Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division
from the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri The Honorable
Daniel R. Green, Judge
Before: Alok Ahuja, Presiding Judge, Thomas H. Newton, Judge
and Cynthia L. Martin, Judge
Cynthia L. Martin, Judge
Steidley ("Steidley") appeals from the trial
court's entry of judgment convicting him of arson in the
second degree. Steidley claims error in the denial of his
motion for judgment of acquittal and motion for new trial,
error in connection with the denial of evidentiary objections
he made at trial, and plain error in failing to interrupt the
State's closing argument. We affirm.
and Procedural Background
owned Everhart's Sporting Goods
("Everhart's") in Jefferson City. Due to
declining success that began in 2008, Steidley decided to
close the store near the end of 2010. Steidley held a
going-out-of-business sale through December. The last day of
business was December 24, 2010.
December 30, 2010, Steidley returned to Everhart's with
Jeff Lister ("Lister"), the store manager. Steidley
and Lister turned on one of the ceiling-mounted heaters in
the store's warehouse section so that the water pipes
would not freeze. Steidley also wanted to shut off all of the
other electrical breakers. Lister mentioned that this would
disable the store's computer system and the security
cameras. Steidley turned off the breakers anyway.
January 1, 2011, a fire broke out at Everhart's. The
subsequent fire investigation revealed that the fire started
in a storage corridor of the store's warehouse section.
Wooden shelves ran along both walls of the storage corridor.
Paper business records sat on the shelves in boxes at the
fire's point of origin. The heater that Steidley had left
running hung near the point of origin, above the shelves, but
closer to the center of the corridor. The drip leg for the
gas line to the heater was missing, but was later found
nearby on top of the shelves. Without the drip leg attached,
natural gas flowed into the building. There was no indication
that the drip leg had been forcibly removed or broken. Fire
investigators determined that the fire was intentionally set
using an ignitable liquid and a hand-held, open flame.
Investigators also believed that the drip leg had been
intentionally removed to introduce fuel to the fire or to
create an explosive atmosphere.
State charged Steidley with one count of arson in the second
degree pursuant to section 569.050. After a jury trial in
January 2014, the trial court ordered a new trial for issues
unrelated to this appeal. A second jury trial was conducted
in September 2015. At the close of the State's evidence,
and at the close of all evidence, Steidley moved for judgment
of acquittal. The trial court denied both motions. The jury
found Steidley guilty of arson in the second degree. Steidley
filed a motion for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial,
which the trial court denied. The trial court sentenced
Steidley to seven years' imprisonment.
filed this timely appeal. Additional facts will be discussed
where relevant to Steidley's points on appeal.
raises five points on appeal. In his first point on appeal,
Steidley argues that the trial court erred in denying his
motion for judgment of acquittal because the State presented
insufficient evidence of his guilt. In his second point on
appeal, Steidley alleges that the trial court erred in
denying his motion for new trial because the State failed to
disclose federal records under Brady and Rule
25.03. Steidley's third point on appeal
claims that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing
the State to ask leading questions. In his fourth point on
appeal, Steidley argues that the trial court plainly erred in
failing to interrupt the State's closing argument. In his
fifth point on appeal, Steidley asserts that the trial court
abused its discretion in admitting a business records
affidavit and accompanying hospital records.
first point on appeal argues that the trial court erred in
overruling his motion for judgment of acquittal because the
State failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish his
guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
review of sufficiency of the evidence is limited to whether
the state has introduced sufficient evidence from which a
reasonable juror could have found each element of the crime
beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Hosier,
454 S.W.3d 883, 898 (Mo. banc 2015). "In reviewing the
sufficiency of the evidence, all evidence favorable to the
State is accepted as true, including all favorable inferences
drawn from the evidence. All evidence and inferences to the
contrary are disregarded." State v. Nash, 339
S.W.3d 500, 509 (Mo. banc 2011) (citation omitted). "We
defer to the jury's credibility determinations,
recognizing the jury was entitled to believe 'all, some,
or none' of the testimony of the witnesses."
State v. Wade, 467 S.W.3d 850, 853 (Mo. App. W.D.
2015) (quoting State v. Crawford, 68 S.W.3d 406, 408
(Mo. banc 2002)).
person commits the crime of arson in the second degree when
he knowingly damages a building or inhabitable structure by
starting a fire or causing an explosion." Section
569.050.1. To prove the crime of arson in the second degree,
the State must establish three elements: "a building was
on fire, the fire was of an incendiary origin, and the
defendant participated in commission of the crime."
State v. King, 453 S.W.3d 363, 374 (Mo. App. W.D.
2015), abrogated on other grounds by Hoeber v.
