Wendy Dunbar v. State of Arkansas

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September 15, 2004







Wendell L. Griffen, Judge

Wendy Dunbar appeals from his conviction for first-degree terroristic threatening. His sole argument is that the State failed to prove that he possessed the requisite mental state to support his conviction. We hold that the State presented substantial evidence that it was appellant's conscious object to terrorize or intensely frighten the victim. Therefore, we affirm appellant's conviction.

Appellant was charged with first-degree terroristic threatening based on events that allegedly occurred on March 5, 2003. Cleassa Morris, an employee of the North Little Rock bus station, was working at the Greyhound terminal. She testified that a customer complained that a man was harassing him by asking for money. Morris recognized the man complained of as appellant, because he regularly visited the bus station and because she had previously called the police to have him removed. She testified that on March 5, she asked appellant to leave the bus station because of the customer's complaint. According to Morris, appellant refused to leave and told her that he would have her "head on a platter" and would not rest until she was in her grave. Morris testified that appellant's comments upset her, and she telephoned the police.

Appellant denied that he threatened Morris, but admitted that he told her to call the police and refused to leave the bus station. Appellant testified that he did not know who Morris was, but he also stated that he told her he was tired of her harassing him and that every time he came into the bus station, she had "something to say."

After a bench trial, appellant was convicted of first-degree terroristic threatening and was sentenced to serve six years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. At trial, appellant moved for a directed verdict on the ground that the State failed to show he possessed the requisite mental state to sustain his conviction. A motion for a directed verdict is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. Miles v. State, 350 Ark. 243, 85 S.W.3d 907 (2002). On appeal, we review the evidence in a light most favorable to the State, and affirm if substantial evidence supports the verdict; only evidence supporting the guilty verdict need be considered. Id. Substantial evidence is evidence forceful enough to compel a conclusion one way or the other with reasonable certainty beyond mere suspicion or conjecture. Id.

To sustain a conviction for first-degree terroristic threatening, the State must show that the person acted with the "purpose" of terrorizing another person by threatening to cause serious death or serious physical injury. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-13-301(a)(1)(A) (Repl. 1997). A person acts "purposely" with respect to his conduct or the result of his conduct "when it is his conscious object to engage in conduct of that nature or to cause such a result." Ark. Code Ann. § 5-2-202(1)(Repl. 1997). One is presumed to intend the natural and probable consequences of his acts. Alexander v. State, 78 Ark. App. 56, 77 S.W.3d 544 (2002). Appellant concedes that one's intent or purpose, being a state of mind, cannot ordinarily be shown by the facts and circumstances of a case, but may be inferred from the circumstances. Durham v. State, 320 Ark. 689, 899 S.W.2d 470 (1995); Kendrick v. State, 37 Ark. App. 95,323 S.W.2d 931 (1992).

This court has stated that § 5-13-302 requires the State to prove that it must be the "conscious object" of the person to cause fright or to fill the victim with intense fright. Knight v. State, 25 Ark. App. 353, 758 S.W.2d 12 (1988). Thus, the issue in this case is whether the State presented substantial evidence upon which a factfinder could find, without resort to conjecture or speculation, that it was appellant's conscious object to terrorize or intensely frighten Morris by stating to her that he would have her head on a platter and would not rest until she was in her grave.

Appellant maintains that his statement was "reckless," but not purposeful; that he was speaking metaphorically; and that a fact-finder would be required to speculate that he actually meant to strike fear into Morris's heart. For support, he relies primarily upon Knight v. State, supra, in which this court held that a prisoner's statement that he would kill an unidentified prison guard, which was overheard by a guard on the prison's intercom system, was not made with the intent to terrorize the guard.

Appellant's argument must fail. The instant case is factually distinguishable from Knight v. State, supra. Although it is not necessary that the threat must be directly communicated to the intended victim, see Smith v. State, 296 Ark. 451, 757 S.W.2d 554 (1988), where the threat is communicated directly to the victim, a direct threat constitutes evidence that it was the person's conscious object to cause fright or to fill the victim with intense fright. See, e.g., Hagen v. State, 47 Ark. App. 137, 886 S.W.2d 889 (1994)(sustaining conviction for first-degree terroristic threatening where the defendant threatened to punch a woman hard enough to kill her unborn child). In Knight v. State, supra, the threat made was vague, did not identify any particular intended victim, and was not relayed directly to any potential victim. By contrast, here, the threat was made directly to Morris immediately after Morris confronted appellant and asked him to leave the bus station.

In addition, although appellant denied threatening Morris, he offered contradictory testimony, first stating that he did not know who Morris was, then stating that during the incident he told her he was tired of her harassing him every time he came into the station. Based upon appellant's contradictory testimony and the circumstances involved in the incident, the trial court could have properly determined, without resort to speculation or conjecture, that appellant's conscious object in making the statement to Morris was to cause fright or to fill her with intense fright. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying appellant's motion for a directed verdict.


Robbins and Baker, JJ., agree.