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State v. Neighbors

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Fourth Division

October 25, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
ROBERT JOSEPH NEIGHBORS, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Pettis County, Missouri The Honorable Dennis A. Rolf, Judge

          Before: Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge, and Victor C. Howard and Gary D. Witt, Judges

          Mark D. Pfeiffer, Chief Judge

         Mr. Robert Neighbors ("Neighbors") appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Pettis County, Missouri ("trial court"), which found him guilty of two counts of felony first-degree child molestation following a jury trial. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In late 2012 and early 2013, Neighbors lived in a house with several family members, including his niece ("Mother"), nephew-in-law ("Father"), and their daughter, Neighbors's seven-year-old great-niece ("Victim"). At some point in early 2013, Victim's parents separated and Father moved out of the home. Victim continued living with Mother in the home shared with Neighbors but visited Father on most weekends.

         While at Father's house one weekend, Victim stated that Neighbors had touched her under her pants. After this disclosure, Father informed Mother, and they went to the Pettis County Sheriff's Department to report the incident to police. Victim was then interviewed by a victim advocate and forensic interviewer named Beth Jackman, and Victim stated that Neighbors "had rubbed her privates with his hand both on top of and under her clothing on more than one occasion."

         Neighbors was charged with and convicted by a jury of two counts of felony first-degree child molestation pursuant to section 556.067.[1] Neighbors was also charged as a persistent sexual offender pursuant to sections 558.011 and 566.067. His jury trial regarding these charges was held on June 25-26, 2015, after which the trial court sentenced Neighbors to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment.

         During voir dire, there were several issues disputed such that on two occasions the parties and counsel withdrew into the judge's chambers to resolve the disputes. Each time, two uniformed guards escorted Neighbors into chambers, but they did not handcuff or shackle him in any way during either occasion.

         At the conclusion of voir dire, defense counsel requested a mistrial based on the fact that the venire panel was permitted to see Neighbors accompanied by the two guards when the parties went into the judge's chambers to discuss disputed issues. The trial court denied the motion.

         Prior to trial, the State filed a notice of intent to offer Victim's statements into evidence pursuant to section 491.075.[2] The motion requested that Victim's statements to Ms. Jackman regarding Neighbors's actions be admitted into evidence, as well as Victim's earlier statements to Father regarding Neighbors's behavior. Neighbors objected to the admissibility of Victim's out-of-court statements, claiming them to be inadmissible hearsay.

         Following a hearing on the section 491.075 motion, the trial court granted the motion, concluding that the time, content, and circumstances of Victim's interview with Ms. Jackman "provide[d] sufficient indicia of reliability to admit the statement into evidence if [Victim] testifie[d] at trial." The trial court's ruling did not expressly discuss Victim's statements to Father. However, at trial, Father was permitted to testify regarding Victim's statements to him over defense counsel's objection that Father's testimony was inadmissible hearsay. Father testified that Victim said Neighbors had touched her underneath her underpants.

         This timely appeal followed.

         I. Trial court's alleged denial of Neighbors's request to excuse the jury panel while he was being escorted from the courtroom by guards

         In his first point on appeal, Neighbors contends that the trial court erred in denying an off-the-record request during voir dire to excuse the venire panel while Neighbors was escorted by two uniformed guards into the judge's chambers for discussions about disputed issues relating to voir dire. Neighbors argues that allowing the venire panel to see him escorted from the courtroom by guards prejudiced the panel against him by ...


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