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McClendon v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 4, 2019

DAVID WAYNE MCCLENDON APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE LAFAYETTE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 37CR-16-64-2] HONORABLE BRENT HALTOM, JUDGE

          Knutson Law Firm, by: Gregg A. Knutson, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Joseph Karl Luebke, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          RHONDA K. WOOD, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         A jury found appellant David McClendon guilty of first-degree murder. He argues two points on appeal. First, McClendon asserts that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict. Second, he argues that the circuit court abused its discretion by denying his mistrial motion. We affirm. The State presented sufficient evidence to convict McClendon of first-degree murder, and the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying his mistrial motion.

         I. Facts

         On July 15, 2016, Ricardo Martin was shot and killed at his home in Stamps, Arkansas. An autopsy revealed that Martin was shot through the hand, chest, and head; the shot to the head proving fatal. Martin was a drug dealer and was seen earlier that day with a large quantity of meth. By nature of his trade, he was known to carry several hundred dollars in cash on his person at all times. When police arrived at the scene, they found Martin lying in a pool of blood with his pockets partially turned out and bloody footprints trailing away from his body. The morning of the murder, McClendon had been to Martin's house looking for meth. According to Martin's girlfriend, Martin turned McClendon away because McClendon did not have any money. But later that day, Martin's neighbor saw McClendon's truck back at Martin's house.

         Shortly after the murder, law enforcement searched McClendon's house and discovered a substantial amount of cash and meth. Behind his house, police found McClendon's truck, a burn pile, a gas can, and a hoe. The doors of the truck stood wide open, and the floorboards were wet as if they had recently been washed. Next to the truck, the garden hose was still running when police arrived. Police recovered charred portions of the clothes that McClendon had been wearing earlier that day, khaki pants and a white shirt, in the trees behind McClendon's house. Nearby, they found Martin's cellphone. When McClendon arrived at the police station for an initial interview, he was not wearing pants, a shirt, or shoes.

         A jury convicted McClendon of first-degree murder. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to life in prison, plus a fifteen-year firearm enhancement pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section 16-90-120 (Repl. 2016). He argues two points on appeal. First, McClendon asserts that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict. Second, he argues that the circuit court abused its discretion by denying his mistrial motion. We affirm.

         II. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         McClendon moved for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case and again at the close of all the evidence. On appeal, a motion for directed verdict is treated as a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Arnold v. State, 2018 Ark. 343, at 4, 561 S.W.3d 727, 729. In reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, considering only evidence that supports the verdict. Id. We will affirm the verdict if substantial evidence supports it. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence 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. McClendon argues that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was responsible for the murder. However, the State met its burden.

         The State's evidence established that McClendon was at Martin's home on the morning of the murder, and that his truck returned to Martin's house that evening. Although the murder weapon was never recovered, McClendon's wife testified that he called her that day searching for his nine-millimeter pistol-the same caliber used to kill Martin. McClendon's wife had hidden the gun from him earlier that day after he fired it in their living room. When McClendon's wife told him where the gun was hidden, McClendon confirmed, "I've got it. I've got everything I need." Ballistics testing revealed that the two shell casings and two bullets recovered at the crime scene were fired from the same weapon as the shell casing and bullets recovered at McClendon's house, which his wife stated he fired from his nine-millimeter earlier that day.

         Additionally, the State presented evidence that McClendon's original purpose in visiting Martin was to purchase meth. Although Martin turned him away that morning because he did not have any money, shortly after the murder, McClendon was found with a substantial amount of both cash and meth. And although Martin's girlfriend testified that Martin's sole source of income came from selling meth, police found no meth in Martin's house and no money on Martin's person.

         Finally, the State presented evidence demonstrating McClendon's efforts to conceal his involvement in the crime. Our court has held that efforts to conceal a crime and evade detection can be considered as evidence of consciousness of guilt. E.g., Howard v. State, 2016 Ark. 434, at 13, 506 S.W.3d 843, 850. When police searched the perimeter of McClendon's house the next morning, they found a burn pile, a gas can, and McClendon's truck. The doors of the truck stood wide open, and the floorboards were wet as if they had recently been washed. Testimony from McClendon's wife established that McClendon had been wearing khaki pants and a white shirt on the day ...


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