Kevin Seals v. State of Arkansas

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November 3, 2004



v. [CR-02-262]




Olly Neal, Judge

Appellant Kevin Seals was convicted of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 240 months' imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction. On appeal, appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions; instead, appellant asserts that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted, over his Arkansas Rule of Evidence 403 objection, testimony pertaining to events that occurred four days before the September 17, 2003, shooting. We affirm.

The facts of this case are as follows. Lee Winford was involved with appellant's ex-wife, Michelle Seals. On September 13, 2002, Lee and Michelle were at the home of Michelle's cousin. Appellant arrived while they were there. Shortly after entering, appellant pulled out a pistol and pointed it at Michelle. Lee managed to leave, and as he approached his vehicle, he heard a gun discharge.

Four days later, Lee and Danny Nicholas were driving to a friend's house, when Michelle flashed her headlights at them. Lee pulled over and approached Michelle's car. Shortly thereafter, appellant arrived and the three started arguing. During the argument, Lee's brothers, Terry and DeWayne Winford, arrived. DeWayne exited the car he was riding in, and started to approach Lee. As DeWayne passed appellant's car, appellant stuck a gun out his window and shot DeWayne in the abdomen. Appellant then turned and fired toward where Lee and Michelle were standing. DeWayne died as a result of his gunshot wound, and Lee sustained a gunshot wound to his leg. The gun was never recovered.

Appellant was subsequently charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of DeWayne Winford and with attempted-first-degree murder in the shooting of Lee Winford. Appellant's jury trial was held on July 3, 2003. At the start of his trial, appellant made a motion in limine to exclude testimony concerning the September 13 incident. He argued that the probative value of the evidence would be outweighed by undue prejudice. The State countered by arguing that the testimony would establish motive and was permissible under Ark. R. Evid. 404. The trial court denied the motion. It is from that decision that appellant now brings this appeal.

Trial courts are afforded wide discretion in evidentiary matters. See McCoy v. State, 354 Ark. 322, 123 S.W.3d 901 (2003). Specifically, in issues relating to the admission of evidence under Ark. R. Evid. 401, 403, and 404(b), it has been held that a trial court's ruling is entitled to great weight and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion. Id.

Arkansas Rule of Evidence 404(b) provides:

(b) Other Crimes, Wrongs, or Acts. Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.

Such evidence must, however, be independently relevant under Rule 404(b). Dyer v. State, 343 Ark. 422, 36 S.W.3d 724 (2001); Eliott v. State, 342 Ark. 237, 27 S.W.3d 432 (2000). Although evidence may be relevant under Rule 404(b), it nonetheless may be excluded under Rule 403. Dyer v. State, supra. Rule 403 provides that "[a]lthough relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." To be probative under Rule 403, the prior criminal act must be similar to the crime charged. McCoy v. State, supra.

The State is entitled to prove its case as conclusively as it can. Bledsoe v. State, 344 Ark. 86, 39 S.W.3d 760 (2001). All the circumstances of a particular crime are part of the "res gestae" of the crime, Thomas v. State, 273 Ark. 50, 615 S.W.2d 361 (1981), and are presumptively relevant and admissible. Lair v. State, 283 Ark. 237, 675 S.W.2d 361 (1984). Moreover, the State is entitled to introduce evidence showing all circumstances which explain the act, show a motive for acting, or illustrate the accused's state of mind even if other criminal offenses are brought to light. Id.

The September 13 incident was part of the res gestae. Furthermore, appellant fails to demonstrate that the trial court abused its discretion, and we will not reverse absent an abuse of discretion.


Griffen and Roaf, JJ., agree.