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Ralston v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 13, 2019

Lawrence RALSTON, Appellant
STATE of Arkansas, Appellee

Page 608

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Dusti Standridge, for appellant.

         Leslie Rutledge, Att’y Gen., by: Pamela Rumpz, Ass’t Att’y Gen., for appellee.


         WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge

Page 611

          Appellant appeals from his conviction by a jury of sexual assault in the second degree and rape for which he was sentenced to a total of fifty years’ imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that (1) appellee did not prove that he committed sexual assault in the second degree against A.H., (2) appellee did not prove that he committed rape against H.M., and (3) it was reversible error for the circuit court to allow the testimony of Officer Nick Torkleson. We affirm.

          On December 2, 2016, a criminal information was filed charging appellant with one count of sexual assault in the second degree on information that "[o]n or about various dates in 2009-2010, [appellant] did engage in sexual contact with ‘A.H.’, who was under the age of fourteen and was not [appellant’s] spouse." An amended criminal information was filed on May 16, 2017, adding one count of rape on information that "[o]n or about 2009-2010, in Benton County, [appellant] engaged in deviate sexual activity with ‘H.M.’, who was less than fourteen years of age."

         An Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b) hearing was held on December 18, 2017, to determine whether certain testimony from Nicholas Torkleson should be admitted. Torkleson, a former detective with the Rogers Police Department, testified to an incident occurring on September 28, 2009, when appellant was stopped for driving down the road while masturbating. Appellant initially denied masturbating while driving but admitted that he had done so "not a very long time later[.]" Appellant had explained that he was a gay man who had moved to the area from Kansas City and that one of his friends in Kansas City had told him that he could masturbate while driving down the road to find potential partners.

          What "stood out in [Torkleson’s] mind" was appellant’s statement during that encounter that "he was extremely sexually frustrated because he missed his two boys who he had not seen in years." Torkleson found the comment to be "pretty alarming" and "pretty jarring[,]" specifically that appellant’s "sexual frustration related to these boys." "[A] short time" after appellant made the comment, Torkleson expressed his concern to appellant that a kid could see appellant exposing himself while driving down the road, to which appellant "volunteered that he was not attracted to children." Appellant did not tell Torkleson of "any specific steps he took to try to avoid a child view of him." Torkleson did not ask appellant how old his kids were; he did not even know if appellant had kids.

          Appellant then testified that his "boys" were 31 and 36 in 2009 and that he stopped having contact with them after his divorce in 1979. His sons were "little boys" when he last had "meaningful contact" with them. The circuit court then made the following ruling:

I find that the statement made during the traffic stop will be admissible. I find that it is independently relevant and that it has a tendency to make the existence of any fact that is a consequence to determination of the action before the Court more or less probable than it would be without the evidence in that it shows motive and the defendant’s state of mind, it shows his sexual proclivity towards as he referred to them as his missing boys.

Page 612

Find this on the basis, one, gender, that it’s of male gender; two, he says missing his missing boys [sic], which also sets out an age; and, three, that he links missing boys with his sexual frustration. This is sufficiently similar to charges for which the defendant is standing before this Court, the rape and sexual assault of two young boys, and for these reasons I find that the probative value does outweigh the prejudicial impact and it is of independent relevance; therefore, the statement made during the traffic stop will be allowed.

          The trial in the matter was held on December 20, 2017.

          H.M. testified that appellant is his great uncle— his mother’s uncle— and that appellant lived with H.M. and his mother in "like, 2009" when he was nine years old. Everyone had their own rooms. The situation "just went downhill really fast, though." H.M. testified to appellant coming into H.M.’s room, turning off his radio, sitting on his bed, and talking to him. What happened next followed:

[Appellant] would start touching my penis, like, after, like, my underwear was around my ankles. When this happened I was laying down in my bed. [Appellant] would be like in the middle, slash, like the foot kind of [sic]. My mom was home but she was asleep. I know because I could hear her snoring. Me and mom’s door- our rooms were next to each other.
[Appellant] would touch my penis with my clothes off. They were around my ankles. I would put them down because he told me to. When I say he, that is [appellant]. He would use his hand to touch me. His hand would slightly go up and down slowly. He didn’t say anything to me when he would touch me. When he touched me he has [sic] his clothes on. This happened [one] time that I can remember. He told me not to tell nobody or he would hurt me and my mom.

          H.M. also testified to "other things that [he] was not okay with" such as when appellant "put his hand on [H.M.’s] leg" or when appellant "put [H.M.’s] penis in [appellant’s] mouth and he would, like, go up and down, kind of, too[.]" Appellant put his mouth on H.M.’s penis only once. H.M. stated that his clothes were around his ankles whenever appellant did these things and that appellant would threaten to hurt H.M. and his mother if H.M. told anyone. H.M. "didn’t tell anybody about [appellant] coming into [his] room until [he] was in Vista Hospital. [He] didn’t tell anyone because [he] was scared [appellant] would actually hurt [H.M.] and his mom" but he told at Vista Hospital (Vista) because he "felt safer." Vista is a mental hospital where H.M. received treatment in 2010. The first person H.M. told what had happened was his therapist at Vista. H.M. was ten at that time and "wasn’t able to see this case through because [he] was scared of seeing appellant."

         H.M. became aware of A.H. coming forward about allegations involving appellant in 2014, but he did not learn it from A.H. He did not talk to A.H. about what appellant did to him; "[t]hat wasn’t something that was talked about a lot in [his] family." A.H. is the son of H.M.’s sister, Sheena Mendoza. H.M. and his sister lived with their mother, along with Sheena’s children, among whom A.H. was included. When H.M. learned about A.H. coming forward, he felt that he "needed to do ...

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