Ana Weslene Hatton Roybal v. The State of Texas--Appeal from 198th Judicial District Court of Kerr County

MEMORANDUM OPINION
No. 04-02-00647-CR
Ana Weslene Hatton ROYBAL,
Appellant
v.
The STATE of Texas,
Appellee
From the 198th Judicial District Court, Kerr County, Texas
Trial Court No. B01-261
Honorable Emil Karl Prohl, Judge Presiding

Opinion by: Phylis J. Speedlin, Justice

Sitting: Alma L. L pez, Chief Justice

Sandee Bryan Marion, Justice

Phylis J. Speedlin, Justice

Delivered and Filed: October 1, 2003

AFFIRMED

Ana Weslene Hatton Roybal ("Roybal") appeals her conviction for murder. She asserts three issues on appeal, contending that the trial court erred in: (1) finding that the evidence was factually sufficient to support the jury's denial of her insanity defense; (2) finding that the evidence was legally sufficient because she established her defense as a matter of law; and (3) not granting her request for an instruction on sudden passion. We overrule Roybal's three issues and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Background
On August 25, 2001, Roybal stabbed her sister to death in the parking lot of the 720 Club, a facility used by self-help groups in Kerrville, Texas. Earlier in the day Roybal met her sister, Mary Moon ("Moon"), at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, where they had lunch after church services. While there, Roybal stole a paring knife from the church kitchen. Later, Roybal asked her sister for a ride to the 720 Club, after which an argument ensued between them in the parking lot. Roybal accused her sister of stealing her social security checks, having a sexual relationship with her ex-boyfriend, and allowing men to sexually assault Roybal's seventeen year-old son. The argument resulted in Roybal stabbing her sister with the knife taken from the church.

As he was driving past the 720 Club with his wife, Erik Anderson ("Anderson") witnessed the events taking place in the parking lot between Moon and Roybal. Anderson instructed his wife to pull over so he could intervene. According to Anderson's testimony at trial, Roybal threw the knife in the air after he confronted her. He then attempted to restrain her, but Roybal managed to escape and ran into the 720 Club. Anderson followed her into the club and chased her through the building, eventually catching her when she tried to exit through a locked door. To prevent her from escaping again, Anderson physically subdued Roybal who was screaming obscenities about her sister stealing her social security checks and having sex with both her son and ex-boyfriend. Subsequently, the police arrived and arrested her.

On September 6, 2001, Roybal was charged with murder. She entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The case was tried to a jury, with Roybal providing several witnesses that confirmed she had a history of bizarre and erratic behavior for many years prior to the events on August 25, 2001. The general consensus of the lay witnesses was that she was mentally unstable. Roybal also presented two experts who testified that she was psychotic and delusional at the time of the stabbing. Despite the testimony from both the lay and expert witnesses, the jury found Roybal guilty of murder and assessed punishment at sixty years confinement.

Legal and Factual Sufficiency of the Evidence

In her first two issues, Roybal challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's rejection that she was not legally insane at the time she killed her sister.

In examining the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting an affirmative defense, we review all the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and sustain the challenge only if there is no rational basis upon which the jury could have rejected the defense's contention. See Arnold v. State, 873 S.W.2d 27, 30 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993). The jury is the sole judge of the credibility of witnesses and may choose to believe or disbelieve any portion of their testimony. Sharp v. State, 707 S.W.2d 611, 614 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). When faced with conflicting evidence, we presume the jury resolved conflicts in favor of the prevailing party. Turro v. State, 867 S.W.2d 43, 47 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993).

When reviewing the factual sufficiency of the evidence concerning an affirmative defense, we consider all the evidence relevant to the issue at hand to determine whether the judgment is so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence that it is manifestly unjust. Meraz v. State, 785 S.W.2d 146, 155 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990).

To establish the affirmative defense of insanity, the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that, at the time of the offense, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, he or she did not know that their conduct was wrong. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. 8.01 (Vernon Supp. 2003). Although insanity is expressed in terms of "mental disease or defect," the issue is not strictly a medical one, but one that involves ethical and legal considerations as well. Graham v. State, 566 S.W.2d 941, 948-49 (Tex. Crim. App. 1978). From a medical standpoint, a person may be insane by reason of mental disease or defect. Id. at 948. From a legal standpoint, however, one's mental condition must be such that they are unable to distinguish right from wrong and do not know the nature and consequences of their actions in order to be exonerated or excused from a crime. Id. at 949.

Expert witnesses, although capable of aiding the trier of fact in determining the issue of insanity, do not dictate the results. Id. at 948. The ultimate issue of criminal responsibility is beyond the province of an expert witness; otherwise, the issue "would be tried in hospitals rather than in courts." Id. at 949. While expert testimony may be helpful, the final determination of insanity is left to the discretion of the jury.Graham, 566 S.W.2d at 952. Because the conclusions of an expert in terms of the statutory defense are of negligible weight in considering this issue, the jury may accept or reject, in whole or in part, the testimony of expert medical witnesses. Id. at 950-51. Thus, jury findings that the accused was sane have been upheld even though no medical expert testified to that effect. These findings have been accorded great deference, even in the face of a powerful record containing uncontested medical evidence that points toward acquittal. See Graham, 566 S.W.2d at 950. Rarely will the jury's determination regarding an insanity defense be overturned on appeal. See Bigby v. State, 892 S.W.2d 864, 878 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994).

