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State v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

January 31, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
CALVIN BROWN, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 0822-CR06876-01 Honorable John F. Garvey, Jr.

          ROBERT M. CLAYTON III, Presiding Judge.

         Calvin Brown ("Defendant") appeals the judgment entered after a bench trial convicting him of first-degree murder and armed criminal action for his alleged role in knowingly causing the death of his grandmother Clara Little ("Grandmother") on November 11, 2008, by stabbing her and cutting her throat through the knowing use, assistance, and aid of a dangerous instrument. Because we find the trial court committed reversible error in denying Defendant's pre-trial motion for a continuance, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant was charged with the above crimes on November 12, 2008. In large part due to the repeated concerns of Defendant's attorneys and trial judges as to whether Defendant had a mental illness that rendered him incompetent to proceed to trial, this case has a lengthy procedural posture, with multiple trial judges presiding over the case.[1]

         A. Events Which Occurred Prior to Defendant's Pre-Trial Motion for a Continuance

         The following events occurred prior to Defendant's pre-trial motion for a continuance. Defendant's family attempted to hire private counsel for Defendant, but he refused to talk with counsel and his family did not have the necessary funds. At the request of Defendant's family, an attorney from the Missouri State Public Defender's Office ("Public Defender's Office") submitted the necessary paperwork for Defendant to be represented. After Defendant was found to be eligible for services from the Public Defender's Office, a public defender briefly entered her appearance for Defendant and Defendant, by and through counsel, entered a plea of not guilty. Subsequently, the original public defender withdrew her appearance and public defender Srikant Chigurupati ("Mr. Chigurupati") entered his appearance for Defendant on February 25, 2009.

         On April 26, 2010, the Honorable Steven R. Ohmer ("Judge Ohmer") issued an order for a mental health evaluation pursuant to section 552.020 RSMo 2000[2] to determine if Defendant was competent to proceed to trial. Because Defendant refused to participate in an outpatient mental health evaluation, Judge Ohmer issued an order on June 11, 2010 committing Defendant to Fulton State Hospital ("Fulton") for an inpatient mental health evaluation pursuant to section 552.020 RSMo 2000.

         Defendant subsequently participated in an inpatient mental health evaluation with Dr. Jeffrey Kline ("Dr. Kline"), a licensed psychologist and certified forensic examiner at Fulton. On August 31, 2010, Dr. Kline issued a written report in which he concluded:

It is clear that [Defendant's] current delusional beliefs would severely interfere with his capacity to comprehend advice by counsel, participate in planning his defense, or reasonably appraise outcomes and implications of plea bargains or other issues involving his case . . .. [I]t is clear that [Defendant] lacks the capacity to understand the proceedings against him and lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense as a result of his mental disease or defect, [p]sychotic [d]isorder [n]ot [o]therwise [s]pecified.

         Based on Dr. Kline's August 31, 2010 report, which was filed with the court, Judge Ohmer entered an order on October 12, 2010 finding Defendant was not competent to proceed to trial and committing Defendant to the custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health ("Department of Mental Health").

         Due to Defendant's continuing lack of cooperation with health care personnel at Fulton who were attempting to complete an updated evaluation of Defendant's mental condition, the Honorable John F. Garvey, Jr. ("Judge Garvey") entered an order on June 22, 2011 authorizing Dr. Kline to interview witnesses in Defendant's case. Although Defendant was generally uncooperative in his interviews with Dr. Kline, Dr. Kline issued a report dated July 15, 2011 concluding it was unlikely Defendant was still suffering from a mental disease or defect and that Defendant was no longer incompetent to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his defense. Based on Dr. Kline's July 15, 2011 report, which was filed with the court, Judge Garvey issued an order on August 15, 2011, (1) finding Defendant was competent to proceed to trial; and (2) ordering Defendant to be discharged from the Department of Mental Health and returned to the City of St. Louis Justice Center for criminal proceedings to be resumed.

