Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division
from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis
1522-CR00223-01 Honorable David L. Dowd
M. CLAYTON III, Judge.
Bowens ("Defendant") appeals the judgment entered
upon a jury verdict convicting him of one count of
first-degree murder, one count of first-degree robbery, and
two counts of armed criminal action. We affirm.
was charged with the above crimes for his alleged involvement
in the shooting death and robbery of Scott Knopfel
("Victim") that took place on January 15, 2015. The
crimes occurred at the Drury Inn hotel located near
Interstate 44 and Hampton Avenue in the City of St. Louis
("the Drury Inn" or "the hotel").
Defendant was represented by a public defender from shortly
before he was arraigned until he retained private counsel
approximately two weeks prior to trial. Defendant was tried
by a jury from April 5-8, 2016, and he does not challenge the
sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions.
Evidence Presented during the State's Case and Relevant
in the light most favorable to the verdict, the following
evidence was presented by the State at Defendant's trial.
In January 2015, Dasha Lindsey worked as a security guard at
the Drury Inn. In the early morning of January 15, 2015,
Lindsey was working the overnight shift and watching the
parking lot of the hotel. Lindsey's fiancé, James
Montgomery, was with her, and they both sat in their car in
the parking lot. Around 3:00 a.m., Lindsey and Montgomery
noticed a small black Hyundai drive around the parking lot
and back up when it was not necessary. The driver of the car,
who Lindsey and Montgomery later identified as Defendant,
exited the car, and the person in the front passenger seat
"hopped over the middle console" into the
was wearing Nike Air Jordan shoes, a black and red Chicago
Bulls hat, and a black leather jacket. Defendant looked at
Lindsey and Montgomery, opened the back door of the car and
got in the back seat, and sat in the back seat for about a
minute while he kept looking at Lindsey and Montgomery.
Defendant then exited the car and walked into the hotel, out
of the sight of Lindsey and Montgomery. At this point,
Lindsey used her walkie-talkie to try to contact Victim, the
night auditor at the hotel, to warn him someone was coming
inside. When Victim did not respond, Lindsey used her cell
phone to call the front desk. The phone rang four or five
times before it was picked up. Lindsey then heard a
"pop" sound, and a very short time later, Defendant
exited the hotel in a manner Lindsey described as
for Victim, Lindsey had Montgomery drive their vehicle to the
front of the hotel, and Lindsey went inside. Lindsey found
Victim lying on the floor behind the counter, saw the cash
register was open, and called 911.
the police arrived at the scene, they found Victim had a
visible gunshot wound to his face and was deceased. A medical
examiner later determined Victim died from gunshot wounds to
the neck, chest, and abdomen. In addition, a Drury Inn
employee later determined ninety-seven dollars was missing
from the hotel cash register.
police collected one bullet and one shell casing at the hotel
and downloaded video surveillance footage, which clearly
showed the assailant's face and clothing. Detective
Michael Herzberg of the St. Louis City Police Department
distributed it to the media for dissemination to the public,
hoping someone would recognize the person in the video, call
the police, and identify him. Detective Herzberg also
obtained video footage from a red light camera, which showed
a small black sedan enter the hotel parking lot.
the hotel video surveillance footage was disseminated to the
public, Detective Herzberg received phone calls from Tony
Jones, who was the Chief of Police for Caruthersville,
Missouri ("Chief Jones" or "Chief Tony
Jones"), and Veneto Johnson, who was a resident of
Caruthersville. Chief Jones and Johnson both identified
Defendant as the man in the video. Johnson also provided a
phone number for Defendant. Chief Jones testified at
Defendant's trial, but Johnson did not testify. The
information Johnson provided to police was solely adduced
through the testimony of Detective Herzberg, and defense
counsel did not object to the admission of testimony from
Detective Herzberg regarding Johnson's identification of
with the St. Louis City Police Department obtained historical
GPS data for the phone number Johnson associated with
Defendant. The GPS data showed Defendant's phone was
traveling in the City of St. Louis and stopped in the area
near the hotel in the minutes prior to Victim's murder.
meantime, Officer Jason Morgan of the Poplar Bluff Police
Department learned Defendant was wanted for the crimes at the
Drury Inn. Two days after the murder and robbery took place,
Officer Morgan conducted a traffic stop of a black, four-door
Hyundai that Defendant's wife Connie Bowens
("Defendant's Wife" or "Wife") was
driving. Officer Morgan told Defendant's Wife he was
looking for Defendant, and she agreed to take the officer to
his location. She then took Officer Morgan to an apartment
located at 640 Lindsay Street in Poplar Bluff ("the
apartment"), where the officer found Defendant standing
outside. Defendant was subsequently placed under arrest.
