Adrian Louis Carner v. State of Arkansas

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December 1, 2004





John Mauzy Pittman, Judge

The appellant in this criminal case was charged with committing first-degree murder by stabbing his wife to death in her bed. After a jury trial, he was convicted of that offense and sentenced to fifty-five years' imprisonment. On appeal, appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict, arguing that the State failed to introduce substantial evidence to prove that he was the killer. We affirm.

The case against appellant was based on circumstantial evidence. Our analysis of the sufficiency of the evidence is thus guided by the following rules set out in Haynes v. State, 354 Ark. 514, 127 S.W.3d 456 (2003):

[C]ircumstantial evidence may constitute substantial evidence. Gregory v. State, 341 Ark. 243, 15 S.W.3d 690 (2000); Dixon v. State, 311 Ark. 613, 846 S.W.2d 170 (1993). Guilt can be established without eyewitness testimony, and evidence of guilt is not less because it is circumstantial. Gamble v. State, 351 Ark. 541, 95 S.W.3d 755 (2003); Gregory, supra; Trimble v. State, 316 Ark. 161, 871 S.W.2d 562 (1994). Whether the evidence is direct or circumstantial, however, it must still meet

the requirement of substantiality; that is, it must force the fact-finder to reach a conclusion one way or the other without resorting to speculation or conjecture. Edmond v. State, 351 Ark. 495, 95 S.W.3d 789 (2003); Gregory, supra; Chism v. State, 312 Ark. 559, 853 S.W.2d 255 (1993).

The longstanding rule in the use of circumstantial evidence is that the evidence must exclude every other reasonable hypothesis than that of the guilt of the accused in order to be substantial. Smith v. State, 337 Ark. 239, 988 S.W.2d 492 (1999); Smith v. State, 282 Ark. 535, 669 S.W.2d 201 (1984); Upton v. State, 257 Ark. 424, 516 S.W.2d 904 (1974).

However, once the evidence is determined to be sufficient to go to the jury, the question of whether the circumstantial evidence excludes any other hypothesis consistent with innocence is for the jury to decide. Key v. State, 325 Ark. 73, 923 S.W.2d 865 (1996); Lolla v. State, 179 Ark. 346, 15 S.W.2d 988 (1929). On appeal, our role is to determine whether the jury resorted to speculation and conjecture in reaching its verdict. Haynes v. State, supra.

In the present case, the record shows that appellant and the victim met in June 2000 while appellant was incarcerated in federal prison. The victim became appellant's pen-pal, and they corresponded until appellant was released in February 2001. The victim convinced appellant's probation officer to allow appellant to relocate to Little Rock. After the victim contacted and provided information to the federal Bureau of Prisons and the halfway house where appellant temporarily was placed, the victim's home was approved as an acceptable place for appellant to reside, and the appellant and the victim were married in April 2001.

Serious problems developed in the relationship of appellant and the victim by July 2001. These problems included physical altercations culminating in the victim calling the police and obtaining orders of protection against appellant. A period of reconciliation followed. However, because of the orders of protection procured by the victim, appellant was required by his federal parole officer to return to Houston by November 1, 2001. The victim was brutally stabbed to death in her bedroom on the night of October 31, 2001. Although appellant admitted to arguing with the victim on the night of October 31, he testified that he spent the night driving around town and was unaware of the murder until some time after he arrived home the next morning.

At trial, there was evidence to show that the shorts that appellant admitted to wearing during the argument were found to be splattered with the victim's blood. There was also evidence from several witnesses to show that the victim had for three months immediately before her murder expressed fear of appellant and had stated repeatedly that she believed that he would kill her. A close friend of the victim testified that, in the month before her murder, the victim had repeatedly told her that she intended to divorce the appellant because he had threatened to kill her and she was afraid of him. The victim's niece testified that the victim told her that some nights she would wake up and the appellant would be staring at her, that she was scared of him, that he had threatened her, and that he had "told her he was going to kill her ass." The witness stated that she had these conversations with the victim at least once per day in the three months before her death.

There was, in addition, evidence that appellant was angry at the victim because she reported to police that he was physically abusing her, resulting in appellant being required by his parole officer to return to Houston, Texas, against his will. Finally, appellant made several statements regarding the events preceding the murder that were in part self-contradictory and in part highly improbable, e.g., despite overwhelming evidence to show that the bedroom where appellant claimed to have found the victim was patently and obviously blood-splattered, appellant told one witness that he believed the victim had died of a drug overdose. Appellant also implied in his statements that the victim may have been in danger from trick-or-treaters who expressed an interest in an antique mirror in the house. The jury is not required to abandon common sense, and may infer a defendant's guilt from improbable explanations of incriminating conduct. Walley v. State, 353 Ark. 586, 112 S.W.3d 349 (2003). On these facts, we think that the jury could find without resort to speculation or conjecture that appellant was the murderer, and we therefore affirm.


Hart and Vaught, JJ., agree.