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Farmer v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

March 6, 2019

JASON ALLEN FARMER APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 04CR-16-31] HONORABLE BRAD KARREN, JUDGE

          MDS Law Firm, PLLC, by: Matthew D. Swindle, for appellant.

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

          N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, JUDGE

         Jason Allen Farmer was convicted in the Benton County Circuit Court of aggravated robbery, aggravated residential burglary, terroristic threatening, and domestic battery in the third degree. He was sentenced to twenty-two years' imprisonment. Following his convictions, Farmer filed a motion for new trial, which was denied by the circuit court. Farmer now appeals, arguing that the circuit court erred in not granting a new trial because text messages and voicemails introduced by the State should not have been admitted or allowed to remain in evidence. We affirm.

         On the day the jury trial was set to begin, September 11, 2017, Farmer sought a continuance based on the fact that the defense had not received recordings of voicemails from the prosecutor until September 1, 2017, despite the prosecutor's previous representation that all discovery had been provided. The State did not object to the request for a continuance, but the court denied the request and initially ruled that the voicemails would be inadmissible. After the State argued against exclusion of the voicemails, the court decided to take the matter under advisement.

         The court later heard the defense's motion to exclude text messages sent between Farmer and the victim, Darcy Fisher. The messages were not extracted from Fisher's phone by the State but were first produced on paper by Fisher at a hearing for an order of protection. The defense attempted to subpoena the phone, but Fisher could not produce it.[1] Farmer alleged that the text messages the State intended to introduce could not be authenticated because there are easily accessible tools that can be used to fabricate text messages, some messages appeared to have been altered, and the progression of the conversation indicated some messages might have been deleted. The court ruled that based on the information the State planned to use to authenticate the messages, including Farmer's phone number, statements he made to his mother, and the content of the messages, the messages would be admissible. After listening to the voicemails, the court ruled that they would also be admissible, noting that they contained the same information as in the text messages.

         At the trial, Fisher's neighbor, Jody Keigley, testified that he called the police on January 4, 2016, when Fisher yelled at him to do so from the street and told him that Farmer had beaten her and stolen her guns. Keigley later saw Farmer holding Fisher by the elbow and pointing her back toward the house, and he saw Farmer retrieve a tactical vest and a rifle from his car.

         Three police officers who responded to the scene testified that when they arrived, Fisher ran out of the house and was extremely distraught and holding her abdomen. Fisher told them that Farmer said he was there to get what was owed him and kicked in the door after she told him to leave. She said that he threw his AR-15 rifle on the ground and started attacking her. Officers detained Farmer inside the house and found a pocketknife in his pocket. An unloaded AR-15 that belonged to Fisher and a flat-screen television appeared to have been thrown haphazardly onto the couch. A flak jacket with six AR-15 magazines that were fully loaded were found near the front door, and Farmer's fully loaded AR-15 was found on the floor in the back bedroom. In Farmer's car, police found a loaded nine-millimeter Glock pistol in a holster and another pistol along with ammunition and a tactical knife in a bag. The front door of Fisher's house appeared to have been busted inward.

         Sergeant Clayton Stewart testified that Farmer told them several different stories of what happened, including that Fisher had stolen money and guns from his house a few weeks earlier and had invited him over to retrieve them. Farmer claimed that Fisher attacked him when he went into the house and he simply defended himself and pushed her off; he said that she broke the door by slamming it. Although Farmer claimed that Fisher had attacked and scratched him, police were unable to find any marks or scratches on him. Fisher, however, had bruises and red marks on her head, neck, abdomen, arms, back, and legs. Farmer's mother, Sandra Switzer, identified Farmer's phone number and testified that he called her on January 4, 2016, and told her that he had beaten Fisher up and that the police were coming to arrest him. Switzer said that Farmer later told her that he had been having a fight with Fisher via text messages on the morning of the incident.

         Fisher testified that Farmer, her ex-boyfriend, was texting and calling her on January 4, 2016, and the night before. She said that State's exhibit 20 depicted text messages they exchanged as they appeared on her phone. She said that she downloaded an app on the phone that would convert the texts to a PDF file and show the phone number and time for each message. Fisher testified that the exhibit was an accurate copy of the text conversation she had with Farmer on the morning of January 4. The exhibit was admitted into evidence over the defense's previous objections. Fisher testified that she did not answer Farmer's phone calls on January 4, and he left voicemails on her phone. A recording of the voicemails was made at the Gentry Police Department. Fisher said that the discs of the recordings contained accurate copies of the voicemail messages, and they were admitted into evidence. Although admitted into evidence at this time, the text messages were not read or shown to the jury and the voicemails were not played until near the end of Fisher's testimony on direct examination.

         Fisher testified that Farmer had threatened her before but nothing had ever happened, so she felt comfortable taking a nap after receiving the threatening messages. She woke up to Farmer beating on her door. Fisher told him to leave or she would call the police, but before she could do so Farmer kicked open the door, which flung her back. She said that Farmer came in with his flak jacket and AR-15 and started beating her with closed fists. She said that she was pinned underneath him and begged him to stop as he hit her on the legs, abdomen, and groin area. He also hit her on the head, slapped her, and held a knife to her cheek and threatened to disfigure her face. He called her names, told her that she was going to die, and when she told him that her children would be home soon, he said that they could die with her. Farmer also told her that he was going to take her belongings because she owed him money and asked where her AR-15 and television were.

         Fisher testified that when Farmer went to get her gun, she ran across the street to tell her neighbor to call 911. She said that she then saw Farmer put her AR-15 in his car and start to bring her television out to the car. Fisher took her AR-15 out of the car, but Farmer saw her and jerked it out of her hands and flung it in the yard. He then put her in a chokehold and dragged her back in the house. Fisher said that he again started hitting her and threatening to kill her, but he stopped and let go of her when he heard police sirens. Photos of Fisher's injuries were admitted into evidence, and she said that she had been diagnosed with a concussion.

         The messages in State's exhibit 20 were then read to the jury. The lengthy conversation between Fisher and Farmer begins at 8:58 a.m. and consists of arguing about their relationship and other matters. The messages contain numerous threats sent by Farmer, including the following:

If you mouth my kid I will shove my thumb through ...

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