Jackson, Trenton Le Troy v. The State of Texas--Appeal from 185th District Court of Harris County

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Affirmed and Memorandum Opinion filed October 6, 2005

Affirmed and Memorandum Opinion filed October 6, 2005.

In The

Fourteenth Court of Appeals

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NO. 14-04-00377-CR

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TRENTON LE TROY JACKSON, Appellant

V.

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

On Appeal from the 185th District Court

Harris County, Texas

Trial Court Cause No. 981,891

M E M O R A N D U M O P I N I O N

Appellant Trenton Le Troy Jackson was convicted of murdering his three-year-old daughter and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In two issues, he challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. We affirm.

Background


Appellant lived in an apartment with the mother of several of his children, along with the children, his girlfriend=s mother, and the mother=s boyfriend. Appellant did not live with T.J., his three-year-old daughter by another woman. T.J. did not know her father well, as he had been in and out of jail for most of her life. Appellant picked T.J. up for a visit on the night of Wednesday, April 2, 2003. On Saturday, April 5, at around 6:00 p.m., T.J. passed out and was taken by ambulance to a trauma hospital after responding paramedics found her showing signs of severe trauma from a high impact injury to the head or spine. It was later determined that T.J. had suffered at least six blunt force impacts to the head, resulting in a subdural hematoma, which is a collection of blood between the skull and the tissue surrounding the brain. T.J. also had extensive bruising all over her body, including her head, neck, arms, lower abdomen, buttocks, and legs. A treating physician testified that T.J. had no unbruised skin from her waist to the middle of her thighs and that she Ahad never seen someone who had been this badly bruised on her buttocks.@ T.J. died four days later. The medical examiner concluded that T.J. had been Abeaten to death,@ specifically from the blunt force injuries to her head. The medical evidence could not pinpoint the exact time of T.J.=s head injuries, but it was sometime within the seven hours before the ambulance arrived at around 6:30 p.m.

When questioned by the police about T.J.=s injuries shortly after the ambulance left, appellant admitted she was physically fine when he picked her up on Wednesday and claimed to have no idea how she sustained such extensive bruising or how her head was injured. Appellant stated that he had spanked T.J. with a belt two times, once Friday and once Saturday, with each spanking consisting of about fifteen strikes. He explained that T.J. did not like him, was afraid of him, and constantly complained that she wanted to go home. Appellant claimed that on the two occasions he spanked her, T.J. had attempted to get appellant to take her home by urinating and/or defecating on herself.


Appellant told police and later testified at trial that during the visit, he spanked T.J. only twice with a belt andAdidn=t pop her hard,@ but the jury heard evidence to the contrary. Kenneth Newman, who was appellant=s girlfriend=s mother=s boyfriend and was at the apartment during T.J.=s entire visit, testified that appellant spanked T.J. with a belt in a bedroom with the door closed two or three times per day each day T.J. was there. Newman explained that the situation was Aworse@ on Saturday because appellant was angrier and more frustrated with T.J., beat her longer and harder, and afterward emerged from the bedroom sweating. A appellant returned to the room a short time later, found T.J. passed out with her eyes rolling back in her head, and had someone call 911.

Though appellant initially offered no explanation for T.J.=s head injuries when questioned by the police, he presented two theories at trial. First, he speculated that T.J. might have hurt herself by banging her head on a bunk bed ladder or against the wall. Three other witnesses also claimed that T.J. had hit her head on the bunk bed ladder either Thursday or Friday. Second, appellant claims that he saw T.J.=s mother drop T.J. on her head earlier in the day on Wednesday before he brought her to the apartment that night. However, the medical evidence established that T.J.=s head injuries came from Asignificant blunt force@ equivalent to that of an automobile accident or a fall down a flight of stairs, that they could not have been self-inflicted, and that they occurred on Saturday, not before.

Appellant was charged with felony murder based on the underlying felony of intentionally or knowingly causing bodily injury to a child fourteen years of age or younger. See Tex. Pen. Code Ann. ' 22.04(a)(1), (e) (Vernon 2003). The jury convicted appellant, and this appeal followed.