Defendant was wearing Nike Air Jordan shoes, the shoes were
seized at the time of his arrest, and the shoes were admitted
into evidence at trial without objection.
Wife consented to a search of the apartment and to a search
of her car. In a bedroom of the apartment, the police found
and seized a black leather jacket matching the description of
the jacket worn by Defendant during the crimes and a pair of
pants. The jacket and pants were admitted into evidence at
trial without objection.
testing performed on the jacket found in the apartment
revealed the presence of a mixture of Defendant's DNA and
Victim's DNA. DNA testing performed on Victim's left
hand also revealed the presence of a mixture of
Defendant's DNA and Victim's DNA. In addition, a swab
of a stain found between an air conditioning vent and the
radio in Defendant's Wife's car tested presumptively
positive for blood.
police learned Defendant was an avid gambler, and officers
went to the Lumiere Casino in the City of St. Louis to obtain
video surveillance footage from the morning of the crimes.
The video showed a man matching Defendant's description
in the casino at 2:22 a.m., which was approximately forty
minutes before the Drury Inn robbery and murder.
Evidence Presented during Defendant's Case and Relevant
called four witnesses in his defense. Defendant's
daughter Latasha Taylor ("Defendant's Daughter"
or "Daughter") testified that on the morning of the
crimes, Defendant was with her in Poplar Bluff, he was sick,
and she was taking care of him. Defendant's Wife
testified she spoke with her Daughter on the phone on the
morning of the crimes and Daughter was taking care of
Defendant. Defendant also called Lindsey as a witness and
attempted to show, inter alia, that the black car
she saw at the hotel was a Honda rather than a Hyundai.
Finally, Defendant called Detective Herzberg and questioned
him regarding, inter alia, his collection of DNA
buccal swabs from Defendant.
conclusion of the presentation of Defendant's case, his
attorney Celestine Dotson ("Ms. Dotson") told the
court she wanted to present evidence regarding three
gas-station armed robberies committed in the St. Louis area
by a person the media referred to as the "Bulls Hat
Bandit." The State made an oral motion to exclude the
evidence, and the trial court granted the State's motion.
Other Relevant Procedural Posture
to trial, Defendant made a motion for a continuance on the
grounds his private counsel, whom Defendant retained
approximately two weeks prior to trial, needed more time to
prepare. Defendant also filed a pre-trial motion to suppress
the evidence seized during the search of the apartment in
Poplar Bluff. The trial court denied both motions after
holding pre-trial hearings.
hearing all of the evidence, including that which is set out
above in Sections I.A. and I.B., the jury found Defendant
guilty of one count of first-degree murder (Count I), one
count of first-degree robbery (Count III), and two counts of
armed criminal action (Counts II and IV). Defendant then
filed a motion for a new trial, alleging in relevant part
that the trial court erred in excluding evidence regarding
the Bulls Hat Bandit, the trial court erred in denying his
motion for a continuance, and the trial court erred in
denying Defendant's motion to suppress. However,
Defendant's motion for new trial did not allege the trial
court erred in admitting Detective Herzberg's testimony
regarding Johnson's identification of Defendant as the
person in the hotel's video surveillance footage.
trial court denied Defendant's motion for a new trial and
entered a judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict.
The court then sentenced Defendant as a prior and persistent
offender to life imprisonment without the possibility of
parole for Count I and twenty years of imprisonment for
Counts II-IV. The trial court ordered the sentences for
Counts I-III to run consecutively with each other but
concurrently with the sentence for Count IV; in other words,
Defendant was sentenced to a total sentence of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole plus forty
years of imprisonment. Defendant appeals.
raises four points on appeal. In his first point, Defendant
contends the trial court committed reversible error in
denying his motion to suppress and admitting into evidence
the black leather jacket and pants seized during the search
of the apartment located at 640 Lindsay Street in Poplar
Bluff. In his second point, Defendant asserts the trial court
erred in excluding evidence regarding three gas-station armed
robberies committed in the St. Louis area by a person the
media referred to as the "Bulls Hat Bandit." In his
third point, Defendant argues the trial court erred in
admitting Detective Herzberg's testimony regarding Veneto
Johnson's identification of Defendant as the person in
the hotel video surveillance footage that was released to the
media. And in his fourth point, Defendant claims the trial
court erred in denying his motion for a continuance.
The Trial Court's Denial of Defendant's Motion to
Suppress and Admission of Evidence Seized in the
Defendant's first point on appeal, he contends the trial
court committed reversible error in denying his motion to
suppress and admitting into evidence the black leather jacket
and pants seized during the search of the apartment located
at 640 Lindsay Street in Poplar Bluff. This claim was not
properly preserved for appeal, because although Defendant
filed a motion to suppress and included this issue in his
motion for a new trial, he did not object to the black
leather jacket and pants when they were offered into evidence
at trial. See State v. Reed, 422 S.W.3d 495, 498
(Mo. App. E.D. 2014); see also State v. Walter, 479
S.W.3d 118, 123 (Mo. banc 2016).
