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State v. Mitchell

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

April 30, 2019


          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County The Honorable Sandra Midkiff, Judge

          Before: Edward R. Ardini, Jr., P.J., and Alok Ahuja and Gary D. Witt, JJ.


         After a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Lonnie Mitchell was found guilty of property damage in the first degree, in violation of § 569.100, [1] and animal abuse, in violation of § 578.012. The charges stemmed from an incident in which Mitchell damaged a home that he rented together with his girlfriend and her four children, as well as personal property belonging to Girlfriend[2] and her children. Mitchell appeals, challenging only his conviction for first-degree property damage. He argues that the circuit court erred by failing to instruct the jury that it had to find that Mitchell did not act under a "claim of right." Because we conclude that Mitchell did not present sufficient evidence to inject the claim of right issue into the case, we affirm.

         Factual Background[3]

         In 2016, Mitchell and Girlfriend had been in a romantic relationship for eight years. Girlfriend had four children; Mitchell was the father of the youngest two.

         On June 3, 2016, Girlfriend and Mitchell entered into a Residential Lease with Option to Purchase Agreement for a house at 5509 Woodland Avenue in Kansas City. The Agreement provided that Mitchell and Girlfriend would lease the house for a term of 60 months and 28 days, with a monthly rental of $450.00. The Agreement included an option for Girlfriend and Mitchell to purchase the house for $34, 900. Girlfriend and Mitchell paid $750.00 as consideration for the purchase option.

         The home's lessor had acquired the property in foreclosure, and it was not in habitable condition at the time Girlfriend and Mitchell entered into the Lease Agreement. As part of the Agreement, Girlfriend and Mitchell were required to bring the house into habitable condition within ninety days of taking possession. Girlfriend installed plumbing, a hot water heater, kitchen appliances, and a bathroom sink. Girlfriend paid for the fixtures and did most of the work installing them, but Mitchell provided some assistance. After the new appliances and fixtures were installed and in working order, Girlfriend and her four children moved into the house. They brought their personal property into the house, including clothing, furniture, and televisions and other electronics. Mitchell also stayed at the house, and maintained some personal property at the house, although he also had another residence.

         On the morning of June 30, 2016, Mitchell woke Girlfriend and accused her of cheating on him. After arguing with Mitchell for thirty minutes, Girlfriend left the house with her children, and went to her mother's house. While at her mother's house, Girlfriend received a text message from Mitchell stating that they "didn't have a house" and that they had lost the house.

         When Girlfriend returned to the house later that afternoon, she found that the front door's locking mechanism was destroyed. In the front room, the screen of a big-screen television was smashed, a glass coffee table was shattered, and a DVD player had been thrown across the room. Girlfriend's clothes were scattered around the front room, covered in motor oil.

         In the children's room, the bed was cut open and a DVD player had been used to smash the screen of a television. The door to the children's room had been ripped off of its hinges. In Girlfriend's bedroom the mattress had been shredded, and a small refrigerator destroyed. Both rooms had gouges in the walls. The bathroom sink was shattered and the toilet was ripped out of the floor and broken into pieces.

         In the kitchen, the table and stools had holes in them. The front of the stove had been broken, along with a coffee maker. In the basement, the water heater had been punctured and the plumbing lines cut down. One of the furnace vents had also been cut. Throughout the house, rocks had been thrown through twelve double-paned windows.

         Girlfriend testified that, up to the date of trial, she had spent approximately $2, 500 repairing and replacing damaged property.

         On July 2, 2016, a detective interviewed Mitchell. During the interview, he admitted to damaging the property. He stated that he and Girlfriend had purchased the house together, and that the property in the house which he damaged was his. Before trial Mitchell wrote a letter to the judge, which similarly claimed that he and Girlfriend were purchasing the house, and that he was on a mortgage for the house.

         Mitchell was charged with property damage in the first degree and animal abuse. At trial, Mitchell requested that the jury be instructed on the property- damage charge that it had to find that he did not act under the reasonable belief that he had the right to damage the home and its contents. The court refused to instruct on the claim of right issue, because ...

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