Standard of Review


In evaluating a legal sufficiency claim attacking a jury=s finding of guilt, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). We do not ask whether we believe the evidence at trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318B19 (1979). Rather, we determine only whether a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Cardenas v. State, 30 S.W.3d 384, 389 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). In our review, we accord great deference A>to the responsibility of the trier of fact [to fairly] resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.=@ Clewis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126, 133 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996) (quoting Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319). We presume that any conflicting inferences from the evidence were resolved by the jury in favor of the prosecution, and we defer to that resolution. Id. at 133 n.13.

In conducting a factual sufficiency review of the jury=s determination, we do not view the evidence Ain the light most favorable to the prosecution.@ Cain v. State, 958 S.W.2d 404, 407 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). Instead, we view the evidence in a neutral light and inquire whether the jury was rationally justified in finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Zuniga v. State, 144 S.W.3d 477, 484 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). We may find the verdict is factually insufficient in two ways. First, when considered by itself, the evidence supporting the verdict may be too weak to support the finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. Second, after weighing the evidence supporting the verdict, the contrary evidence may be strong enough that the beyond a reasonable doubt standard could not have been met. Id. at 484B85. Our evaluation should not intrude upon the fact finder=s role as the sole judge of the weight and credibility given to any witness=s testimony. Cain, 958 S.W.2d at 407.

Analysis

In his two issues, appellant argues that although he admitted spanking T.J., the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to show that he committed the act that caused T.J.=s death, namely, injuring her head. Appellant asserts that because there is no direct evidence that he caused T.J.=s head injuries, his conviction is based on Aspeculation alone.@ Appellant seems to suggest that direct evidence is necessary to sustain a conviction. However, circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to support a jury=s verdict. Kutzner v. State, 994 S.W.2d 180, 184 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). When reviewing a case comprised wholly of circumstantial evidence, the standard of review is the same as in cases containing direct evidence. Id.


The circumstantial evidence in this case clearly supports the jury=s verdict. The jury heard evidence that appellant beat T.J. with a belt two or three times per day during her visit, resulting in extensive bruising all over her body. Though the bruises did not cause T.J.=s death, the jury could properly consider other evidence of abuse in deciding whether appellant also caused T.J.=s fatal head injuries. See Canaday v. State, 853 S.W.2d 810, 813 (Tex. App.CBeaumont 1993, no pet.); Tezino v. State, 765 S.W.2d 482, 485 (Tex. App.CHouston [1st Dist.] 1988, pet. ref=d). Appellant initially told the police that he had no explanation for T.J.=s head injuries, but by the time of trial, he had developed several theories that were inconsistent with the medical evidence. A jury can view such changes in the defendant=s story as evidence of guilt. See Kemmerer v. State, 113 S.W.3d 513, 516 (Tex. App.CHouston [1st Dist.] 2003, pet. ref=d). The fact that appellant could account for only some of T.J.=s injuries and that his explanations of the source of those injuries were inconsistent with the medical evidence are further circumstances supporting the verdict. See Goodman v. State, No. 14-97-01027-CR, 2002 WL 1478594, at *3 (Tex. App.CHouston [14th Dist.] June 27, 2002, no pet.) (not designated for publication); Sparks v. State, 68 S.W.3d 6, 10 (Tex. App.CDallas 2001, pet. ref=d); Tezino, 765 S.W.2d at 485.


Newman testified that appellant was alone with T.J. during the beatings, and there was no evidence to suggest that anyone other than appellant beat or otherwise injured T.J. during her visit. This is also appropriate circumstantial evidence for the jury to have considered. See Goodman, 2002 WL 1478594, at *3; Elledge v. State, 890 S.W.2d 843, 847 (Tex. App.CAustin 1994, pet. ref=d); Battle v. State, 681 S.W.2d 104, 106B07 (Tex. App.CHouston [14th Dist.] 1984, pet. ref=d). The medical evidence established that T.J. was beaten to death and that the fatal head injuries were inflicted on Saturday, the day witness testimony established that appellant came out sweating from the bedroom after beating T.J. longer and harder than he had before. The cumulative force of all these incriminating circumstances provides legally and factually sufficient evidence to support the jury=s verdict. See Barnes v. State, 876 S.W.2d 316, 321 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994); Tezino, 765 S.W.2d at 486. We overrule both of appellant=s issues and affirm the trial court=s judgment.

/s/ Leslie Brock Yates

Justice

Judgment rendered and Memorandum Opinion filed October 6, 2005.

Panel consists of Justices Yates, Anderson, and Hudson.

Do Not Publish C Tex. R. App. P. 47.2(b).