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State v. Lee

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

August 23, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Plaintiff-Respondent,
DARION LAMONT LEE, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF BUTLER COUNTY Honorable Michael M. Pritchett, Circuit Judge

          JEFFREY W. BATES, J.

         Darion Lee (Defendant) was charged as a prior and persistent offender with the class A felony of first-degree domestic assault for knowingly causing serious physical injury to his girlfriend (Victim) by hitting her with his hand and a metal broom handle. See § 565.072.[1] Following a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of that offense and sentenced to a term of 20 years in prison.

         Defendant's two points contend: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of Defendant's "prior uncharged acts of misconduct related to his physical abuse of [Victim]"; and (2) the trial court erred by overruling Defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of all the evidence because the State failed to prove that Defendant caused "serious physical injury" to Victim. Finding no merit to either contention, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         "We consider the facts and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom in a light most favorable to the verdict, and we reject all contrary evidence and inferences." State v. Campbell, 122 S.W.3d 736, 737 (Mo. App. 2004). Viewed from that perspective, the following facts were adduced at trial.

         In 2014, Victim was living with her teenage children in a house, on the outskirts of the nearby town, about a quarter of a mile away from her stepfather (Stepfather) and mother. Victim's two children, her son (Son) and her daughter (Daughter), spent every other week with their father and Victim, respectively.

         That summer, Victim met Defendant through an internet chat room. They exchanged phone numbers and spoke to each other for about a month. At that point, Defendant surprised Victim by asking her to pick him up in a nearby city. He said that he was going to spend the weekend with Victim. She had not known Defendant was coming or even met Defendant before that surprise visit. He extended his weekend visit indefinitely, which Victim recognized was "not normal, " but she nevertheless allowed Defendant to stay.

         At first, their relationship was good. It began to change after a few weeks. Defendant began to verbally abuse Victim by arguing with her and calling her names. Defendant also began to control Victim by demanding her phone, asking to whom she was speaking and refusing to let her leave Defendant's presence. Little things, like something being moved inside the house, would trigger him. He would accuse Victim of cheating on him, then apologize later and say he wouldn't do it again.

         Around Halloween, Defendant again accused Victim of cheating on him and trying to leave the room to call somebody else. Defendant choked Victim and pushed her down, injuring her "tail bone really bad[.]" This was the first time Defendant physically abused Victim. Accompanied by Defendant, Victim went to the doctor. Defendant told Victim that she could not tell the doctor and staff about Defendant hurting her. Defendant said Victim "had to tell them something else." When questioned by the doctor, Victim said she had slipped on Daughter's skateboard and fallen.

         After the incident in October, Victim felt like she had to walk "on eggshells" around Defendant because she did not know what was going to set him off. He would go into what she called "episodes, " accusing Victim and demanding that she tell him the truth. Defendant began to keep Victim's phone and require her to converse on speaker phone so Defendant could listen. He also kept Victim's keys, money and ID. Defendant "barricaded" the house by covering the windows, pushing the couches up against the doors and putting a stick or knife in the door to keep it closed. Victim testified that it was not easy to get away, and that if Defendant caught her, it would be worse. When Victim started working in home healthcare, Defendant would accompany her and stay in the car, keeping her phone. There was an incident in the car in January that Victim described as "very bad" without further details. Victim testified that she was never away from Defendant. When Victim's children came to stay at the house, Defendant made sure that Victim covered herself up by wearing long sleeves. Victim testified that Defendant never hit her on the face, but "loved to punch" her in her head and ear.

         On March 5, 2015, Defendant's anger was triggered when he discovered a bottle of body wash had been moved. Defendant told Victim that she was going to quit making him look like a fool and that "tonight was going to be the night." Victim was unable to calm Defendant down. He started hitting Victim and punching her on her left side as she curled up on the couch, trying to protect herself. At first, Defendant hit Victim with his fists on her head, stomach, thigh and arm. Defendant then grabbed a metal broomstick and continued hitting Victim until the broomstick broke in half.[2] Defendant struck Victim on her arm, and up and down her thigh with the broomstick. This continued for a couple of hours while Defendant screamed at Victim, called her names and paced back and forth. Defendant also grabbed a curtain rod and struck Victim with that. Finally, Defendant got on top of Victim and started choking her until Victim succeeded in kicking Defendant off of her. Defendant then told Victim to "lay down and go to bed[.]" She did as she was told.

         The next day, Son came to the house unexpectedly to pick up a CD. Victim took the opportunity to whisper to Son to get Stepfather. After Son left, Defendant confronted Victim about what she had told Son. At first, Victim denied telling Son anything. When she saw Defendant "hadn't put that knife back in the door" however, she "ran like hell out the door" without bothering to put on any shoes, even though there was snow on the ground. Victim ran past Son to Stepfather's house because she was afraid that Defendant might beat her again more severely.

         When Victim got to Stepfather's house, she told him he had to get Defendant out of the house. She neither told Stepfather about the beating Victim had endured the previous night nor reported it to law enforcement when they responded to the scene that day. Victim stayed at Stepfather's house that night.

         The following day (March 7, 2015), Stepfather observed some of the bruising on the part of Victim's arm that was visible below her short-sleeved shirt. Stepfather asked Victim if Defendant had hit her. Initially, Victim denied it because she was scared and ashamed. Ultimately, Victim told Stepfather everything. She showed Stepfather the bruises, and he took photographs. There were bruises on Victim's arm, back, and one the size of a watermelon on her left buttock and thigh. Stepfather then called the sheriff's department to report the abuse.

         Victim testified that she "couldn't even put jeans on or hardly sit" as a result of the injuries Defendant had inflicted. Victim had problems sitting, leaning and standing up because of the bruises and swelling. She went to the emergency room on March 7th, which was a Saturday. It wasn't until "towards the middle of that next week" that she was able to walk or sit without problems. The bruising did not go away for weeks. Victim's hearing was also affected. She experienced ringing in her ear, testifying that "it was like I was in a barrel[.]" Victim had a CT scan conducted as a result.[3]

         During Defendant's case-in-chief, he did not testify. Defense counsel called the investigating deputy, Julie Dacy, as a witness. Deputy Dacy testified that she made contact with Victim after learning of the alleged domestic assault, took her statement, and observed bruising to her body. The deputy saw bruising on the back of Victim's shoulder, down her arm, and up her thigh. Deputy Dacy described the bruising as "pretty severe, " and opined, "Honestly, I don't understand how she could have sat with the bruising as bad as it was." Deputy Dacy also testified that ...

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