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Claggett v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

April 10, 2019

ALLEN CLAGGETT APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM THE JEFFERSON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 35CR-17-417] HONORABLE JODI RAINES DENNIS, JUDGE

          Potts Law Office, by: Gary W. Potts, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Chris R. Warthen, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, JUDGE

         Appellant Allen Claggett was convicted by a Jefferson County jury of one count of second-degree murder and one count of third-degree domestic battery. He was sentenced to sixty years in the Arkansas Department of Correction and ordered to pay a $15, 000 fine for the murder conviction; he was sentenced to one year in the Jefferson County jail for the battery conviction. On appeal, he contends that the circuit court should have granted his motion for directed verdict on the murder charge. Because substantial evidence supports Claggett's conviction, we affirm.[1]

         A motion for a directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Carter v. State, 2019 Ark.App. 57, ___ S.W.3d ___. 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. Taylor v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 331, 522 S.W.3d 844; Ealy v. State, 2017 Ark.App. 35, 511 S.W.3d 355. We affirm a conviction if substantial evidence exists to support it. Taylor, supra. 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.

         We therefore review the evidence that was presented at trial, examining it in the light most favorable to the State. In the early morning hours of June 2, 2017, Claggett's sister, Nancy Claggett, was at her home with her boyfriend, Henry Johnson, the victim in this case.[2] Claggett arrived at Nancy's house and began arguing with Nancy. During the argument, Claggett hit Nancy in the eye. Nancy tried to prevent Claggett from striking Johnson because Johnson was partially disabled from a previous stroke and was unable to defend himself. Claggett began hitting Johnson repeatedly, knocking him onto the bed and then onto the floor. Once Johnson was on the floor, Claggett began "stomping" on Johnson. Nancy ran from the house, but she could still hear Claggett hitting and stomping on Johnson as she did. Shortly thereafter, at about one o'clock in the morning, Claggett called Nancy to come back inside where she discovered Johnson in distress, vomiting, and apparently unconscious. Nancy attempted to call an ambulance, but Claggett had her phone. As a result, Nancy was unable to call for medical attention until noon on June 2.

         In response to Nancy's call, EMS first responders ascertained the nature of Johnson's injuries. Because of the severity of his head injuries, Johnson was taken to UAMS in Little Rock, where a CT scan revealed the presence of a subdural hematoma, or bleeding underneath the fibrous covering of the brain. Surgeons performed a craniotomy on Johnson.[3]Unfortunately, this procedure was not successful, and blood reaccumulated in the area, necessitating a second surgery within hours to drain the epidural hematoma that developed. Postoperatively, doctors determined that Johnson had suffered a significant infarction, or lack of blood flow, to the right side of his brain, resulting in that part of his brain beginning to die. On June 8, 2017, Johnson was taken to hospice care, where he subsequently died of pneumonia on June 13. While pneumonia and surgical complications contributed to Johnson's death, Dr. Stephen Erickson, the deputy chief medical examiner at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, testified that Johnson's neurological injury was caused by a traumatic head injury. Ultimately, Dr. Erickson opined that Johnson had died as a result of receiving head trauma or secondary to the traumatic head injury.

         Based on this evidence, Claggett was convicted of second-degree murder. A person commits murder in the second degree if, with the purpose of causing serious physical injury to another person, the person causes the death of any person. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-10-103(a)(2) (Repl. 2013). On appeal from his conviction for this offense, Claggett argues that there was insufficient evidence to show that he acted with purposeful conduct that resulted in Johnson's death. He also argues that the jury had to resort to speculation and conjecture to determine that his actions were the cause of Johnson's death.

         We are unable to reach Claggett's purposeful-conduct argument. At trial, Claggett moved for directed verdict as follows:

I would move for a directed verdict. The State showed-there has been proof that there was a fight between the defendant and the decedent that resulted in the decedent having to have brain surgery. And there were complications from the brain surgery that led to his death. It was not caused immediately by the defendant. And there has been a death of the defendant [sic], there was a fight, but there's been no evidence that the fight caused the death.

         It is readily apparent from Claggett's directed-verdict motion that he did not argue that the State failed to prove that he acted with purposeful conduct. Arguments not raised below are waived, and parties cannot change the grounds for an objection on appeal but are bound by the scope and nature of the objections and arguments presented at trial. Goins v. State, 2019 Ark.App. 11, ___ S.W.3d ___. Because Claggett did not argue to the circuit court that there was insufficient evidence of his purposeful state of mind, we cannot address the merits of this specific argument.

         We turn then to Claggett's second argument, which is that the evidence was insufficient to show that his conduct was the cause of Johnson's death. With respect to causation, Arkansas Code Annotated section 5-2-205 (Repl. 2013) provides as follows:

         Causation may be found when the result would not have occurred but for the conduct of the defendant operating either alone ...


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