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State v. Scroggs

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

April 4, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Johnson County, Missouri The Honorable R. Michael Wagner, Judge.

          Before: Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, Gary D. Witt, Judge and Zel M. Fischer, Special Judge.

          GARY D. WITT, JUDGE.

         Krystal M. Scroggs ("Scroggs") appeals from her convictions following a jury trial before the Circuit Court of Johnson County for one count of class A felony murder in the second degree, section 565.021, [1] one count of endangering the welfare of a child, section 568.045, and one count of abandonment of a corpse, section 194.425. The charges arise out of the death, shortly after birth, of Scroggs's newborn son. Scroggs raises three points on appeal arguing that there was insufficient evidence to convict her of endangering the welfare of a child (Point One) and murder in the second degree (Point Two), and that the trial court erred in excluding certain evidence at trial (Point Three). We affirm.

         Factual Background

         In 2013, Scroggs and her husband Matthew Scroggs ("Matthew")[2] were living in Pleasant Hill, Missouri with their three children. During the summer, Matthew's mother, Melinda Brown ("Brown") was caring for the children at her home a couple hours away from Pleasant Hill. In early June of 2013, Brown took the three children to visit Pleasant Hill. Brown noticed that Scroggs appeared to be pregnant. She returned again in July and noticed that Scroggs's breasts were enlarged, she had gained weight in her stomach, and her nose was red. This was consistent with how Scroggs looked during her previous pregnancies. Brown asked Scroggs whether she was pregnant, and Scroggs angrily denied it multiple times.

         Their children were returned by Brown to Scroggs and Matthew in August. Brown received a call from Matthew on November 4, 2013, requesting that Brown come to his home. When Brown arrived, Matthew looked like he had not slept and was exhausted, as if he were "crashing." His mood vacillated between sadness and anger. The three children were not at home. Matthew first patted Brown down, as if he were searching for something, and then forced Brown to hand over her keys and cell phone because he wanted to tell her something but did not want her to leave. Matthew informed Brown that Scroggs had delivered a baby at home and was in the hospital. Brown asked where the baby was, and Matthew responded, saying, "[a]ll you need to know is that we took care of it." Matthew also told Brown that there was a stolen car between their garage and a fence.

         Brown spoke with law enforcement and told them a stolen car was located on the property, which she had seen the day before, and relayed the information she had received from Matthew about the baby. She informed police that she believed Scroggs and Matthew had disposed of the baby's body and that they both deal in drugs.

         When police arrived, Matthew was placed under arrest and gave his consent for a search of the residence. Police found four glass pipes used for smoking methamphetamine that had white residue on them. An additional thirty unused glass pipes were located in the upstairs of the home along with bags containing marijuana, methamphetamine residue, and additional marijuana pipes.

         Police discovered a blue bucket in the garage filled with what appeared to be recently poured concrete. Matthew later admitted that the baby's body was in the bucket and gave permission to police to remove it. The bucket was taken to the medical examiner, who removed and examined the contents. The baby was located in the concrete inside a cardboard box for baby wipes and inside a plastic bag that also contained pacifiers, a bottle, a bib, a baby bottle brush, and formula. An additional plastic bag was also in the bucket containing the placenta wrapped in a towel. At the bottom of the bucket was a truck brake rotor.

         Scroggs was interviewed twice while in the hospital. She had been admitted for pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Police asked her if she was aware she had given birth to a baby boy on October 7. Scroggs hesitated and stated the birth had taken place a few days after that. Scroggs had learned that she was pregnant in June but she did not want any more children. Scroggs did not obtain any prenatal care or seek any medical treatment during her pregnancy. Although her previous three children had been born in a hospital, she said that she "wanted to do it like they did back in the day." She did not obtain a midwife to help with the birth, and she and Mathew had not told anyone about the pregnancy, not even their children. Scroggs admitted to police that she used methamphetamine and marijuana throughout her pregnancy. She told a Children's Division investigator that she had only used methamphetamine prior to the pregnancy but when told that hair follicle tests would be able to determine whether that was true, she said they would probably find methamphetamine in her system and that she could not remember the last time she had used it.

         Scroggs claimed the baby was born somewhere between five and seven months into the pregnancy and that after he was born the baby looked fine. She claimed that she called a doctor after the birth, whom she picked out of a phone book, and the doctor told her that as long as there was not excess bleeding, everything was okay and there was nothing else she could do. Scroggs did not remember who this doctor was and could not provide any information regarding the doctor's identity.

         Scroggs stated that after the birth the baby would not breast feed or take a bottle. She told police that she thought he would eventually eat, so she went to sleep. Scroggs stated that when she woke up, the baby was "gone, " as in deceased. She also stated that she had heard him make a whimpering sound before he died. After she woke up and found the baby dead, she put the child in a box and gave it to Matthew and told him to "bury it in the backyard." However, Scroggs also told a detective, after she got out of the hospital, that she knew the baby was in the garage and said she told Matthew not to bury him yet because she wanted to wait until she was healthy enough to help bury the baby.

         An autopsy was performed on the baby that determined he was born alive and appeared to be full term. There were no signs of injury or congenital abnormalities. The baby had a methamphetamine level in his system of 751 ng/mL. Scroggs had to have used methamphetamines a few days prior to the birth in order for the baby to have this level of methamphetamines in his system at birth. This level of methamphetamine would have created stress, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure in the baby. This would have created a risk of heart attack, seizure, stroke, or arrhythmia, which could have caused sudden death. The baby's cause of death was "methamphetamine intoxication due to maternal methamphetamine use." Had the baby been taken to the hospital, he could have been diagnosed and treated, as there are interventions that could have increased his likelihood of survival. A medical expert testified that the failure to seek medical treatment contributed to the baby's death.

         Scroggs was found guilty after a jury trial on all three counts. The court sentenced Scroggs to concurrent terms of life for second-degree murder, seven years for endangering the welfare of a child, and four years for abandonment of a corpse. Scroggs now appeals.

         Point One

         In Point One, Scroggs argues the trial court erred in overruling her motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of all the evidence and imposing judgment and sentence against her for murder in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child because the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew or should have known that by failing to obtain medical care for her baby, she was creating substantial risk to the life, body, and health of her baby.

An appellate court's review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is limited to determining whether there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Chaney, 967 S.W.2d 47, 52 (Mo. banc 1998) [(citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)).] All evidence and inferences favorable to the State are accepted as true, and all ...

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