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State v. Washington

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

March 7, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 14SL-CR06430-01 Honorable Robert S. Cohen

          Gary M. Gaertner, Jr, Judge


         Ronald Washington, Jr. (Washington) appeals from the trial court's judgment and sentence following his conviction for one count of assault in the first degree after a bench trial. He asserts the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence. We affirm.

         Background and Procedure

         The State charged Washington with one count of assault in the first degree stemming from an incident in which he caused serious physical injury to Florence Washington (Victim), his mother, by beating her with his fists and kicking her. Prior to trial, Washington moved, as relevant to the issues on appeal, to exclude Victim's hospital records following the alleged attack as testimonial in nature. The trial court denied the motion after a hearing.

         At a bench trial, the following evidence was adduced. Patricia Williams (Williams) testified that she had lived three houses down from Victim for ten years and that they were close friends. Washington moved in with Victim sometime in 2014. On July 8, 2014, Williams was on her front porch when she witnessed Washington throw Victim out her front door and onto the ground, and punch, stomp, and kick her. Williams described that Washington held Victim's head up by her hair so he could punch her in the face. Williams approached Washington and Victim, and Washington ran away. Williams testified that when Victim returned home from the hospital, her arm was in a cast, her face was very swollen, and she had trouble eating. Victim did not testify at trial, because she was deceased. Williams testified that she had not met Washington but she knew who he was, and that she had once yelled at him to get off her property when he was drunk and flirting with her fourteen-year-old daughter.

         Beverly Hills, Missouri Police Chief Andrew Henley (Chief Henley)[1] testified that he responded to the scene. After the police apprehended Washington, Chief Henley read Washington his Miranda[2] rights and took him into custody. At the police station, after Chief Henley again advised Washington of his rights, Washington refused to sign the form but verbally stated he knew what his rights were. Chief Henley did not ask Washington any questions, but Washington spontaneously stated during the booking process that Victim had nagged him and he snapped. Washington asked Chief Henley to tell Victim he was sorry.

         Trisha Rogers (Rogers), a system support analyst from the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services, testified that she was the custodian of inmate phone records. When inmates make a telephone call, they must first enter their inmate number plus the last four digits of their social security number. The system has voice-recognition software to indicate if more than one inmate is talking on the phone call, as that is a common occurrence. Rogers did not testify that the voice-recognition software was able to identify the specific inmate speaking. All inmate phone calls are recorded and saved on a server. Rogers testified that in response to a request from law enforcement, she had provided recordings of all of Washington's inmate phone calls. Washington objected to the admission of the recordings as without foundation both as to the recording process and because the State had failed to establish that Washington's voice was the one recorded. The trial court overruled the objections, noting that the voice-recognition issue went to the weight of the recordings, rather than their admissibility.

         The court then listened to the recordings, which revealed the following. During a conversation on August 17, 2014, between an inmate identified as Washington and an unidentified female, the inmate referred to himself as Ronald Washington Junior with inmate number 197502 and referred to the unidentified female as "ma" and "mom." During that conversation, Washington stated: "I just wanted to call you. I just wanted to apologize for getting mad and hitting you." During the same telephone conversation, a third person named Lucretia Williams was linked in and Washington stated to her: "I got real mad at my mom's house, you know, and I hit her a couple times and police locked me up and brought me to jail."

         Last, the State moved to admit Victim's medical records from July 8, 2014, as a business record under Section 490.692, RSMo. (2000). Washington objected to the extent the State would use the medical records to establish the identity of Victim's assailant, noting the medical records included non-medical statements that Victim was a victim of violence and that she had identified Washington as her attacker. Washington also objected to the State using medical records rather than live testimony to establish serious injury, arguing the medical records were hearsay. The trial court overruled Washington's objections and admitted the medical records on the grounds that the Business Records Act overcame the hearsay objection, and as such the medical records alone were proper evidence of injuries. To the extent the medical records identified Washington as the assailant, the trial court agreed that this was not proper evidence but nevertheless admitted the records in their entirety. The medical records showed that Victim suffered a fractured left wrist and a fractured right cheekbone. The medical records also in several places stated that Victim had identified her son, Washington, as her assailant.

         Following the bench trial, the trial court found Washington guilty of first-degree assault and sentenced him to twenty years' imprisonment in the Missouri Department of Corrections. This appeal follows.


         Poin ...

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