Santonio O. Turner v. State of Arkansas

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March 16, 2005





Larry D. Vaught, Judge

Appellant Santonio Turner was convicted on charges of rape, kidnaping, and aggravated assault. At trial, he raised the affirmative defense that he lacked the capacity-as a result of mental disease or defect-to conform his conduct to the law or appreciate the criminality of his conduct. The trial court, sitting as the trier-of-fact, found that Turner did suffer from a mental disease or defect, but was capable of appreciating the criminality of his conduct and could conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. On appeal Turner challenges the "narrow issue of whether [he]could conform his conduct to the law."1

Turner committed these crimes against his aunt. At trial, she testified that she lived across the street from her sister, Turner's mother, and on the afternoon of July 11, 2002, Turner visited her home several times. During one visit, Turner asked her if she had any tape. She then went into her bedroom to look for tape; however, she was followed by Turner. He grabbed her, threw her on the bed, and threatened to kill her if she made any noise. He made her take off her clothes, then raped her. She stated that during the first rape, which lasted about five minutes, Turner was convinced that someone was in the house. He made her get up and lock all the doors and close the windows. While she secured the house, he accompanied her by crawling on the floor with his hand holding her ankle. After that, he raped her twice more-once more in her bedroom, then in her son's bedroom.

He then tied her up with belts and blankets in her bedroom closet. Turner left his aunt's home, then returned to discover that she had partially freed herself. He placed electrical cords and phone cords around her ankles and wrists and threatened to beat her with a baseball bat if she did not comply. He also took money from her purse.

Eventually, Turner untied his aunt and started smoking crack in front of her. While he was smoking, the victim heard a police officer outside of her home's window. Turner forced her to respond to the officer's inquiry acknowledging that she was okay. She complied. After the officer made his way to the front door of her home, the victim encouraged Turner to allow her to enter the front room and personally tell the officer that everything was fine. When she opened the front door, there were several officers on her front step. In response to the officers' presence, Turner grabbed his aunt and put a knife to her neck. The officers successfully negotiated a surrender, in which Turner removed the knife from his aunt's throat, handed over his crack pipe, and stated "I give up."

As a starting point on appeal, Turner contends that we should not review the trial court's factual findings under the same substantial evidence standard that we review the factual findings of a jury. Instead, he urges us to only consider whether the trial court's decisions are clearly erroneous or clearly against the preponderance of the evidence. However, Turner's challenge has been considered-and answered-by previous precedent of our court. On appeal in criminal cases, whether tried by judge or jury, we will affirm if there is substantial evidence to support the finding of the trier-of-fact. Holloway v. State, 11 Ark. App. 69, 666 S.W.2d 410 (1984). Specific to this case, if there is substantial evidence to support the trial court's rejection of the insanity defense, we will affirm. See Morgan v. State, 333 Ark. 294, 971 S.W.2d 219 (1998). "Substantial evidence is evidence of sufficient force and character that it will, with reasonable certainty, compel a conclusion one way or the other without resorting to speculation or conjecture." Id. at 302, 971 S.W.2d at 223.

As to the merits of the appeal, Turner had the burden of proving his affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Ark. Code Ann. ยง 5-2-312(a) (Supp. 2003). Although he proved that he suffered from a mental disease or defect, he failed to offer any substantial evidence that he could not conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. The State offered expert testimony, uncontradicted by other expert testimony, that appellant could conform his conduct to the requirements of the law at the time of offenses. Specifically, Dr. Ed Stafford, the State's expert psychologist, testified that, in his opinion, Turner was able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. See Mask v. State, 314 Ark. 25, 869 S.W.2d 1 (1993). Dr. Stafford based his conclusion on the fact that Turner took affirmative steps in an attempt to avoid arrest-he made sure his aunt was alone during the assault, he tied her up, he locked the door of the home, and he used a knife and a bat to threaten her. Based on these affirmative steps to avoid detection, Dr. Stafford opined that Turner knew the difference between right and wrong and could conform his conduct to the law. Further, the trial court noted that-in addition to Turner's evasive actions to avoid being apprehended-when confronted by police he was able to conform by putting down his knife and stating, "I give up."

Therefore, we are satisfied that substantial evidence supports the trial court's determination that despite suffering from a mental disease or defect, Turner possessed the capability to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. Particularly, his steps to avoid apprehension both before and after the crime provide substantial evidence to support the trial court's verdict. See Roberts v. State, 352 Ark. 489, 102 S.W.3d 482 (2003).


Hart and Crabtree, JJ., agree.

1 Turner also argues that because the mental health evaluation that he underwent fell below basic statutory standards of quality and diligence, he was effectively denied an evaluation. However, Turner did not make this argument at the trial level, and we will not address arguments advanced for the first time on appeal. Hinkston v. State, 340 Ark. 530, 10 S.W.3d 906 (2000).