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Danner v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

December 12, 2018



          Cullen & Co., PLLC, by: Tim J. Cullen, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Brad Newman, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.


         A Garland County Circuit Court jury found Kenny Lemont Danner guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Mark Turner. Danner appeals his conviction and argues that the evidence was circumstantial and was therefore not sufficient for a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.[1] Because substantial evidence supports a conviction, we affirm.

         In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and consider only the evidence that supports the verdict. Cluck v. State, 365 Ark. 166, 226 S.W.3d 780 (2006). We will affirm a conviction if substantial evidence exists to support it. Id. Substantial evidence is that which is of sufficient force and character that it will, with reasonable certainty, compel a conclusion one way or the other, without resorting to speculation or conjecture. Id. When a theory of accomplice liability is implicated, we affirm a sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge if substantial evidence exists that the defendant acted as an accomplice in the commission of the alleged offense. Cook v. State, 350 Ark. 398, 86 S.W.3d 916 (2002).

         Taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, as we must do, the following evidence substantially supports Danner's conviction. On May 29, 2016, Mark Turner failed to show up for work. He was later found dead in his apartment. Law enforcement was notified.

         Law enforcement responded to Turner's apartment to investigate his death. Turner's fatal injuries appeared to have been inflicted by the use of three different weapons: possibly a hammer, a knife, and a phillips-head screwdriver. He had suffered multiple blunt-force and sharp-force injuries.[2] The apartment was processed for evidence, and certain items were collected, including blood samples and a piece of carpet containing a bloody shoe print.

         The police eventually focused on Danner as a suspect in Turner's murder. The investigation into Turner's death revealed that Danner, his brother Korean, James Marshall, and Alvin Smith had gathered at Turner's apartment in the early morning hours of May 28, 2016. Turner, Danner, Korean, and Smith began drinking, smoking marijuana, and shooting dice, while Marshall sat on the couch watching videos and texting on his phone. Turner had a backpack with an extra set of clothes, some marijuana, and a gun. He also had a large amount of money from an insurance settlement. He was betting on the dice game with some` of the money but did not have it all out. Turner generally carried the money in his wallet or in the backpack.[3]

         Smith left the apartment at approximately 3:45 a.m. Marshall left five or ten minutes later, leaving Danner and Korean with Turner. At approximately 5:00 a.m., Melissa Clenney, Turner's downstairs neighbor, was awakened by the sound of "thumps and bumps" coming from Turner's apartment. Danner and Korean were the last-known persons to have seen Turner alive.

         After leaving Turner's apartment, Danner and Korean walked to the apartment of their sister. Danner and Korean's route to the apartment was captured on surveillance video between 5:45 and 6:00 a.m.[4] Both Danner and Korean were carrying backpacks. Surveillance video from his sister's apartment complex later that morning captured Danner placing a large black trash bag in the apartment complex trash bins. In that video, Danner is seen wearing blue argyle socks and Converse tennis shoes.

         The police searched the apartment where Danner had been staying with his sister. Of note, the police collected a pair of size 9 Converse tennis shoes, a pair of gray Hanes underwear, and a pair of blue argyle socks. The shoes collected matched two bloody footprints located in Turner's apartment in terms of both pattern and size and matched a third in pattern only. An examination of the shoes showed discoloration and some reaction to testing, but it could not be definitively confirmed as blood. However, Turner's blood was found on the socks and the underwear seized by the police. The underwear also contained Danner's DNA, thereby linking him to that article of clothing. Additionally, Danner was interviewed by the police. During the interview, he had a black eye, indicative of his involvement in some altercation. Danner advised that he had received the injury from his nephew's hitting him with a broom on May 27, but Marshall and Smith both testified that Danner did not have a black eye when they saw him at the apartment in the early morning hours of May 28 prior to Turner's death.

         On appeal, Danner asserts that the above-recited evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because the evidence presented was circumstantial. He specifically claims that there were no identifiable eyewitnesses to the murder, and the State was unable to produce or identify the murder weapons. With regard to the time frame and nature of the attack on Turner, Danner contends that the only evidence the State offered came from Ms. Clenney, the downstairs neighbor, claiming she heard "thumps and bumps" coming from Turner's apartment. He argues that those noises could reasonably have come from innocent conduct, such as footsteps, and it was possible that someone killed Turner after Danner had left the apartment. He also challenges the State's suggestion that he was attempting to destroy evidence by depositing items in a dumpster at the apartment complex the next morning. He notes that no trash was recovered or produced at trial linking him to the murder and that there is an equally innocent explanation for his actions. Thus, it also is not sufficient to rule out all other reasonable conclusions. He asserts that while the circumstantial evidence presented might be sufficient to prove that he was present at the time of the attack, it is not sufficient to prove that he participated in Turner's murder. He notes that presence alone at the scene of the crime is insufficient to establish guilt.

         Danner is correct that if circumstantial evidence provides the basis to support a conviction, it must be consistent with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any other reasonable conclusion. See Edmond v. State, 351 Ark. 495, 95 S.W.3d 789 (2003). Whether the evidence excludes every other hypothesis is left to the jury to decide. Carmichael v. State, 340 Ark. 598, 12 S.W.3d 225 (2000). The credibility of witnesses is an issue for the jury and not the court. Burley v. State, 348 Ark. 422, 73 S.W.3d 600 (2002). The trier of fact ...

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