Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Steidley

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

October 3, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
KURT A. STEIDLEY, Appellant.

         Appeal 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

         Kurt 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.

         Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         Steidley 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.

         On 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.

         On 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.

         The State charged Steidley with one count of arson in the second degree pursuant to section 569.050.[2] 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.

         Steidley filed this timely appeal. Additional facts will be discussed where relevant to Steidley's points on appeal.

         Analysis

         Steidley 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[3] and Rule 25.03.[4] 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.

         Point I

         Steidley's 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.

         "Appellate 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)).

         "A 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.

         Steidley 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.

         The evidence was sufficient to establish that the fire was incendiary

         "Evidence 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 fire." Id.

         The 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.

         The 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 atmosphere.

         Additionally, 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.

         Fire 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.

         The 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.

         There was sufficient evidence that Steidley set the fire

         The 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 cows.

         Lister 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 the fire.

         Steidley 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. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.