Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County, Missouri. The Honorable Frederick P. Tucker, Judge.
Evan J. Buchheim, Jefferson City, MO, for respondent.
William J. Swift, Columbia, MO, for appellant.
Before Division One: Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, Thomas H. Newton, Judge and Mark D. Pfeiffer, Judge. All concur.
Cynthia L. Martin, Judge
William Darrell Joyner (" Joyner" ) appeals from the trial court's judgment convicting him of one count of aggravated stalking in violation of section 565.225. Joyner asserts that the trial court erred in overruling his counsel's objection and request for a mistrial when his twelve-year-old victim testified that she was afraid of Joyner because he was a registered sex offender, and in overruling his counsel's objection to the State's discussion of this testimony during closing argument. Joyner also asserts error in the admission of other evidence, in instructing the jury, and in failing to grant his motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the evidence.
Because, under the circumstances in this case, evidence of Joyner's status as a registered sex offender was inadmissible propensity evidence that was outcome determinative, we reverse and remand this matter for a new trial.
Factual and Procedural History
The victim, a twelve-year-old female, lived with her father and stepmother in Macon. Joyner, a 45-year-old man, attended the same church as the victim and her family. The victim's family invited Joyner to live in their home in December 2012.
On January 25, 2013, Joyner told the victim's stepmother that he had romantic feelings for the victim. Joyner said that he believed he and the victim were " soul mates." Three days later, the victim's father and stepmother told Joyner to move out of their home and to discontinue communication with the family. Joyner went into the restroom to whisper something in the victim's ear before he left the residence.
Also before he left the home, Joyner gave letters to the victim's father and stepmother and to the victim. The letter to the victim's father and stepmother reinforced his feelings toward the victim, apologized for opening up to the two about his feelings toward the victim, and asked for their forgiveness. Joyner's letter to the victim stated that he was returning poems she had written to him and that the feelings
expressed in the victim's poems were consistent with Joyner's feelings about the victim. Shortly after Joyner was asked to leave the family's home, the victim's father and stepmother told the victim that Joyner was a registered sex offender. There was no evidence that Joyner was aware that the victim knew that he was a registered sex offender.
Joyner continued to communicate with the victim's stepmother via text message. Stepmother told the victim about the text messages. Among Joyner's text messages were questions about whether the victim's stepmother was driving the victim to school. In one text message, Joyner stated: " I got a feeling yesterday that you were [giving the victim a ride to school], so today I parked at the hospital parking lot to see. Don't know for sure but that's what I think. It's kind of what it looked like to me."
On February 9, 2013, Joyner parked near the victim's home. Joyner walked toward the home and into the yard. The victim saw Joyner through the storm door. Once the victim spotted Joyner, he turned and ran back down the street toward his vehicle.
Shortly thereafter, the victim and her family saw Joyner at church. Joyner entered the church and sat behind the victim who was sitting in a pew next to her stepmother. The victim moved to sit with a friend, and Joyner moved to sit directly behind the victim. When the victim's father entered the church, the victim moved to sit next to her father. Joyner again moved and sat directly behind the victim.
The victim's stepmother filed a complaint with the Macon Police Department. Sometime thereafter, Joyner was arrested in the parking lot of an apartment complex located approximately three blocks from the victim's home.
After his arrest, Joyner admitted to the police that " he had a deep love for [the victim], that he thought they were soul mates, [and] that they were meant to be together." Joyner also told the police about his contact with the family via text messages. Joyner informed the police that he had been to the victim's house twice since moving out, once to drop off pallets and once when he saw the victim through the storm door. Finally, Joyner admitted that when he noticed the victim was no longer at the school bus stop in the mornings, he sat in his vehicle in a parking lot to determine how the victim was getting to school.
The State charged Joyner with one count of aggravated stalking in violation of section 565.225. At trial, the State claimed the acts of giving the victim a letter, observing the victim at her home, following the victim during a church service, and going to a hospital parking lot to observe the victim, constituted stalking via course of conduct. The jury returned a verdict finding Joyner guilty of aggravated stalking and recommending a four-year sentence and a fine to be determined by the trial court. The trial court entered its judgment finding Joyner guilty of aggravated stalking, sentencing Joyner to four years imprisonment, and assessing a $2,500 fine.
Points One and Two
Joyner asserts six points on appeal. His first two points are related and dispositive.
In his first point, Joyner argues that the trial court erred in overruling his objection and request for a mistrial when the victim testified that she was afraid of Joyner because he was a registered sex offender. In his second point, Joyner argues that the trial court erred in overruling his objection to the State's discussion of this testimony during closing argument. Joyner argues that his status as a registered sex offender was " highly prejudicial character propensity evidence relied on to establish [his] guilt of aggravated stalking." The resolution of both points on appeal turns on the admissibility of the victim's testimony, as reference to the testimony during closing argument was not improper if the evidence was properly admitted. State v. McFadden, 369 S.W.3d 727, 748 (Mo. banc 2012).
The trial court has broad discretion in determining whether to admit or exclude evidence. State v. Oerly, 446 S.W.3d 304, 310 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014). Thus, we review the trial court's decisions regarding the admission of evidence for an abuse of discretion. Id. The trial court abuses its discretion if its ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration. State v. Marquis, 446 S.W.3d 311, 317 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014). An abuse of discretion in admitting evidence does not assure reversal of a conviction unless prejudice is demonstrated, established by proof that admission of the evidence was outcome determinative. State v. Adams, 350 S.W.3d 864, 866 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). " A finding of outcome-determinative prejudice 'expresses a judicial conclusion that the erroneously admitted evidence so influenced the jury that, when considered with and balanced against all of the evidence properly admitted, there is a reasonable probability that the jury would have reached a different conclusion but for the erroneously admitted evidence.'" State v. Barriner, 34 S.W.3d 139, 150 (Mo. banc 2000) (citations omitted) (quoting State v. Roberts, 948 S.W.2d 577, 592 (Mo. banc 1997)). In determining whether improperly admitted evidence is outcome determinative, the State is " not entitled to the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence, as in a review for the sufficiency of the evidence." State v. Driscoll, 55 S.W.3d 350, 357 (Mo. banc 2001).
The Victim's Testimony
When the victim was on the stand, she was asked why she did not want Joyner living with her family anymore. The victim testified that she " was scared of him." The State then asked the victim:
Q: Why were you scared of him . . . ?
A: Because he was a registered sex offender.
Joyner's counsel immediately asked to approach the bench, where she objected and sought a mistrial. Joyner's counsel noted " [w]e have already agreed that that stays out by our motions in limine. I re-enact
[sic] those, and then also it directly goes to his convictions, Your Honor, being a registered sex offender because of his prior convictions."
The State did not express surprise at the victim's testimony. Rather, in response to Joyner's objection and request for a mistrial, the State argued:
Judge, it shows her state of mind. We're talking about what this little girl thinks is reasonable. And if that's one of the reasons she was scared, then that goes directly to proving this crime. She knew about that during the time of the charged conduct.
(Emphasis added.) In short, the State argued that the victim's state of mind was an essential element of the crime of aggravated stalking.
The trial court overruled Joyner's objection and denied Joyner's request for a mistrial. Immediately thereafter, the State again inquired of the victim:
Q: [W]hy were you scared of him?
A: Because he was a registered sex offender.
Q: Is that the only reason you were ...