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State v. Sleeth

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, Second Division

April 4, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
KEARSTAIN N. SLEETH, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF GREENE COUNTY Honorable Calvin R. Holden, Judge.

          OPINION

          DANIEL E. SCOTT, J.

         A jury found Kearstain Sleeth guilty of burglary and felony murder. Sufficiency of the evidence is not in dispute.

         Sleeth was mad at the victim and told three male friends a story to make them mad too. She gave one young man a handgun, drove the others to get guns of their own, then drove them all to the victim's home and pointed out his bedroom. She waited as the young men went to the front door, kicked it in, forced entry into the victim's room, shot him to death, and returned to the car. Sleeth drove everyone to a remote area to dispose of the murder weapons. Sleeth later gave police a video-recorded interview, after which she was charged and ultimately convicted as stated above.

         On appeal, Sleeth's three points challenge evidentiary rulings regarding her interview. We review such claims for abuse of discretion. State v. Blurton, 484 S.W.3d 758, 769 (Mo. banc 2016). A trial court abuses its broad discretion to admit or exclude evidence only if its ruling is so clearly illogical, unreasonable, arbitrary, and ill-considered that it shocks the sense of justice. See id. None of Sleeth's points make this showing, so we affirm and remand to correct an error in the written judgment.

         Point 1

         Sleeth moved to suppress her interview on two grounds relevant to this appeal:

1. that "cognitive deficiencies due to not being allowed to take her medication … clearly establish an inability on her part to either understand questions made to her or to be able to verbalize reliable responses," and
2. at one point, she "was told by one of the interrogators that it was a crime for her not to tell him what happened."

         After a motion hearing at which Sleeth and her mother testified, the state agreed to suppression of everything from and after Sleeth was told it was a crime not to inform. The court took the rest under advisement, viewed the video twice, found Sleeth "was coherent and mentally stable throughout the interview," and overruled the motion "up to the point when [Sleeth] was told it was a crime not to talk to the police."[1] After editing to remove the suppressed portion, the video was admitted at trial and shown to the jury.

         Point 1 charges error in not suppressing the whole interview, alleging that Sleeth's cognitive functioning was so impaired by a lack of medication that her statements were involuntary, unreliable, and should not have been admitted.

         As relevant here, we review a suppression ruling only for whether substantial evidence supports it, viewing all facts and reasonable inferences most favorably to the ruling. State v. Little, 473 S.W.3d 662, 666 (Mo.App. 2015). We disregard contrary evidence and inferences. State v. Selvy, 462 S.W.3d 756, 764 (Mo.App. 2015). Unless the trial court indicates otherwise, we presume it found all facts and made all credibility determinations consistent with its ruling (Little, 473 S.W.3d at 666-67), and "deem that the trial court implicitly found not credible, or entitled to little to no weight, any testimony or other evidence that does not support its ruling." Selvy, 462 S.W.3d at 764. At bottom, "the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses are for the trial court's determination." Id. "If the trial court's ruling is plausible, in light of the record viewed in its entirety, we will not reverse." Id.

         These principles doom Point 1, which leans heavily on hearing testimony by Sleeth and her mother that we must disregard as contrary to the court's ruling. Little, 473 S.W.3d at 666-67; Selvy, 462 S.W.3d at 764. Although Sleeth also cites the interview video, it offers substantial evidence supporting the trial-court finding that Sleeth "was coherent and mentally stable."[2]

         These effectively end our inquiry. Little, 473 S.W.3d at 666-67. The trial court's ruling is plausible, given the record viewed in its entirety, so we will not reverse. Selvy, 462 S.W.3d at 764. We need not address ...


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