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State v. Eaton

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

May 19, 2015

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
SARAH T. EATON, Defendant-Appellant.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Judge David R. Munton

MARY W. SHEFFIELD, P.J.

Sarah T. Eaton ("Defendant") appeals from her conviction of one count of felony stealing. Defendant argues the trial court plainly erred in permitting the prosecution to elicit testimony regarding Defendant's prior convictions for burglary. We disagree with Defendant's argument and affirm the trial court's judgment.

Factual and Procedural Background

Daniel Ramsdell ("Victim") owned a vacant house and a trailer used as a storage unit on South Meadowview in Springfield, Missouri. On May 21, 2013, a neighbor who lived across the street on South Meadowview saw Defendant standing beside the trailer while Defendant's husband, Randy Eaton, was "trying to jack the trailer up." The neighbor approached Defendant and asked her if she had a title for the trailer. Defendant replied that "she had bought it off the computer[, ]" and told the neighbor to "mind [his] own business[.]" The neighbor called the police because he thought the situation was suspicious.

Springfield Police Officer Tommy Nguyen ("Officer Nguyen") responded to the scene. When he arrived, a truck had been hooked up to the trailer, and both the trailer and the truck were stuck in the mud. Officer Nguyen spoke with Defendant who was not able to provide any proof that she had purchased the trailer. Officer Nguyen contacted Victim who informed Officer Nguyen the trailer had not been sold. Officer Nguyen arrested Defendant and Mr. Eaton.

Defendant was charged as a prior and persistent offender with one count of felony stealing. See § 570.030, RSMo Cum. Supp. (2012). At trial, Defendant presented a defense based on Mr. Eaton's testimony which was essentially that Defendant had no knowledge that Mr. Eaton was stealing the trailer and that Defendant had no intent to steal the trailer. Mr. Eaton testified that he told Defendant he had to pick up some equipment from a friend's home. They drove to the Meadowview property, where Mr. Eaton began hooking up the trailer. When Mr. Eaton saw the police arriving, he told Defendant to tell the police they had purchased the trailer on Craigslist. Mr. Eaton then testified that he had already pled guilty to stealing Victim's trailer.

On cross examination, the prosecutor asked Mr. Eaton about all the convictions for which Mr. Eaton was currently imprisoned. In addition to the sentence imposed for stealing the trailer, Mr. Eaton was also currently serving sentences for several counts of receiving stolen property. Mr. Eaton admitted that those other cases alleged that Mr. Eaton had acted to commit the crimes with another. When the prosecutor asked for the name of Mr. Eaton's codefendant in those cases, Defendant's attorney objected.

Defendant's attorney argued the prosecution was "trying to solicit prior bad acts of the defendant through this witness." The prosecutor explained the purpose of the evidence as follows:

what we're showing with this line of questioning is that this defendant and this witness have, on previous occasions, committed similar crimes together, or been involved in similar crimes together. And so on this occasion, when he drives her to a vacant house and proceeds in hooking up that trailer without knocking on the door, without proceeding any further, that the fact that she didn't know this trailer was stolen is not believable to a jury.

The judge ultimately allowed the prosecution to inquire about the prior convictions.

The prosecutor then asked Mr. Eaton about Defendant's knowledge of the trailer theft. Mr. Eaton stated Defendant had no idea that Mr. Eaton was actually going to steal the trailer when they arrived at the Meadowview property and that Defendant "had no intent to steal that trailer[.]" The prosecutor asked again about Mr. Eaton's other convictions. Mr. Eaton then acknowledged Defendant was his codefendant in all of the preceding cases and, in those cases, Mr. Eaton had pled guilty to receiving stolen property and Defendant had pled guilty to burglary.

The jury found Defendant guilty of stealing, and the trial court sentenced her to ten years ...


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