         On December 7, 2011, Defendant's counsel, Mr. Chigurupati, filed a motion to again have Defendant evaluated for competency pursuant to section 552.020 RSMo Supp. 2012, [3] alleging "[D]efendant continue[d] to exhibit behavior that makes him seem incompetent." The Honorable Philip D. Heagney ("Judge Heagney") held a hearing on the motion on February 23, 2012. Defendant was initially present at the hearing, but he was escorted out of the courtroom after he would not respond to any of Judge Heagney's questions. A deputy sheriff with the City of St. Louis Sheriff's Office who had transported Defendant to court hearings, Mr. Chigurupati's supervisor, and Dr. John Rabun ("Dr. Rabun") testified at the February 2012 hearing. The deputy sheriff testified he witnessed Defendant refuse to answer any questions from Mr. Chigurupati and his supervisor. Mr. Chigurupati's supervisor testified she had concerns Defendant was not competent to proceed to trial, in part because she observed him urinating in front of her and "go from screaming wildly to laughing." Finally, Dr. Rabun testified he had attempted to interview Defendant two times, at the request of the defense, to evaluate Defendant's competency and responsibility pursuant to section 552.020 and section 552.030 RSMo Supp. 2012, [4] but he was unable to conduct those evaluations because Defendant would not come out of his cell and refused to participate. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Heagney agreed Defendant should again be evaluated for competency, and on March 5, 2012, Judge Heagney issued an order for another mental health evaluation pursuant to section 552.020 to determine if Defendant was competent to proceed to trial.

         On May 22, 2012, Drs. Rachael Springman and Bridget Graham, licensed psychologists with the Department of Mental Health, advised Judge Heagney that Defendant would not cooperate in an outpatient mental health evaluation and requested Defendant be hospitalized at Fulton to undergo an inpatient mental health evaluation. Judge Heagney ordered Defendant to be returned to Fulton, and Dr. Kline again attempted to evaluate Defendant. Dr. Kline issued a report dated August 10, 2012, finding in relevant part, "[Defendant] refused to speak to the examiner during the course of his current examination . . . There is no evidence that [Defendant] is currently suffering from a mental disease or defect that would interfere with his capacity to understand the proceedings against him or his capacity to assist in his own defense." Based on Dr. Kline's August 10, 2012 report, which was filed with the court, Judge Heagney entered an order on August 31, 2012 finding Defendant was competent to proceed to trial.

         On September 11, 2012, Defendant's counsel, Mr. Chigurupati, filed a motion to withdraw himself and the entire Public Defender's Office from Defendant's case. The motion alleged Defendant would not cooperate or communicate with Mr. Chigurupati, and therefore, counsel was unable to effectively represent Defendant. Judge Heagney conducted a hearing on the motion to withdraw on October 18, 2012. At the hearing, Defendant responded to some of Judge Heagney's questions, informing the judge he did not have or need a lawyer to represent him, he did not want to represent himself, and he did not want to participate in his trial. Judge Heagney subsequently issued an order on January 30, 2013 denying Mr. Chigurupati's motion to withdraw.

         The next day, public defender Mary Fox ("Ms. Fox") filed a request for leave to substitute her appearance as counsel for Defendant and to withdraw the appearance of Mr. Chigurupati because he was leaving the Trial Division of the Public Defender's Office. The trial court granted the motion.

         On February 11, 2013, Ms. Fox filed a motion requesting a hearing on Defendant's behalf pursuant to section 552.020, alleging she believed Defendant was not competent to proceed to trial. The motion set out the lack of contact between Defendant and all of his assigned attorneys, specifically alleging that since Mr. Chigurupati's entry of appearance in February 2009, Defendant had only met with Mr. Chigurupati one time other than when he had been brought to court.

         The Honorable Bryan L. Hettenbach ("Judge Hettenbach") granted Ms. Fox's motion to have Defendant evaluated for competency under section 552.020, and Judge Hettenbach conducted a competency hearing on March 5, 2013. Defendant did not attend the hearing, and Ms. Fox told the court she had never been able to talk to Defendant because he refused to speak with her at all of her attempted visits. In addition, Dr. Kline and Mr. Chigurupati testified at the March 2013 hearing. Dr. Kline testified about the report issued in August 2010 where he found Defendant was not competent and the reports issued in July 2011 and August 2012 where he found Defendant was competent. During his testimony, Dr. Kline admitted Defendant cooperated most in his evaluation which led to the first, August 2010 report, and that was the only time Dr. Kline had received detailed information regarding Defendant's mental state. Mr. Chigurupati testified that during the four years he was Defendant's attorney, Defendant refused all visits except for one, and even then he was not willing to talk about his case. After the March 2013 hearing, Judge Hettenbach entered an order finding Defendant competent to proceed to trial.