At trial, two experts testified regarding their evaluations of Roybal after her arrest. The first expert, Dr. Norma Conroy, a psychiatrist, diagnosed Roybal as a sociopath, suffering from schizophrenia and a severe delusional disorder. While Dr. Conroy did not make a distinction as to the difference between mental and legal insanity, she concluded that Roybal was insane at the time she stabbed her sister. Dr. Conroy also determined that because Roybal was a sociopath, she had no conscience, and therefore, the law did not apply to her. Furthermore, Dr. Conroy testified that Roybal was delusional and "believed what she was doing was right." The next expert, Dr. Robert Cantu, also characterized Roybal as schizophrenic and delusional. He concluded that Roybal met the definition of legal insanity at the time of the offense, and thus, was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct. Later however, when asked whether Roybal knew it was wrong to stab someone, Dr. Cantu stated Roybal would know it was wrong to do so.

The testimony given by both of the experts contains some conflicting evidence as to whether Roybal knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the stabbing. Aschbacher v. State, 61 S.W.3d 532, 537 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 2001, pet. ref'd). The issue of insanity at the time of the offense excusing criminal responsibility lies exclusively within the province of the jury, not only as to the credibility of the witnesses and weight of the evidence, but as to the limits of the defense itself. Graham, 566 S.W.2d at 952. In this regard, the jury was free to accept or reject, in whole or in part, the opinion testimony of both Drs. Conroy and Cantu. Additionally, the jury could also have considered other factors in assessing the validity of the defense. See Aschbacher, 61 S.W.3d at 535. A jury may consider the demeanor of the defendant both before and after the offense, any attempts to evade police or to conceal incriminating evidence, expressions of regret or fear of the consequences of his or her actions, and possible motives for the offense. Schuessler v. State, 719 S.W.2d 320, 329 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986), overruled on other grounds, Meraz v. State, 785 S.W.2d 146, 150, 155 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990). Thus, the jury was entitled to assess Roybal's actions after the stabbing as depicted by Anderson's testimony. Therefore, we conclude the evidence was legally sufficient to support the determination that Roybal was not insane at the time of the killing.

With respect to a factual sufficiency challenge, the jury's finding must be so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust. See Johnson v. State, 23 S.W.3d 1, 12 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). Based on Roybal's actions following the stabbing, the jury could have concluded Roybal knew it was wrong to stab her sister. Specifically, after she stabbed her sister, Roybal attempted to discard the knife when Anderson approached her in the parking lot. She then tried to escape from Anderson by running into the 720 Club. Anderson also testified he was required to physically restrain Roybal to prevent her from escaping again. Based on all the evidence and affording appropriate deference to the jury's determination of the facts, we conclude the jury's determination was not so against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence as to be manifestly unjust. Accordingly, we overrule Roybal's first and second issues on appeal.

Sudden Passion

In her third issue, Roybal contends that the trial court erred in not granting her request for an instruction on sudden passion. "Sudden passion" is defined as "passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation." Tex. Penal Code Ann. 19.02(a)(2) (Vernon Supp. 2003). The existence of sudden passion is an issue for the punishment stage of trial. Sanchez v. State, 23 S.W.3d 30, 34 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). If, by a preponderance of the evidence, the defendant proves that he caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause, the offense is a felony of the second degree. Id. at 19.02(d). "Adequate cause" means cause that would commonly produce a degree of anger, rage, resentment, or terror in a person of ordinary temper, sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection. Id. at 19.02(a)(1).

When "some"evidence from any source raises a defensive issue and the defendant properly requests a jury charge on that issue, the trial court must submit the issue to the jury. Muniz v. State, 851 S.W.2d 238, 254 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993). The applicable statutory standard is whether "the error appearing from the record was calculated to injure the rights of the defendant," or in other words, whether there was "some harm." Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. 36.19 (Vernon 1981); Ovalle v. State, 13 S.W.3d 774, 786 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). When the evidentiary standard fails, however, to raise a defensive issue, the trial court commits no error in refusing a requested instruction. Kunkle v. State, 771 S.W.2d 435, 444 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986).

We find that the evidence does not support the claim that Roybal's actions were the result of "sudden passion" or that they resulted from provocation by her sister at the time of the offense that would equate to "adequate cause." Marras v. State, 741 S.W.2d 395, 405 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987); Hobson v. State, 644 S.W.2d 473, 478 (Tex. Crim. App. 1983). Although Roybal was delusional in that she thought her sister was committing certain acts against her and her son, the testimony at trial was compelling in establishing that the provocation did not arise at the time of the offense as required under the penal code. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. art. 19.02(a)(2).

Roybal also argues that the facts of this case are similar to those in Trevino v. State, 100 S.W.3d 232 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003). In that case, the court determined that after the defendant shot his wife, his emotional outburst should have resulted in the jury receiving an instruction on sudden passion. See id. at 239-40. Roybal analogizes being upset and out of control after Anderson subdued her as sudden passion similar to that of the defendant in Trevino. Id. at 233. In making the comparison, she relies on the following excerpt from the opinion:

Paula testified that when the initial phone call came from Trevino, after the shooting, Trevino "was freaking out and sounded like he was scared and panicked." She drove over to the house immediately and found Trevino "crying and shaking." Trevino knelt beside Michelle's body and "was upset and crying." He appeared to be "extremely upset," and he was "pacing." According to Paula, Trevino was "consistently upset and crying."

Id. at 239. This case, however, is distinguishable from Trevino, where the Court of Criminal Appeals held that "some" evidence was presented to require an instruction on sudden passion. Id. Here, Roybal was upset after the stabbing because she believed her sister was stealing from her and allowing men to sexually violate her son. Conversely, in Trevino, the defendant was "upset and crying" because he seemed to be remorseful of what he had just done. We cannot conclude that there was "some" evidence presented by Roybal that required a jury instruction on sudden passion.

We conclude that the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on sudden passion. Therefore, we overrule Roybal's third and final issue.

Conclusion

We overrule Roybal's three issues on appeal. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Phylis J. Speedlin, Justice

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