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State v. Rainey

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

February 27, 2018

STATE OF MISSOURI, Appellant,
v.
JASPERA RAINEY, Respondent.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Buchanan County, Missouri The Honorable Patrick K. Robb, Judge

          Before Thomas H. Newton, Presiding Judge, and Victor C. Howard and Karen King Mitchell, Judges

          KAREN KING MITCHELL, JUDGE

         The State appeals from a judgment granting Defendant Jaspera Rainey's motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the jury's verdict after the jury found Rainey guilty of third-degree assault for the death of her almost-two-year-old daughter (Victim). The State argues that the record contained sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict finding Rainey guilty of third-degree assault, as an accomplice, in that she or her boyfriend, Patrick Middlebrook, recklessly created a grave risk of death or serious physical injury to Victim by slamming, hitting, or kicking her. Because the evidence is sufficient to support the jury's verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on an accomplice liability theory, we reverse the trial court's grant of Rainey's motion for judgment of acquittal and remand the case to the trial court for determination of the legal claims in Rainey's motion for new trial.

         Background[1]

         The State charged Rainey with one count of the class A felony of child abuse in violation of § 568.060.[2] The State alleged that Rainey had recklessly caused Victim to suffer serious physical injury resulting in her death. Following trial, the jury found Rainey guilty of the lesser-included offense of assault in the third degree on a theory of accomplice liability. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court granted Rainey's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal Notwithstanding the Verdict of the Jury.

         The evidence adduced at trial favorable to the jury's verdict was as follows. On August 16, 2014, Rainey was living in an apartment with three of her children (including Victim), Middlebrook, and his child. Middlebrook remained at home with Rainey's three children that day while Rainey ran errands. At 11:58 a.m., Rainey left the apartment for about half an hour to do laundry at her father's house roughly six blocks away. While there, Rainey told her father that Victim had some rash or bruises that looked like "little hickey marks on her face." Rainey said that she thought Victim might have "purpura"[3] and that Rainey planned to take Victim to the doctor.

         When Rainey returned to her apartment at 12:33 p.m., she tried to feed Victim lunch, but Victim would not eat. Rainey then put Victim down for a nap about 1:20 p.m. At 1:32 p.m., Rainey left the apartment to finish the laundry; she returned to the apartment at 3:24 p.m. to get her EBT card and left again at 3:25 p.m. because she was meeting Victim's biological father's daughter, Cyile Bernard, at Walmart. Rainey and Bernard shopped at Walmart for roughly 20 minutes. During that time, Rainey told Bernard that Victim was not feeling well and had some red spots on her head. After leaving Walmart, Rainey returned to her father's house to finish the laundry. Her movements on August 16, 2014, were confirmed by the security cameras at her apartment complex and at Walmart.

         Around 4:15 p.m. that day, Rainey received a telephone call from Middlebrook telling her that Victim was not breathing; Rainey did not ask Middlebrook what had happened but, instead, returned to the apartment. Middlebrook then called 911, and police officers and EMS responded to the call for an unresponsive two-year-old child. EMS noticed that there was lividity in Victim's back, rigor mortis in her jaw, and cyanosis in her fingertips.[4] Victim had fixed and dilated pupils, indicating a neurological injury, and she had no pulse. EMS noted bruising on Victim's arms, forehead, and chin; a cut on her nose; and blood around her nostrils and lips. EMS declared Victim dead.

         At the scene, Rainey told officers that she sometimes left the children alone with Middlebrook but tried to do so only when the children were sleeping so Middlebrook would not be overwhelmed. Rainey said that she had tried to feed Victim that morning, but Victim had not been hungry; Middlebrook fed the children in the afternoon, and Victim ate a few bites of pizza rolls then. Officers noticed what looked like regurgitated pizza rolls near Victim's bed; they smelled like vomit. Rainey also told officers that, when she returned to the apartment briefly to get her EBT card, she had checked in on Victim, who was sleeping and appeared to be breathing. When officers asked Rainey who Victim's biological father was, Rainey hesitated before telling them it was Brian Blackmon; she then said, "[h]e would be so mad at me." Rainey cooperated with police at the scene, speaking with one officer for nearly an hour; Rainey also signed a consent to search and agreed to be transported to the hospital to give a blood sample.

         The next morning, Rainey went to Bernard's house to tell her that Victim had died and to ask Bernard to accompany Rainey to Blackmon's house. When the women arrived at Blackmon's house, Rainey told Blackmon that Victim had died, and Blackmon collapsed on his porch. Blackmon asked what happened, and Rainey told him she did not know. Rainey then hugged Blackmon and told him, "Don't worry about this. We still have another [child] we have to take care of." Blackmon got angry after that statement and told Rainey to leave.

         Also that day, August 17, 2014, Dr. Erik Mitchell, a forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy on Victim, finding various bruises on her body as well as fresh bruises on her head. A detective interviewed Rainey later that day and told her that Victim had injuries to her head, nose, mouth, lip, tongue, neck, and leg. Rainey told the detective that she did not know how any of the injuries occurred except for a bruise on Victim's left temple that happened when Victim and Rainey collided in the hallway, causing Victim to bump her head on a door frame.[5] Dr. Mitchell concluded that some of the injuries were not of the type that result from child's play, opining that the number and distribution of the injuries "indicate that something is happening to this child that is not just play." Dr. Mitchell found a blood clot under Victim's skull that was consistent with head trauma. He concluded that Victim's cause of death was head trauma and that the manner of death was homicide.

         A few days after Victim's death, Rainey told Bernard that Victim died of "a blood clot in her brain" and that it was hereditary. At Victim's funeral, Bernard asked Rainey about visible bruises on Victim's head and cheekbones; Rainey again told Bernard that Victim died of a hereditary blood clot on the brain. At some point, Rainey told a police officer that "she believed a ghost may have harmed her baby."

         After the completion of the investigation, Rainey was arrested at her mother's home in Nebraska and transported back to Missouri. Following her arrest, Rainey called Middlebrook from jail and told him to stay strong and that she loved him, and she further instructed him not to talk about the case because the police were trying to play them against each other.

         Defense counsel moved for acquittal at the close of the State's evidence and again at the close of all evidence, but the trial court denied both motions.[6] The jury received the following relevant instructions:

[No. 5]
A person is responsible for her own conduct and she is also responsible for the conduct of another person in committing an offense if she acts with another person with the common purpose of committing that offense or if, for the purpose of committing that offense, she aids or encourages the other person in committing it.
[No. 7]
If you do not find the defendant guilty of abuse of a child as submitted in Instruction No. 6, you must consider whether she is guilty of assault in the third degree under this instruction.
If you find and believe from the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt:
First, that on or about August 16, 2014, in the County of Buchanan, State of Missouri, the defendant or Patrick Middlebrook recklessly created a grave risk of death or serious physical injury to [Victim] by slamming, hitting or kicking [Victim],
then you are instructed that the offense of assault in the third degree has occurred, and if you further find and believe from the ...

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