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State v. Bennett

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division

February 9, 2015

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
HEATHER DAWN BENNETT, Appellant.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF DOUGLAS COUNTY Honorable R. Craig Carter, Judge.

DANIEL E. SCOTT, J.

Heather Bennett ("Defendant") appeals convictions for robbery and second-degree (felony) murder of Jackie "Allen" Yarber. She claims insufficient evidence supports her murder conviction and charges trial court error in admitting into evidence preliminary hearing testimony and her statement to police. We affirm.

Background

We summarize facts in accordance with our standard of review, crediting only evidence and reasonable inferences supporting the verdict and disregarding all others. State v. Stallman, 289 S.W.3d 776, 778 (Mo.App. 2009).

Yarber, who had known Defendant just a few days, showered her with attention, gifts, and cash in hopes of dating her. The day of the killing, Defendant was preparing for her child's birthday party, but had no car. Yarber drove Defendant around; spent $150 of his money on decorations, gifts, and pizza; and let Defendant drive his truck to pick up party guests. After the party that night, Yarber and others went to Defendant's home.

Defendant went to a back room with Brad Jenkins and Daniel Baird to smoke methamphetamine. She claimed Yarber carried $400; they could get him "out back and beat him up and take it." Jenkins felt it was too close to the house. Defendant then said they could "take him out in the woods and kill him." After she offered more encouragement, it was agreed to kill Yarber, split the stolen cash three ways, and take his truck (Defendant wanted the stereo and wheels).

Yarber was persuaded to leave with Baird and Jenkins in his truck under pretense of going "dirt-roading" (drinking on dirt roads). Defendant rode with her friend Michael Hand and told him the plan as he drove. Out in the country, the trucks parted ways. Jenkins and Baird robbed Yarber and slayed him in grisly fashion, then called Defendant to report it was "done" and eventually returned to her home.

Police investigation led to arrests and charges. Jenkins and Baird each pleaded guilty to robbery, murder, and armed criminal action. A jury convicted Defendant of robbery and murder, resulting in this appeal.

Point I – Sufficiency of Felony Murder Evidence

Second-degree murder occurs if a person commits any felony and "another person is killed as a result of the perpetration of that felony." Stallman, 289 S.W.3d at 779. Under Missouri's foreseeability-proximate cause theory of felony murder, the actual killer's identity "is irrelevant and a defendant may be considered responsible for any deaths that are the natural and proximate result of the commission of a felony." Id.[1] Defendant does not challenge the sufficiency of proof for her robbery conviction; the issue is whether Yarber died as a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the robbery. State v. Cole, 384 S.W.3d 318, 328 (Mo.App. 2012).

Defendant urges "no" – that no evidence indicated she knew about, planned, or encouraged the killing, and "[a]t most, she knew about or encouraged a robbery." She portrays Baird and Jenkins as subsequently deciding to kill Yarber, an independent, intervening cause allegedly relieving her from criminal responsibility for the death.

This argument ignores our standard of review, Stallman, 289 S.W.3d at 778, and above-summarized testimony indicating Defendant foresaw and even promoted ...


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