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State v. Lee

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

June 20, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County, Missouri The Honorable Kevin Crane, Judge.

          Before: Lisa White Hardwick, Presiding Judge, Karen King Mitchell, Judge, Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge.


         Jerol J. Lee ("Lee") appeals the circuit court's judgment entered upon a jury verdict convicting him of second degree domestic assault and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. §565.073 and §568.045, RSMo 2000. Lee claims that the trial court abused its discretion in sustaining the State's objection to defense counsel's questioning of a State witness and, in so doing, violated Lee's rights to a fair trial and to confront and cross-examine witnesses. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Lee does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions. In the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at trial showed that on March 31, 2015, Lee appeared at his ex-girlfriend's (Adult Victim) home where she resided with her three children. Lee had previously also lived at the residence. A neighbor who lived in the other half of Adult Victim's duplex, Damian Peyton, arrived home a little before 5:00 p.m. that day. After hearing some "thuds" coming from outside, he looked out his front window and observed Lee inside his Chevy Impala arguing with several females, including Adult Victim. Peyton recognized Lee from Lee's prior visits to Adult Victim's home. Peyton then observed Lee "rev" his engine and lurch the car forward "almost like a warning sign." Adult Victim was standing approximately ten feet from Lee's vehicle at the time. Peyton then observed Lee back his car up slightly prior to accelerating forward and hitting Adult Victim with his vehicle. He then drove away "very dangerously, " "very fast, " and with "no regard." Peyton called 911. Peyton described to the 911 operator that the back driver's-side window of Lee's Impala was broken out. He also reported seeing at some point during the incident a younger-looking female punching Lee through the driver-side window of his car. Peyton also observed Adult Victim sweeping up glass in the vicinity of the incident.

         Peyton testified that within five minutes of calling 911, Lee returned in his vehicle. Peyton called 911 again and provided a more detailed description of Lee's car, including a license plate number. Lee apparently left and then returned again, prompting Peyton to call 911 a third time. After hanging up from his third 911 call, Peyton saw the police approaching and ran outside and waved them down. As the officers exited their vehicle and began approaching Peyton on foot, Peyton heard a very loud crash and the officers got back into their vehicle. Peyton testified that Lee was "storming out again" in his vehicle but that he was stopped by the police.

         Officer Terranova was one officer who responded to the scene. He testified that, after arriving at the scene, he heard a loud crash that sounded like "metal on metal." He then initiated a traffic stop of Lee's vehicle when he observed Lee attempting to leave the scene. An accompanying officer, Officer Williams, stayed with Lee while Officer Terranova went to speak with Adult Victim who was walking up the street. Present at the scene were Adult Victim, a female friend of Adult Victim, Victim's 16-year-old daughter (Child Victim A), and Adult Victim's twins -- seven-year-old son (Child Victim B) and seven-year-old daughter (Child Victim C) (Victim Twins collectively). Officer Terranova testified that Adult Victim was "hysterical, " "crying, " "panicked, " and "yelling." A video from a body camera that Officer Terranova was wearing at the time was partially played for the jury. It shows that, when Officer Terranova first approached Adult Victim, Adult Victim expressed, "My kids was in this car. He just rammed the s*** out of my car." Child Victim A can then be seen entering the view of the camera and stating, "He hit my momma with a car. He threatened to kill us …." Her dialogue was stopped by Officer Terranova who asked her to wait there while he took care of something else.

         Officer Williams taped a video with his own body camera that Child Victim A had recorded on a cell phone. It showed Lee saying to Child Victim A, "You can record it, I'm going to kill one of your family members." Child Victim A also video-recorded with her cell phone an argument occurring between Adult Victim and Lee while Adult Victim swept broken glass from around her vehicle. After arguing with Adult Victim, Lee can be observed abruptly leaving and then pulling his vehicle in front of Adult Victim's vehicle. Children inside the vehicle can be heard saying, "Mama? Mama?" followed with, "He's fixing to hit your car." A loud crash follows, the video jolts and goes black, and children can be heard screaming and crying.