         Subsequently, on March 15, 2013, Ms. Fox filed a Notice of Intent to Rely on Defense of Mental Disease or Defect Excluding Responsibility, and Judge Hettenbach ordered an examination of Defendant pursuant to section 552.030.[5] However, Defendant refused to speak to the examiner (Dr. Kline) or participate in the evaluation, and therefore, Dr. Kline submitted a report to the court dated June 14, 2013 stating he had insufficient evidence to determine if Defendant had a mental disease or defect excluding him from responsibility for killing his Grandmother. Based upon those facts, Ms. Fox filed a notice of her intent to withdraw her reliance upon the defense. The notice alleged Ms. Fox was requesting a continuance of the trial and should the continuance be granted, she may renew her intent to rely on the defense of mental disease or defect excluding responsibility.

         The record reflects that prior to trial, some of the trial judges assigned to Defendant's case and some of the doctors who Defendant refused to participate in evaluations with expressed concerns that Defendant might be feigning symptoms of a mental illness. On October 31, 2013, Defendant's case was assigned to Judge Garvey in Division 17 of the 22nd Judicial Circuit, [6] for a jury trial to be held on November 12, 2013.

         B. Defendant's Motion for a Continuance and his Waiver of his Right to a Jury Trial

         In a written motion filed on November 7, 2013, Ms. Fox requested a continuance on Defendant's behalf so she could consult with Defendant as to his wishes how to proceed in the case because both she and Mr. Chigurupati had been unable to communicate with Defendant at any time during their representation of Defendant. Ms. Fox's motion also requested a further competency evaluation. After holding a hearing, the trial court denied the motion.[7] Subsequently, Ms. Fox brought it to the court's attention that Defendant had paper wadded up in his ears, which Ms. Fox alleged could be a sign of auditory hallucinations.

         Defendant then informed the court he wished to waive his right to a jury trial, because he had concerns that members of the jury might be on the payroll and because he preferred to have one person judge him instead of thirteen. The trial court extensively questioned Defendant, and after Ms. Fox expressed concerns that she believed Defendant was not competent, Defendant denied having a mental illness. The trial court then accepted Defendant's waiver of his right to a jury trial, and the case proceeded to a bench trial on November 12, 2013.

         C. Evidence Adduced at Defendant's Bench Trial

         The following evidence was adduced at Defendant's bench trial. Defendant's paternal Grandmother lived at an apartment located at 4012 Cora in the City of St. Louis with Defendant and her two sons, Lonnie Little ("Lonnie"), who is Defendant's uncle, and Calvin Little ("Calvin"), who is Defendant's father.[8] On November 11, 2008, Veteran's Day, Lonnie and Calvin were in the living room of the apartment on Cora watching television with their friend Carl Hadley ("Mr. Hadley"), while Defendant's Grandmother was in her bedroom watching television. After hearing a loud knocking at the front door, Mr. Hadley let Defendant into the apartment. Defendant then stormed through the living room and into his Grandmother's bedroom.

         Once in his Grandmother's bedroom, Defendant asked his Grandmother a question about a framed photograph on her wall, which was from 1972 and showed her, an African-American woman, receiving an award at her place of employment from a Caucasian man in a military uniform. The photograph had been on the wall of Defendant Grandmother's apartment for the fifteen years she had lived there and had also hung on the wall of her previous home. Defendant took the photograph off the wall and asked his Grandmother if she was the woman in the picture, and Grandmother responded that it was. Upon hearing that response, Defendant tore the photograph and hit his Grandmother in the face so hard it knocked her out. Lonnie and Calvin heard the attack and attempted to stop Defendant, but Defendant pushed them both down and ran into the kitchen where he grabbed two knives. Defendant then came out of the kitchen and threatened his uncle Lonnie and father Calvin with the knives, telling them, "I'll skin you like a turkey." At that point, Lonnie, Calvin, and Mr. Hadley ran outside the apartment and neighbors called the police.