State, 488 S.W.3d 648 (Mo. banc 2016). "All
elements of arson may be proven by circumstantial
evidence." Id. (quoting State v.
Bolds, 913 S.W.2d 393, 398 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996)). In
fact, arson "must ordinarily be proven by circumstantial
evidence." Id. (quoting State v.
Simpson, 606 S.W.2d 514, 518 (Mo. App. W.D. 1980)).
Circumstances surrounding the crime "need not be
absolutely conclusive of guilt and need not demonstrate
impossibility of innocence." Id.
does not dispute that the Everhart's building was damaged
by fire, the first essential element of the crime of
second-degree arson. Steidley does, however, contest the
sufficiency of the evidence to establish the second and third
essentials elements of the crime.
evidence was sufficient to establish that the fire was
of an incendiary origin does not require that there be proof
of some highly combustible material." Id. To
prove that a fire was of an incendiary origin, "there
need only be some evidence, direct or circumstantial, that
the person charged intentionally set the property on
State presented testimony from William Farr
("Farr"), a member of the Cole County Fire
Protection District, who responded to the fire scene and
performed an initial walk-through of the building. Farr
testified that the heater near the fire was the only heater
receiving electricity with the gas valve in the on position.
All other heaters had been turned off. Farr noticed that the
drip leg was missing from the heater, which allowed natural
gas to flow into the building, causing an explosion hazard.
Farr found the drip leg on the nearby shelves covered in
black soot, indicating that the drip leg was on the shelves
before the fire started. The shelves were not directly under
the heater. Farr testified that the drip leg must have been
placed on the shelves, and could not have fallen onto them.
State also presented testimony from Ryan Zornes
("Zornes"), a special agent and certified fire
investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms,
and Explosives ("ATF"). Zornes testified that the
threading on the drip leg and its counterpart were intact
with no signs of stripping or other damage. Zornes concluded
that the drip leg was intentionally removed to introduce
additional fuel to the fire or to create an explosive
Zornes's investigation revealed that densely-packed
business records sat on the shelves at the point of origin.
Zornes concluded that an ignitable liquid was used to ignite
those materials. Zornes also testified that the fire caused
heavy damage at the floor level, indicating an ignitable
liquid had been used. Zornes found irregular burn patterns on
the concrete floor, indicative of use of an ignitable liquid.
Zornes testified that he smelled an odor consistent with an
ignitable liquid at the fire's origin. Zornes's
investigation eliminated other possible sources of the fire,
including the heater, electrical sources, a cigarette, or
another incendiary device. Based on his investigation, Zornes
determined that the fire had been intentionally set using an
ignitable liquid and a handheld, open flame.
investigator Scott Stoneburger ("Stoneburger") of
the Missouri State Fire Marshall's office concluded that
the fire was caused by an open flame being applied to an
accelerant. Stoneburger made this determination after finding
no accidental cause for the fire from any electric,
conductive, frictional, or chemical sources. Stoneburger also
testified that he smelled the odor of an ignitable liquid and
observed linear burn patterns on the concrete floor, both in
the area of origin.
State presented sufficient evidence from which a juror could
conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the fire at
Everhart's was of an incendiary origin.
was sufficient evidence that Steidley set the fire
State established that Steidley provided inconsistent
statements regarding his whereabouts at the time of the fire.
Steidley initially told investigators that he was running an
errand in Sedalia at the time of the fire. Steidley claimed
to Stoneburger and an insurance investigator that the last
time he had been in Everhart's was on December 30th with
Lister. However, the State introduced Steidley's cell
phone records from the night of the fire. The records showed
calls made while Steidley was travelling from Knob Noster to
Jefferson City. One of these phone calls occurred
approximately an hour before the fire was discovered, and
pinged a cell tower located near the store. The call was made
to Max Parsons ("Parsons"). At trial, Parsons
testified that during the phone call, Steidley said he was
inside the Everhart's building and smelled gas. Steidley
also asked Parsons how much gas it took to blow up a
building. Steidley later told Parsons to lie about the phone
call and to say that he and Parsons had been talking about
testified that just days before the fire, Steidley had
directed him to turn off all of the electrical breakers,
which disabled the computer system and surveillance cameras.
The smoke detection system and burglar alarm system had also
been turned off at the time of the fire. Viewed in the light
most favorable to the verdict, this evidence established that
Steidley was at Everhart's near the time of the fire
after having disabled surveillance and smoke detection
equipment, and thus that Steidley had the opportunity to set
argues that his opportunity to set the fire was insufficient
as a matter of law to support the inference that he did so.
However, "[w]hile opportunity alone is insufficient to
support an arson conviction, evidence of opportunity and
motive aids in determining guilt." State v.