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Dycus v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 18, 2019

Victoria Ann DYCUS, Appellant
STATE of Arkansas, Appellee

Page 168


         Mark Alan Jesse, North Little Rock, for appellant.

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


         N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge

Page 169

          Victoria Ann Dycus appeals her conviction for first-degree murder in the death of her four-year-old daughter, Skylar Shellstrom. On appeal, she argues that there was no substantial evidence that she either struck the child herself or that she was liable as an accomplice to her boyfriend, James Hagen Glenn. After having previously ordered rebriefing, we now reach the merits of the case and affirm appellant’s conviction.

         Skylar was brought to the emergency room on the evening of November 19, 2016, where she died shortly after arriving. The emergency room doctor notified law enforcement that he suspected she died from internal bleeding as the result of trauma and that she had a significant amount of bruising consistent with child abuse. The autopsy revealed that Skylar died from blunt-force abdominal injuries that resulted in peritonitis due to duodenal rupture. Dr. Stephen Erickson, the deputy chief medical examiner at the state crime lab, testified that Skylar had been struck in the stomach and that her duodenum was nearly transected in half.[1] He testified that she had been struck hours, not days, before she died and noted that she would have thrown up any food or drink ingested after the blow. In addition to this fatal blow, Dr. Erickson said that there was evidence of scarring and other signs of the body’s healing response that showed Skylar had been struck in the stomach before. He said that the blow may have been a punch, a kick, an elbow, or a knee to the stomach.

         Dr. Erickson testified that Skylar had been the victim of chronic child abuse as evidenced by a multitude of aging bruises as well as burns, puncture wounds, and other injuries. He said that the number, location, and severity of the bruises indicated child abuse; they were not bruises a child might normally sustain. These included linear deep bruises across Skylar’s buttocks and multiple bruises on the back of her legs and her elbows. She had bruises on both ears indicating that she had been struck or grabbed as well as bruises on her scalp, on her forehead, around her eyes, on her forearm, and on her labia. The tops of Skylar’s feet had significant bruises, and the bottoms of her feet had multiple puncture wounds— twenty on one foot and ten on the other. Dr. Erickson said that some of the puncture wounds were older than others and that a sharp object had been pushed into her skin enough to cause some bleeding. He said that the force used to cause her injuries would have caused pain and likely crying from a four-year-old child. Skylar also had burn marks on her nose that Dr. Erickson said would have left a disfiguring scar. He said that she would have reacted and should have been seen by a doctor for the burns. Skylar also had a serious injury to her mouth that Dr. Erickson said was characteristic of what happens when someone punches a child in the mouth or shoves something into a child’s mouth. This strike resulted in a large laceration of the upper part of Skylar’s lip and had destroyed the frenulum. Dr. Erickson said that her lip would have bled a lot and been bruised and that any reasonable person would have understood she was injured and needed attention.

          Investigator Dennis Simons interviewed appellant on the night Skylar died. Appellant told him that Skylar had been sick off and on for the past week and had been throwing up, which she thought was caused from drinking too much soda. She

Page 170

denied that anyone had hurt Skylar and claimed that Skylar had been hitting herself hard enough to leave bruises on her belly and legs. Appellant told Simons that the burns on Skylar’s nose were caused when Glenn was blow drying her hair, and Skylar got mad and jerked the blow dryer down onto her nose. Appellant said that she did not witness this happen but Glenn told her about it. Glenn had also told her that a bruise on Skylar’s head was caused by the shower curtain falling on her.

          Simons interviewed appellant again when she was arrested in December 2016, and appellant still denied that anyone had hurt Skylar. Glenn was charged with first-degree murder at the same time. A week later, appellant requested to speak with Simons again. She told Simons that Skylar had initially really liked Glenn, but for the last week or two before her death she did not want anything to do with him. Appellant said that while Skylar was taking a bath one day, she told appellant that Glenn had hit her four times, but Skylar later recanted when Glenn questioned her. Appellant said that she did not see Skylar’s injuries because Glenn did everything for Skylar.

          Appellant testified that on November 19, Glenn left their home at 6:30 a.m. to go hunting. He came back around 9:00 a.m. and watched Skylar while appellant took a shower. Glenn left again, leaving appellant home alone with Skylar, until he returned briefly around 2:30 and then again around 5:30. Appellant said that Skylar watched movies all day and had oatmeal, juice, and chips but threw up the juice. Appellant said that when Glenn returned home that evening, ...

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