 668. We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, considering only the evidence that supports the verdict. Id.

         Mr. Hensley and Mrs. Hensley were a married couple going through a divorce. They had separated in November 2015. Before the separation, the parties had arranged to move with their children into a rental house in Conway. Mrs. Hensley and the children subsequently moved into that house, but Mr. Hensley never lived there because of the parties' separation. Mr. Hensley had instead moved into a friend's house in Benton. According to Mrs. Hensley, Mr. Hensley did not have a key to her house, and she had unsuccessfully tried to take his name off the lease. In addition, as a result of charges unrelated to this case, there was a no-contact order entered in November 2015 prohibiting Mr. Hensley from having any contact with one of Mrs. Hensley's children or any of the child's immediate family.

         On the morning of February 22, 2016, Mrs. Hensley was home in her bed and her children were at school. The police received an emergency call about a disturbance at the house. Officer Matthew Hugen was one of the officers who arrived to investigate.

         When Officer Hugen arrived at the house, Mrs. Hensley was standing outside. Officer Hugen testified that Mrs. Hensley had blood on her clothing and was wearing a handcuff on one of her ankles. She was upset and her voice was fast, shaky, and trembling. According to Officer Hugen, the first thing Mrs. Hensley said to him was that Mr. Hensley had come into the house and tried to attack her with a knife and that she tried to defend herself with a coffee mug. [1]

         The police entered the house and found Mr. Hensley in Mrs. Hensley's bedroom lying unconscious on her bed with his pants down around his ankles. There were deep cuts on both of Mr. Hensley's wrists, and the sheets were covered in blood. Upon inspecting the bedroom, the police found a knife, a box cutter, and a still-lubricated condom that appeared to have been recently removed from a torn wrapper. The police also found broken pieces of two coffee mugs. In Mrs. Hensley's kitchen was a knife block with one knife missing. Mr. Hensley had driven his roommate's vehicle and parked a block away before entering the house. [2]

         Officer Melissa Smith testified that she made contact with Mrs. Hensley after Mrs. Hensley had been transported by ambulance to the hospital. Officer Smith described Mrs. Hensley as very upset, emotional, and sobbing. Mrs. Hensley had blood on her clothes, hands, arms, and hair, as well as a bruised and swollen cheekbone. As part of her duties, Officer Smith interviewed Mrs. Hensley at the hospital. Mr. Hensley objected to Officer Smith testifying about what Mrs. Hensley had told her in the interview, arguing that this was inadmissible hearsay. The trial court overruled the objection, ruling that her testimony was admissible under the excited-utterance exception to the hearsay rule. Officer Smith testified:

I did not know this woman [Mrs. Hensley], so I was trying to get the entire story from her. She told me that she and her husband were separated and were in the process of divorce.
She said that they had been separated for a year, and that they really hadn't spoken a whole lot since then but suddenly he started sending her a bunch of text messages, repeating things like he loved her and could not live without her. She said she didn't really respond to him, but the night before the incident he sent her a message saying that he really needed to talk to her, that it was important and that it affected him and the children.
She said she thought that was a very odd statement, so she saved that message but did not reply to it. So she got up that morning, took all the kids and . . . .
She told me that she had been talking on the phone. As soon as she hung up, her husband was at her bedroom door. She had not heard him come in. He was just suddenly there, and he was holding a knife up above his shoulder and he screamed what she described as wildly at her and ran at her and started trying to stab her with the knife.
She said they got in a struggle and she was able to knock the knife away from him, and so he put his hands around her throat and started trying to strangle her. She said she could not breathe at this point and felt like she was going to pass out. She said she was reaching around for anything that she could find to defend herself and she found a coffee mug and smashed it on his head, and that distracted him long enough for her to try and get away.
He caught her before she got out of the bedroom and slammed her against the wall, then he pulled a box knife from his pocket and slit his wrists.
She said they kept struggling and she tried to dart into the bathroom to get away and he followed her in and ended up getting her into the bathtub. Whenever she tried to get away from him, he would smash her head into the bathtub.
The whole time she was telling me this, she is going from being able to talk to almost reliving it and starting to bawl. So, we would have to try and calm her down so she could talk again and explain it and then she would just get into the moment again and start crying. But she was able to relay it to us over time.
She said that he was bleeding really badly because he had slit his wrists and also because of the damage she caused by smashing the coffee mug on his head. At one point she thought "I'll just kind of trick him and say, oh, it's okay, it's okay." Then she started blotting his head with a towel trying to calm him down. After she thought that she had distracted him long enough she tried to run again, but he charged her again and tackled her on the bed.
She said that he had a set of leg shackles. She didn't know where they came from, but he shackled her right leg to her right wrist and he had her on the bed. . . .
He then pulled her pants down. He has her shackled on her wrists and ankle. Pulled her pants down and stuck two fingers into her ...

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