Christopher W. TERRELL, Appellant
STATE of Arkansas, Appellee
FROM THE POINSETT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 56CR-15-21],
HONORABLE JOHN N. FOGLEMAN, JUDGE
Law Firm, by: Michael Kiel Kaiser and Bobby R. Digby II,
Little Rock, for appellant.
Rutledge, Atty Gen., by: David L. Eanes, Jr., Asst Atty
Gen., for appellee.
Poinsett County Circuit Court jury found appellant
Christopher Terrell guilty of first-degree murder in the
death of James Hunt. On appeal, Terrell argues that (1)
insufficient evidence supports his conviction; (2) the
circuit court erred in denying his motion in limine; (3) the
circuit court erred in admitting the prior testimony of an
unavailable witness; (4) the circuit court erred in denying
his motion for a new trial; and (5) the circuit court erred
in denying his two motions for a mistrial. We affirm
Hunts body was discovered by law enforcement underneath his
burnt truck at a levee in Marked Tree on November 29, 2014.
Hunt died from a shotgun wound to the head. Trails of blood
led to the truck, and law enforcement determined that the
body had been rolled down a hill for more than sixty feet.
Hunts wife, Peggy, told law enforcement that Terrell and
Betty Grant had been around her husband prior to his death.
Peggy testified that on November 27, 2014, she received a
call from Terrell from the phone number (870) 227-3854 asking
if she knew where Grant was. She provided police with
Terrells phone number as well as other numbers that appeared
on her husbands phone. Law enforcement started looking for
Terrell and Grant and did an "emergency ping" on
Terrells phone number.
was interviewed by police the next day and told them that she
had accidentally killed Hunt. However, she testified at trial
that she was under the influence of methamphetamine during
this interview and that nothing she had said was true. She
testified that it was, in fact, Terrell who had killed Hunt.
Grant said that she had been in sexual relationships with
both men. She recounted her actions in the days leading up to
the murder starting on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, which
was when she said Hunt took her to his house to get high and
injected her with methamphetamine. Grant recalled going to a
motel with Hunt and another man and making a "sex
movie." She testified that on November 29, she took
Terrell to "Miss Lauras" home before she went back
to Hunts house and continued using methamphetamine. Later,
both Grant and Terrell were at a friends house when Terrell
walked outside holding something wrapped in a blue shirt and
told Grant to get in her car.
Terrell and Grant drove to the levee, and Terrell then called
Hunt several times to tell him to come to the levee with some
gasoline. Grant testified that the hood and trunk of the car
were open, and she fell asleep in the front seat. Grant awoke
to "a really loud noise like a gun" and saw Hunt
bleeding from the face and appearing to take his last
breaths. Grant then saw Terrell dragging Hunt past the car,
and she refused his request to help. When she looked up
again, Hunt was at the bottom of the levee. Terrell then
drove Hunts truck down to the bottom of the levee, poured
gas on it, and set it on fire. When Terrell returned to the
car, he told Grant that she "was his now." Grant
said that Terrell changed clothes, they drove around, and
Terrell watched the "sex movie" from the camcorder
he had taken from Hunts truck. They eventually ended up at
the house of Terrells brother, Keith Terrell. Grant said
that she went to sleep and remembered Terrell waking her up,
hitting her in the face and head, and telling her that she
was not telling the story right.
Wilson testified that "Miss Laura" is his
grandmother and that he was working on her car with Terrell
on November 29, 2014, when Terrell asked if Wilson could get
him a gun. When he asked Terrell what he needed a gun for,
Terrell said it was to "take care of some
business." Wilson was not able to get a gun for Terrell.
Wilson said that he later dropped Terrell off at Sydney
Phillipss home and then rode around with his girlfriend
before encountering Terrell sitting in Grants car at the
levee. Wilson thought he saw Grant pass by him in the
passenger seat of an older model truck. As Wilson was
leaving, he saw Grants car parked with the trunk open and
Terrell walking out of the woods.
Watson was deemed an unavailable witness, and his prior
testimony was read into the record. Watson lived next door to
Terrells brother, Keith. On November 29 between 7:30 and
8:15 p.m., Watson was outside when he saw a car speed by his
house and park next door. Watson had not seen the car in a
while, but Terrell had previously told him that it belonged
to his girlfriend. Watson heard two doors slam but did not
see who got out of the car. The next morning, Watson saw the
car backed into the shed area behind the house. He saw
Terrell get out of the car and take several items from the
trunk into the shed, including a spare tire, several gas
cans, and clothes. Watson said that Terrell seemed to be in a
rush and that Terrell then removed the drivers-side door
panel and took it into the shed. The police seized the door
panels, along with clothes and gas cans, but no blood was
found on them.
Special Agent Kevin Horan of the FBI testified about
performing a historical record analysis of the cell phone
number (870) 227-3854 for the time between 1:54 and 4:04 p.m.
on November 29, 2014. Horan explained how cell phones
communicate with phone towers by measuring the signal
strength and how he could illustrate where a phone was
located at a certain date and time that it was used. The
phone number in this case belonged to a Verizon prepaid
phone. Horan said that Verizon measures how long it takes for
the phone signal to go from the tower to the phone and back,
and on the basis of that measurement, Verizon could provide
the approximate distance a phone was located from a cell
tower. Horan said that thirty range-to-tower measurements
were taken in the analyzed time period from calls, texts, and
data usage. He produced maps showing the areas the phone had
been used in close proximity to the location of the murder.
jury found Terrell guilty, and he was sentenced to
twenty-three years imprisonment. Terrell subsequently filed
a motion for new trial alleging that the jury had erroneously
considered the theory of accomplice liability and had
convicted him as an accomplice. After a hearing, the motion
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Terrell first argues that there is no substantial evidence to
support his conviction given Grants initial confession to
the murder and the fact that she blamed him only after she
had been in custody for four months facing a murder charge.
Grant admitted that she told police numerous times in her
initial interview that Terrell had nothing to do with Hunts
death and that it took her four months to remember things.
Special Agent Mike Grimes with the Arkansas State Police
testified that he believed Grant may have been under the
influence of something at the time of her interview. She had
been unable to make bond until after her murder charge had
been dropped, and at the time of Terrells trial, she was
facing only a charge of hindering apprehension. Terrell
further argues that, notwithstanding her credibility issues,
because Grant testified that she did not see the shot being
fired or the circumstances surrounding it, her testimony was
insufficient to show that he purposely caused Hunts death.
test for determining the sufficiency of the evidence is
whether the verdict is supported by substantial evidence,
direct or circumstantial. Lenoir v. State, 77
Ark.App. 250, 72 S.W.3d 899 (2002). Substantial evidence is
evidence of sufficient certainty and precision to compel a
conclusion one way or the other and pass beyond mere
suspicion or conjecture. Id. In reviewing the
sufficiency of the evidence, we ...