Court of Appeals of Missouri, Southern District, First Division
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY Honorable Jennifer
R. Growcock, Circuit Judge.
WILLIAM W. FRANCIS, JR., J.
Leigh Bellis Sprano ("Sprano") was convicted, after
a bench trial, of the class C felony of tampering with a
victim or attempt to tamper with a victim in a felony
prosecution, pursuant to section 575.270. The trial court
sentenced Sprano to seven years in prison, but suspended
execution of that sentence and placed Sprano on five years of
supervised probation. In two points, Sprano asserts the trial
court erred in overruling her motions for judgment of
acquittal as there was no evidence to support the charge of
tampering with a victim, and that the State's use of a
verdict director provided to the trial court did not contain
proper evidentiary requirements, pursuant to MAI-CR 3d
329.87. Finding no merit to Sprano's points,
we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
and Procedural History
Sprano challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support
her conviction, we recite the evidence and procedural history
relevant to the instant appeal in light of the principle that
all factual determinations are deemed to have been resolved
in accord with the outcome, and that the trier of facts may
credit some, all, or none of the evidence before it.
State v. Morton, 574 S.W.3d 788, 791 (Mo.App. S.D.
2019). We recite such other information as is necessary for
summer of 2013, Sprano's boyfriend transported Victim (a
familial relation of Sprano) and her two young sons
("the Children") from Montana to a small farmhouse
in Missouri where Sprano and her boyfriend lived. There was
an explicit understanding that Victim and her children were
to stay for the summer, and then Sprano and her boyfriend
were to transport them to New Hampshire. They did not.
between 2013 and 2016, boyfriend subjected Victim and her two
children to violent acts of sexual and physical abuse.
also took Victim's food stamp card and her child support
payments, controlling all the money in the household. He
forced Victim to sign over temporary guardianship of the
Children to him and Sprano using a form he obtained from the
internet. Boyfriend threatened to kill Victim, the Children,
and anyone who might try and help them escape. Boyfriend
sometimes forced Victim to beat her children. Sprano
witnessed some of the physical abuse her boyfriend inflicted
on Victim, and would sometimes participate.
March 3, 2016, authorities visited Sprano's home in
response to a report that the Children were being abused, at
which time boyfriend was arrested as a felon in possession of
a firearm. That same evening, the Children were
removed from the home and interviewed at the Child Advocacy
Center. Victim was also interviewed, but did not disclose
boyfriend's abuse as she feared she would get in trouble
for the things boyfriend forced her do to the Children.
the Children were being interviewed, a sheriff's
department investigator tried to speak to Victim, but Sprano
would interject and speak for Victim.
Wednesday, April 13, 2015, a hearing was held in family court
regarding the Children. Sprano accompanied Victim. A guardian
ad litem was appointed for Victim. After the hearing, Victim
told Sprano and her mother about the physical and sexual
abuse she and the Children had suffered at the hands of
boyfriend. Sprano told Victim she did not believe her.
Victim's mother called law enforcement.
April 15, 2016, Victim met with the prosecutor and a trauma
counselor to disclose details of the physical and sexual
abuse both she and the Children had endured at the hands of
boyfriend. An immunity agreement was reached between the
Victim and the State, whereby the State would not charge
Victim with any abuse to the Children that boyfriend forced
Victim to commit.
April 16, 2016, Sprano told Victim that she was afraid she
too would be arrested, so she had written Victim a letter and
put it in a locked filing cabinet in Sprano's room.
Sprano told Victim that if anything happened to her, Victim
would have the letter "to go by." The letter
instructed Victim to flee and "never look back,"
"claim the 5th" and "keep your
mouth shut," to hand over all of her
"documents" to "Dennis" so they could be
destroyed, and to take certain items of property with her
when Victim left (many of which were evidence in crimes
committed against Victim and the Children).
following day, Sprano was arrested for child endangerment,
neglect, and abuse. In a subsequent search of the residence,
police found numerous items Victim described as having been
utilized in her abuse, and a video of boyfriend sexually
15, 2016, Sprano was charged by information with the class C
Felony of attempted victim tampering, pursuant to section
575.270, in that on or between April 14, 2016 and April 16,
2016, Sprano "gave a letter to [Victim] telling her to
withhold information from authorities and such conduct was a
substantial step toward the commission of the crime of victim
tampering involving the felony crime of sodomy first degree,
and was done for the purpose of committing such victim
trial commenced on September 24, 2017. Victim testified,
along with her counselor, and Lieutenant Shane Duryea, a law
enforcement officer with the Greene County Sheriff's
Department. Sprano did not testify.
trial court was furnished a verdict directing
instruction by the State that was patterned after
MAI-CR 3d 329.87. Defense counsel did not object.
trial court found Sprano guilty as charged, and imposed a
seven-year sentence, but suspended the execution of that
sentence and placed Sprano on supervised probation for five
years with specific conditions. This appeal followed.
points on appeal, Sprano asserts the trial court: (1) erred
in denying Sprano's motions for judgment of acquittal,
(2) plainly erred in finding Sprano guilty by relying upon
the verdict director provided by the State.
I: Sufficiency of the Evidence
first point challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to
support her conviction.
In a court-tried criminal case, the court's findings have
the force and effect of a jury verdict. Accordingly, the
standard used to review the sufficiency of the evidence in a
court-tried and a jury-tried criminal case is the same. Our
review of sufficiency of the evidence is limited to whether
the State has introduced adequate evidence from which a
reasonable finder of fact could have found each element of
the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. An appellate court
considers all evidence in the light most favorable to the
verdict and grants the State all reasonable inferences.
Contrary evidence and inferences are disregarded. We do not
weigh the evidence. Instead, we defer to the
fact-finder's superior position to weigh and value the
evidence, determine the witnesses' credibility and
resolve any inconsistencies in their testimony.
State v. Collins, 570 S.W.3d 625, 626 (Mo.App. S.D.
2019) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
initial matter, Sprano's argument extends beyond the
scope of her point relied on, in violation of Rule
84.04(e). The argument attendant to her point (as
best as we can discern) is comprised of the following
1. the only inference warranted by the letter is that
Sprano's motive was to tell Victim to "claim the
2. impliedly arguing that the trial court erred because in
finding Sprano guilty, the trial court "parrot[ed] the
statute" rather than MAI-CR 3d 329.87;
3. the "criteria used by the court in reaching its
verdict failed to include a finding of the victim's name,
the crime that made her a victim and the date of the
4. there "was simply no evidence that [Victim] was a
victim of a charged crime in ...