Standard of Review
as in this case, a defendant fails to preserve an issue for
appeal, his claim may only be reviewed for plain error at
this Court's discretion, which we choose to exercise
here. See State v. McKay, 411 S.W.3d 295, 304 (Mo.
App. E.D. 2013); Missouri Supreme Court Rule 30.20
(2017). Under the plain-error standard of review,
we will only grant a defendant relief if we find an error
occurred and the error affected his rights so substantially
that a manifest injustice or miscarriage of justice resulted.
Id.; State v. Brown, 996 S.W.2d 719, 732
(Mo. App. W.D. 1999). A plain error is one that is evident,
obvious, and clear, and our Court determines whether such an
error exists based on the circumstances of each case.
McKay, 411 S.W.3d at 304-05. The defendant has the
burden of demonstrating a manifest injustice or miscarriage
of justice resulted from the trial court's alleged error.
Id. at 304.
hearing on a motion to suppress, the State has the burden of
establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the
motion should be denied. Reed, 422 S.W.3d at 498. In
reviewing the trial court's ruling on the motion to
suppress, an appellate court considers the evidence presented
at the pre-trial hearing and at trial to determine whether
the trial court's decision is supported by sufficient
evidence. Id. Our Court views the evidence and all
reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable
to the trial court's decision, and we disregard any
contrary evidence and inferences. State v. Davis,
505 S.W.3d 401, 404 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016); Reed, 422
S.W.3d at 498. In addition, this Court defers to the trial
court's factual findings and credibility determinations.
Reed, 422 S.W.3d at 498. However, we review
questions of law, including whether police conduct allegedly
violates the Fourth Amendment, de novo. Davis, 505
S.W.3d at 404; State v. Nylon, 311 S.W.3d 869, 884
(Mo. App. E.D. 2010).
Relevant Evidence and the Trial Court's
case, Officer Morgan of the Poplar Bluff Police Department
testified he conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle
Defendant's Wife Connie Bowens was driving, she took the
officer to Defendant's location outside the apartment on
Lindsay Street in Poplar Bluff, and Defendant was placed
under arrest without incident. Wife then gave Officer Morgan
consent to search the apartment by signing a written
consent-to-search form, and she went with Officer Morgan and
Captain David Sutton inside the apartment.
Wife, Officer Morgan, and Captain Sutton then went into the
bedroom Wife occupied, which contained some of her personal
items. In the bedroom, the officers found and seized the
black leather jacket matching the description of the jacket
worn by Defendant during the crimes and a pair of pants; both
of these items were admitted into evidence at trial without
Morgan testified he believed Defendant's Wife had the
authority to consent to the search of the apartment because
she told him she lived there, she said she paid a portion of
the rent and had personal property in one of the bedrooms,
she had a key, and she immediately pointed out her own
laundry that was sitting in the kitchen when they first
walked into the apartment. Officer Morgan testified he only
had contact with Defendant's Wife in the relevant
timeframe leading up to the search of the apartment, and he
did not remember having Wife call her Daughter Latasha Taylor
to attempt to gain her consent. The officer further testified
there was no debate as to whether he would need to gain
access to the apartment by getting the consent of
Defendant's Daughter, and he never talked to Daughter.
Daughter gave a different version of the events during her
testimony at the pre-trial hearing on the motion to suppress.
She testified that on the day of the search of the apartment,
she stepped outside barefoot and officers approached her. The
officers asked Daughter to search the apartment, but she
refused to give consent. Defendant's Daughter then went
to the store to buy some shoes, and while she was gone,
Officer Morgan had her mother call her to try to get Daughter
to consent to a search but she said "no." When
Defendant's Daughter returned from the store, she found
the officers had entered and searched the apartment. She
testified that although she was the only person on the lease
of the apartment and her mother did not live there, her
mother occasionally stayed overnight in the guest bedroom and
had personal property in the room.
hearing the preceding testimony, the trial court denied
Defendant's motion to suppress, finding in relevant part:
The [c]ourt does find the testimony of Poplar Bluff Police
Officer Jason Morgan to be credible. The [c]ourt further
finds that the facts available to Officer Morgan and the
other Poplar Bluff police officers, specifically that
[Defendant's Wife] indicated that she lived at 640
Lindsay . . . that she paid part of the rent there, she had a
key to the apartment, she had personal property inside the
apartment, [she] had her own bedroom, I think supports the
officers' reasonable belief that [Defendant's Wife],