         Subsequently, Defendant came out of the apartment, took off his gloves and a shirt, threw them in a trash can, and walked away. Lonnie and Calvin went back into the apartment and approached Defendant's Grandmother's body, which was on the floor of the bedroom. Her throat had been cut to the point that her head was almost decapitated and a knife was stuck in her back. Despite Defendant's actions, Lonnie described the relationship between Defendant and his Grandmother as "very good, " and Lonnie testified Defendant had no complaints with his Grandmother and had not been involved in any arguments with her. Calvin testified Defendant was his Grandmother's favorite grandson, and Calvin described Defendant as a respectful young man who helped his Grandmother on a regular basis. The week prior to the killing, Lonnie had observed Defendant acting "unusual, " sitting outside in the cold, naked and wrapped in a cover. Lonnie believed that on the day Defendant killed his Grandmother, Defendant had simply gone "beserk" and "crazy." Similarly, Calvin testified that on the day the crimes occurred, Defendant was not acting like the son he knew.

         Police took Defendant into custody after locating him on the front steps of his maternal grandfather's house located at 909 Walton in the City of St. Louis, which is about a thirty-to-forty minute walk away from Defendant's paternal Grandmother's apartment on Cora. Officers then transported Defendant to his Grandmother's apartment where Lonnie and Calvin identified Defendant as the person who killed his Grandmother. When Detective Jimmy Hyatt ("Detective Hyatt") told Defendant he had just been identified by his uncle and father as the person who killed his Grandmother, Defendant told Detective Hyatt he did not know the people who identified him, laughed, and said, "my grandmother's been dead in my eyes." Detective Hyatt characterized Defendant's behavior as strange and calm. Officers seized boots from Defendant's person, a wash cloth from the crime scene, and gloves and a shirt from the trash can outside of the apartment. A subsequent DNA analysis determined that Defendant's Grandmother's blood was on all of those items.

         Ms. Fox called two witnesses on behalf of the defense, Mary Brown ("Ms. Brown"), who is Defendant's aunt, and Dr. Kline, who issued reports in August 2010, July 2011, and August 2012 evaluating Defendant's competency. Ms. Brown testified that on the date of the crimes, Defendant was at his maternal grandfather's house on Walton for the entire day, until he said he was going to take a walk to the corner store. Dr. Kline testified he opined in his August 2010 report that Defendant was suffering from a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, i.e., psychosis, in part because during Defendant's interview preceding the report, Defendant was delusional, laughing, having auditory or visual hallucinations, and thinking there was a conspiracy against him. Dr. Kline also testified one of the main reasons he was unable to make a diagnosis as to whether Defendant was suffering from psychosis on November 11, 2008, the date of the his Grandmother's killing, was that Defendant did not respond to evaluation questions.

         After hearing the above evidence, the trial court entered a verdict finding Defendant guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

         D. Post-Trial Procedural Posture Including Defendant's Competency Hearing and Sentencing

         After the trial court entered its verdict, Ms. Fox made a motion requesting the court to conduct a competency examination to determine if Defendant had been competent to proceed at his trial. The trial court granted Ms. Fox's motion and entered an order requiring the Department of Mental Health to conduct a mental health evaluation of Defendant pursuant to section 552.020. Three doctors evaluated Defendant after the trial and testified at a post-trial competency hearing, which was held on November 10, 2014 and May 6, 2015; Dr. Springman and Dr. Richard Scott testified on behalf of the defense and Dr. Michael Armour testified on behalf of the State.

         Drs. Springman and Scott, both licensed psychologists and certified forensic examiners with the Department of Mental Health at the Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center, reviewed Defendant's records and interviewed Defendant four times between December 26, 2013 and March 4, 2014. Defendant participated in all four sessions, and Drs. Springman and Scott determined Defendant was not malingering, feigning his mental illness, or attempting to exaggerate symptoms of a mental illness during his interviews. After their evaluations of Defendant, both doctors opined Defendant suffered from a mental disease in the form of a delusional disorder of a persecutory type. This diagnosis is consistent with Dr. Kline's pre-trial, August 2010 diagnosis, which concluded Defendant suffered from a psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, because delusional disorder of a persecutor type is a specific type of psychotic disorder. Dr. Springman testified that although a ...


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