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State v. Taylor

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

August 23, 2016


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Rex M. Burlison.



         Appellant Tyrone Taylor ("Taylor") appeals from the judgment of the trial court. Following a bench trial, Taylor was found guilty of one count of second-degree murder and one count of armed criminal action for the death of Antoine Bryant ("Bryant"). Taylor avers that there was insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict, that the trial court erred in allowing emotional testimony of the victim's mother that was extremely prejudicial and served no purpose other than to inflame the passions of the fact-finder, and that the trial court plainly erred in not striking portions of the State's closing argument which stated facts not in evidence.

         The record contains sufficient evidence to support Taylor's convictions of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Further, Taylor failed to show any outcome-determinative prejudice resulting from testimony of victim's mother. Lastly, the State's closing argument argued facts in evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Factual and Procedural History

         The following evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, was presented at Taylor's bench trial. Bryant was with friends when he decided to go for a ride on a moped. Alberto Garcia ("Garcia") was stopped at an intersection when he saw "an individual... on a small motorcycle or scooter, " later identified as Bryant, make a left turn in front of him. Garcia also observed a second person, later identified as Taylor, emerge from an alley and shoot a gun at Bryant. Garcia testified that Taylor shot at Bryant "seven or eight times."

         Garcia observed that Bryant, the person on the moped, had "something darker" in his hand, but he could not tell what it was. Garcia testified that both individuals "had objects in their hand" when the shooting occurred. Garcia opined that there were two different guns involved because he heard two different types of gunshots: "One was higher. The other one was lower." Garcia called 911 and subsequently spoke to the police officers responding to the scene. At that time, Garcia did not mention to the police, nor did the police ask about, whether he saw an object in Bryant's hand.

         Finally, Garcia testified that a motorcycle cannot be operated using just one hand: "You cannot drive a motorcycle with one hand. If the gas is on the left-hand side, you can't drive with one up in the air. So I don't know which one is the accelerator on the left or-."

         Louquine Rollins ("Rollins") also witnessed the shooting and testified at trial. Rollins was in her side yard when the shooting occurred. Rollins had a clear view of the street and alley in question. Rollins stated that she saw Taylor, coming out of the alley toward Bryant, who was riding a moped. Rollins testified that Taylor was shooting at Bryant and that Bryant was "trying to get out of there." Rollins was "confident" that Taylor was the shooter. She heard "about" eight shots. Rollins testified that she did not see a gun in Bryant's hand, never saw Bryant shoot at Taylor, and did not hear shots coming from Bryant's direction. Rollins testified that Bryant had "both his hands on the grips" of the moped and never removed them:

Q. Ms. Rollins, as you saw the young man on the moped ride by, did you ever see him remove his hands from the-I think you call them the grips on the moped?
A. For the accelerator.
Q. Okay. So the accelerator, like, where we put our hands if we're riding a moped. Did he ever remove his hand from that area?
A. No.

         After the shooting, Bryant rode his moped back to where he had been with his friends. Bryant's friend, Breanna Brown ("Brown"), testified that Bryant told his friends he had been shot by Taylor. Brown further testified that she was with Bryant before and after the shooting and did not observe him in possession of a gun. Bryant was taken to the hospital by ambulance where he later died from the gunshot wounds.

         Several police officers and evidence technicians investigated the crime scene, where they found shell casings and bullet fragments, but could not determine the location of the shooter. The analysis of the ballistic evidence could not establish if the cartridge casings were from the same gun or two different guns. The medical examiner testified that Bryant was struck in the leg and back by two bullets. The bullet that caused Bryant's death struck Bryant in the back and lodged in his chest.

         Taylor testified that he acted in self-defense when he shot Bryant. Taylor said that he and Bryant were "feuding" at the time of the shooting and had a prior altercation. Taylor claimed that he saw Bryant earlier on the day of the shooting, and Bryant immediately started going for a gun. Taylor ran into a nearby alley. Taylor testified that when he came out of the alley, Bryant again "started going for a gun." Taylor testified that he feared for his life and "had no other choice" but to reach for his own gun and shoot at Bryant. Taylor could not say who shot first, but said that he fired his gun approximately five times.

         Bryant's mother, Lawanda Phillips ("Phillips"), testified at trial about learning that her son had been shot, and her subsequent identification of his body at the hospital. Phillips recounted her experience at the hospital before identifying her son's body. Phillips explained that the doctor told her he had "opened up" Bryant, that there was "blood everywhere, " and that Bryant was not going to make it. Phillips testified that she fainted upon learning her son was not going to live.

         Taylor moved for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case and at the close of all evidence. ...

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