         Child Victim A testified that on March 31, 2015, she and her mother, two siblings, and "auntie" had just returned home from a trip to St. Louis. Lee came to the family home that day and Lee and Adult Victim got into an argument. Child Victim A recalled that Lee "stormed downstairs, upset" and slammed the front door, damaging the door knob. After leaving, Lee returned to the home and Lee and Adult Victim continued to argue. Child Victim A heard Lee threaten to shoot her grandmother in the face. At some point, Child Victim A began recording Lee's threats on a cell phone. Lee left the home and then returned a third time. Child Victim A testified that Lee "punched" a mirror on Adult Victim's car and "then, with the hammer, he busted out the window." She testified that Lee had to hit it multiple times before it broke, and then it shattered. After that "he kept trying to run [Adult Victim] over." At some point, Child Victim A jumped in front of Adult Victim to push her out of the way of Lee's vehicle; Child Victim A then went over to the driver's side of Lee's car and "was punching him through the window." Lee grabbed Child Victim A's hair and began driving, "like he was trying to drive off with me." Adult Victim then ran up to Lee's car with the hammer and "busted out" the back driver's side window. Lee then released Child Victim A, got out of the car, and began arguing with Adult Victim.

         Adult Victim told Child Victim A to get her siblings into the car because they were going to leave. However, due to glass on the ground, they could not leave and Adult Victim began sweeping it up. Child Victim A got into the back seat of her mother's vehicle on the driver's side, with Child Victim C sitting directly next to her in the middle of the back seat, and Child Victim B on the other side of Child Victim C. Child Victim A then began videotaping arguing that was occurring between Lee and Adult Victim. Child Victim A testified that at some point, Lee became angry with Adult Victim, said "I'll show you, " and rammed his car into Adult Victim's vehicle. Child Victim A testified that Child Victim C "almost flew through the windshield" but Child Victim A grabbed her. Child Victim A testified that she had written a letter to the court indicating that she preferred not to be involved in the case against Lee and did not want to testify.

         Lee did not testify. Adult Victim, however, testified for the defense. She testified that on March 31, 2015, Lee came to her house several times. At one point he threw a hammer through the window of her vehicle. He tried to run over her twice. She later took the hammer and "busted his window out because he was snatching my daughter by the throat." She testified on direct examination that she told law enforcement the day of the incident that she broke Lee's car window with a hammer. Adult Victim also testified that she had written a letter to the court asking to have all charges against Lee dropped - that her children adored Lee and that he was a good stepfather. She testified that she brought the Victim Twins to one of Lee's preliminary hearings because they wanted to see him. She testified that she signed a statement indicating that she did not believe Lee intentionally meant to hurt Victim Twins.

         On cross-examination, Adult Victim testified that she was struck by Lee's car and was pinned in-between her vehicle and his car each time he tried to run her over. She testified that she told Officer Terranova that she thought he was going to run her over and that she was "dead." She testified that her daughter, Child Victim A, intervened during this time and began hitting Lee through his car window. Lee grabbed Child Victim A's hair and released it when Adult Victim broke his car window out with a hammer. Adult Victim testified that she had not been truthful regarding the hammer when she first spoke with Officer Terranova at the scene because she was worried she might get in trouble for breaking the window out. She testified that she did not initially admit to using a hammer to break out the window and did not tell the officer that Lee used a hammer to break out her window. She also testified that Lee promised to pay for the damages to her car if she did not testify against him, which is one of reasons she filed a letter asking for charges to be dropped. She testified that Lee made other promises to prevent her from testifying and that she was scared of Lee.

         The jury was given instructions for domestic assault in the second degree against Adult Victim, domestic assault in the third degree against Adult Victim, and instructions for each child victim for endangering the welfare of the child in the first degree and endangering the welfare of a child in the second degree. The jury found Lee guilty of one count of second degree domestic assault and three counts of first degree endangering the welfare of a child. Lee appeals.

         Point ...

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