FROM THE ASHLEY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 02CR-18-30]
HONORABLE ROBERT BYNUM GIBSON, JR., JUDGE
E. Tellez, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Joseph Karl Luebke, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge
Brian Russell was convicted by an Ashley County Circuit Court
jury of first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and felon in
possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to serve an
aggregate term of seventy years' incarceration in the
Arkansas Department of Correction. On appeal, appellant
argues that the circuit court abused its discretion by
excluding from evidence (1) photographs of certain items
found in the victim's purse and (2) lay-witness testimony
regarding the victim's life and mental state. We affirm.
testified that on January 13, 2018, he and the victim,
Shannon Ridener, went on a blind date. He stated that after
purchasing liquor, Shannon agreed to go to his home to watch
a movie. Appellant testified that he fell asleep during the
movie and was awakened by a "bang." He further
testified that upon seeing Shannon's body on the floor
with a gunshot wound to her head, he exclaimed, "Oh, my
god, what did you do that for?" and then proceeded to
get rid of her body as fast as he could.
David Crutchfield of the Monticello Police Department
testified that at approximately 1:45 a.m. on January 14,
2018, he came into contact with appellant and ultimately took
him into custody on a charge of driving while intoxicated.
Officer Crutchfield stated that at the time of the arrest,
appellant had blood on his hands and clothes; however,
appellant explained that the blood was from a deer he had
killed. David Tumey with the Arkansas State Police testified
that when he searched appellant's vehicle, he discovered
a black trash bag containing a pair of women's shoes.
Additionally, Bo Norris with the Arkansas State Police
Criminal Investigation Division testified that upon searching
appellant's house, a large stain was found on the carpet;
he noted that the stain appeared to have some type of
cleaning product on it.
Norris testified that Shannon's body was located near the
Beech Creek bridge. He further indicated that it was a
thirty-six-mile drive from appellant's house to where
Shannon's purse was found; it was an additional eleven
miles from where her purse was discovered to where
Shannon's body was found.
appeal, appellant concedes his convictions for felon in
possession of a firearm and abuse of a corpse; however, he
contends that he did not commit murder. Appellant contends
that Shannon committed suicide and that the circuit court
abused its discretion by excluding evidence relevant to
establish her mental state.
to trial, the State objected to photographs of two items
found in Shannon's purse. The first item was a
prescription pill bottle for medication prescribed to
Shannon's son; the second item was an appointment card
for couple's counseling. Appellant asserted that these
items were relevant to establish that Shannon took her own
life. The circuit court ruled the photographs of the items
decision to admit or exclude evidence is within the sound
discretion of the circuit court, and we will not reverse that
decision absent a manifest abuse of that
discretion. The abuse-of-discretion standard is a high
threshold that does not simply require error in the circuit
court's decision, but requires that the circuit court act
improvidently, thoughtlessly, or without due
consideration. We will not reverse an evidentiary ruling
absent a showing of prejudice.
must be relevant to be admissible. Evidence is relevant if it
has "any tendency to make the existence of any fact that
is of consequence to the determination of the action more
probable or less probable than it would be without the
evidence."Relevant evidence may still be excluded if
its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger
of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading
to the jury. This court will deny '"the
admission of inflammatory evidence where claims of relevance
are tenuous and prejudice is
great[.]"' Likewise, this court will reject evidence
when it is only minimally relevant and only "serve[s] to
prejudice the victim."
argues that the exclusion of evidence of the prescription
pills prevented him from putting forth a competent defense.
He asserts that his "purpose for presenting this
evidence was to show that the victim was suffering in her
life and relationships and had turned back to the path of
using drugs. . . ." However, appellant admitted that
blood-test results revealed that the medication was not found
in Shannon's system at the time of her death; therefore,
his stated purpose fails, and the prescription is irrelevant
to appellant's theory since there was no evidence that
Shannon was actually using the drugs.
contends that the circuit court also abused its discretion in
excluding the photograph of the appointment card for
couple's counseling found in Shannon's purse. He
argues that evidence of such marital problems was relevant to
prove his defense theory that Shannon committed suicide.
However, appellant offered no expert testimony to support his
claim that persons seeking counseling or in troubled