RODRICK VANN, JR. APPELLANT
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE
FROM THE MILLER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 46CR-16-812]
HONORABLE KIRK D. JOHNSON, JUDGE.
C. Self, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
W. GRUBER, CHIEF JUDGE.
issue on appeal in this case is whether the State presented
sufficient evidence to corroborate accomplice testimony
connecting appellant Rodrick Vann with the commission of
aggravated robbery. A Miller County Circuit Court jury
convicted appellant of aggravated robbery and sentenced him
to forty years' imprisonment. We hold there was not
substantial evidence to corroborate the accomplice testimony,
and we reverse appellant's conviction.
sole point on appeal is that the circuit court erred in
denying his motion for directed verdict on the basis of
insufficient corroboration of the accomplice testimony. He
argues that the corroborating evidence was not sufficient to
establish either that a crime occurred or that he was
involved. Before we analyze the testimony, we set forth the
standard of review and relevant law.
test for determining the sufficiency of the evidence is
whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence,
direct or circumstantial. Meadows v. State, 2012
Ark. 57, at 5, 386 S.W.3d 470, 474. Evidence is substantial
if it is of sufficient force and character to compel
reasonable minds to reach a conclusion and pass beyond
suspicion and conjecture. Id. On appeal, we view the
evidence in the light most favorable to the State,
considering only that evidence that supports the verdict.
Williams v. State, 2011 Ark. 432, at 4, 385 S.W.3d
law provides that a person cannot be convicted based on the
testimony of an accomplice "unless [the testimony is]
corroborated by other evidence tending to connect the
defendant . . . with the commission of the offense."
Ark. Code Ann. § 16-89-111(e)(1)(A) (Supp. 2017).
Corroboration must be evidence of a substantive nature, since
it must be directed toward proving the connection of the
accused with the crime, and not directed toward corroborating
the accomplice's testimony. Meadows, 2012 Ark.
57, at 6, 386 S.W.3d at 474. The corroboration is not
sufficient if it merely shows that the offense was committed
and the circumstances thereof. Ark. Code Ann. §
16-89-111(e)(1)(B). The test for corroborating evidence is
whether, if the testimony of the accomplice were totally
eliminated from the case, the remaining evidence
independently establishes the crime and tends to connect the
accused with its commission. MacKool v. State, 365
Ark. 416, 430, 231 S.W.3d 676, 688 (2006).
was convicted of aggravated robbery for his role in the
robbery of Burnice Pickens at gunpoint on November 25, 2016.
Pickens did not testify. The State presented the testimony of
seven Texarkana Police Department officers and one
accomplice, Kiona Easter. Officer Joshua Jones testified
first. He said that he responded to a call that Pickens had
been robbed at the Motel 6. Officer Jones testified that
Pickens appeared "very upset" when Jones arrived at
the motel and that "his eyes were wide, bug-eyed, almost
like he had just seen something and something traumatizing
almost happened to him." When the State asked Officer
Jones to "recount" what Pickens had told him that
night, appellant objected on the basis of hearsay and the
Confrontation Clause. After allowing the State to lay a
proper foundation, the circuit court found that a foundation
had been laid to present the hearsay as an excited utterance,
but it suspended the testimony for a later discussion
regarding the Confrontation Clause.
State then presented the testimony of alleged accomplice
Kiona Easter, who testified in exchange for her guilty plea
to robbery and a sentence of ten years' probation. She
said that on November 25, 2016, she sneaked out of her
parents' home after messaging with appellant, whom she
had met that day on Facebook. Appellant picked her up and
took her to the Ambassador Hotel in Texarkana, Arkansas. She
said they watched television and appellant took a shower
before his friends, Master Leal and Phillip Cornell, arrived.
Eventually, appellant took Easter to Fox Creek Apartments,
where they met with Leal, Cornell, and Kevonte Smith. Easter
said that appellant began talking about how pretty she was
and how easy it would be for her to "set somebody
up." She said that appellant used her phone, made a
couple of calls, and texted for a while. After appellant
returned her phone, she saw texts on her phone to Burnice
Pickens, whom she did not know. Easter then began getting
messages from Pickens, asking where she was so that he could
come and get her. Appellant told her to go with Pickens and
that they would come and get her later. She said she did not
want to go, but appellant assured her that nothing would
happen to her.
testified that Pickens picked her up from Fox Creek
Apartments and took her to the Motel 6. She said that
appellant did not really "tell her the plan," but
told her to talk to Pickens and they would come and get her.
She said that at some point, "other people" showed
up at the hotel room and appellant texted her that they were
almost there. He told her to open the door, which she did.
When she opened the door, she saw three masked men running
toward the room with guns. She said one had a
"mini-shotgun," one had a pistol, and the other had
a handgun. She testified that appellant told her to
"run" and then told Pickens to "put his hands
up." Easter ran, and then she heard whistling, turned
around, and saw the three men-appellant, Leal, and
Smith-running in a different direction. She followed them
back to Fox Creek Apartments, where the men changed clothes.
She said they mentioned that they had taken Pickens's
phone, keys, and forty dollars. She said they listened to a
description of the event on a police scanner and laughed. She
said appellant mentioned that he "got rid of"
Pickens's keys so he could not go anywhere, and he
demonstrated with the gun what he had done to Pickens.
State then called five police officers from the Texarkana
Police Department. Officer Zachary White of the Criminal
Investigation Division testified first. He said that he
became involved in the case the morning after the incident.
He helped identify Easter and met with her at her residence.
He obtained an arrest warrant for appellant based on
information from Easter.
Shane Kirkland testified that he became involved several days
after the incident and obtained information that appellant
was involved from Easter's statement. He also said that
Master Leal had "implicated" appellant. He
testified that the police recovered a BB gun and a sawed-off
shotgun described by Easter in the possession of Kevonte
Smith at Fox Creek Apartments. Finally, he testified that a
confidential informant had "led to the arrest" of
appellant and had said that appellant "was staying"
at Fox Creek Apartments, but Officer Kirkland admitted that
he never discovered appellant at Fox Creek Apartments. He
said he had nothing connecting appellant to these apartments
other than the accounts of Easter, Leal, and the confidential
Wayne Easley testified that he became involved in the
investigation by interviewing Master Leal, who admitted that
he had committed the robbery with Smith and appellant. He
said that they recovered the weapons used in the robbery, but
he admitted that they did not have ...