ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE:
SEAN P. HILGENDORF KAREN M. FREEMAN-WILSON
South Bend, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
ARTHUR THADDEUS PERRY
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
JESSIE B. WILLIAMS, )
) Supreme Court Cause Number
v. ) 71S00-9909-CR-461
STATE OF INDIANA, )
APPEAL FROM THE ST. JOSEPH SUPERIOR COURT
The Honorable William H. Albright, Judge
Cause No. 71D01-9804-CF-155
ON DIRECT APPEAL
February 2, 2001
Jessie B. Williams appeals from his convictions for murder, attempted murder, and robbery
for his role in the shooting deaths of Bennie Spears and James Edison
and the attempted murder of Almeka Dodds. In this direct appeal, Williams
raises four issues for our review which we rephrase as follows: (1)
did the trial court err by admitting evidence that Williams was known by
a nickname; (2) did the trial court err by refusing to strike the
entire testimony of a States witness; (3) was the evidence sufficient to support
the convictions; and (4) did the trial court err by imposing consecutive sentences?
We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
The record shows that Bennie Spears and Almeka Dodds lived in South Bend
with their two children, Jasmine, age two, and James, age one. James
Edison, a friend of Spears, was visiting their home on the afternoon of
January 30, 1997. As Dodds was preparing to leave with her
children, there was a knock at the door. Dodds recognized the two
visitors as Flint and Gill. Flint was a friend of Spears who
had been to their home several times before; however, Dodds had met Gill
only a couple times, and Gill had never been to their home before.
The four men were in the living room talking. Dodds, who
was with her children in the dining room, overheard Spears tell Flint not
to point the gun at him. Dodds then heard a gunshot.
When she turned around, she saw that Spears had been shot and Flint
was holding a gun.
Flint grabbed Dodds by the hair and demanded money. Dodds retrieved approximately
$5,000, which was hidden in the couch. Flint then instructed Gill to
lock James and Jasmine in the bathroom and cut Edisons throat with a
knife. After Gill locked the children in the bathroom, he retrieved a
knife from a kitchen drawer and began to comply with Flints request.
Flint told Gill that he was not doing the job properly and that
he would do it instead. Flint then ordered Gill to take Dodds
to the basement and shoot her twice in the head. Once in
the basement, Dodds begged Gill not to shoot her. Flint, believing Edison
was dead, went to the basement to see what was taking so long.
Meanwhile, Edison, still alive, jumped through a window. When Flint and
Gill heard the breaking glass they ran upstairs and fired at Edison twice
as he was attempting to escape. Dodds hid in the basement.
Either Flint or Gill returned to the top of the stairs and fired
shots into the basement. None of the shots hit Dodds. When
the gunfire ceased, Dodds ran to her neighbors house and called police.
When police arrived, they found James and Jasmine locked in the bathroom.
Autopsies later revealed that Spears and Edison both died of gunshot wounds to
Dodds immediately went to the police station to give a statement. She
told police that she knew the two gunmen and that their names were
Flint and Gill. She then looked at several photo arrays. Dodds
positively identified Flint as Freddie Byers. Although she was unable to
make a positive identification, Dodds told police that one of the pictures looked
like Gill. That picture was of the defendant, Jessie B. Williams.
Over a year and a half later, in September 1998, police compiled another
photo array. Dodds positively identified Williams in that photo array
as the person she knew as Gill.
Kenyata Blackwell, Dodds sister, also went to the police station on the evening
of the crimes. Although Blackwell was not present during the crimes, police
asked her to identify
individuals known to her as Flint and Gill. Blackwell looked at several
photo arrays and positively identified Flint as Freddie Byers and Gill as Jessie
A jury convicted Williams of two counts of murder, two counts of felony
murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of robbery. The
trial court vacated the felony murder convictions. The trial court then ordered
Williams to serve consecutive sentences of sixty-five years for each murder conviction, fifty
years for the attempted murder conviction, and twenty years for the robbery conviction,
for a total sentence of 200 years. This direct appeal followed.
Additional facts are set forth below where relevant.
Williams first challenges Blackwells testimony. Blackwell testified to the following at trial:
She knew two men who went by the nicknames Flint and Gill,
and she often saw them together; Spears introduced her to Gill approximately six
months before the night of the crimes; she had seen Gill three or
four times in the six months prior to trial; and she was not
present during the crimes, but she went to the police station shortly thereafter
to look at several photo arrays and identified Flint as Byers and Gill
as Williams. R. at 479, 480, 481-82, 483, 484, 493. Williams
asserts this testimony was inadmissible because it was irrelevant and unduly prejudicial.
Relevant evidence is evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any
fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable
or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Ind. Evidence
Rule 401. Generally speaking, relevant evidence is admissible, and irrelevant evidence is
inadmissible. Evid. R. 402. However, relevant evidence may nevertheless be excluded
if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
Evid. R. 403.
Williams argues that Blackwells testimony is irrelevant because [t]he fact that Williams was
known to Blackwell as Gill does not tend to make his involvement on
the evening of January 30, 1997, more probable or less probable than it
would be without such evidence. Brief of Appellant at 11. We
disagree. Identity was a key issue at trial. R. at 434-51.
Dodds told police that she knew the two gunmen and they went
by the names of Flint and Gill. Although Dodds was unable to
identify Gill on the night of the crimes, she told police that Blackwell
knew Gill better and Blackwell should view the photo arrays. R. at
445-46. That Blackwell then identified Gill as Jessie Williams indeed makes it
more probable that Williams was involved in these crimes. See Ealy v.
State, 685 N.E.2d 1047, 1056 (Ind. 1997) (holding that testimony that the defendant
went by a nickname was irrelevant to any issue in the case other
than to show that defendant was involved in the crime.).
Additionally, Williams argues that even if Blackwells testimony is relevant, it is unfairly
prejudicial because [t]he State was attempting to coerce the jury into deducing that
if Blackwell knew Williams as Gill, and Dodds testified that Gill was the
name of the perpetrator of the crimes, then Williams must be the Gill
that Dodds was referring to . . . . Brief of Appellant at
12. Again we disagree. Although Blackwells testimony was undoubtedly prejudicial to
Williams, in light of the fact that identity was a key issue at
trial, its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
A decision concerning relevance and prejudice is within the sound discretion of the
trial court, and its decision is afforded a great deal of deference on
appeal. Bacher v. State, 686 N.E.2d 791, 793 (Ind. 1997), appeal after
remand, 722 N.E.2d 791 (Ind. 1997). We will only reverse a trial
court upon a showing that the trial court manifestly abused its discretion and
the defendant was denied a fair trial
Henderson v. State, 455 N.E.2d
1117, 1119 (Ind. 1983). The trial court did not abuse its discretion
by admitting Blackwells testimony.
Williams next contends the trial court erred by refusing to strike the testimony
States witness Marcus Bradshaw. The essential facts are these. Mishawaka Police
Detective Michael Samp was assigned to investigate this case. During the course
of his investigation, Samp received information concerning a Marcus Bradshaw. The detective
spoke with Bradshaw and took a statement from him, which Bradshaw apparently signed.
At trial, the State called Bradshaw to the stand. After a
few preliminary questions, the answers to which caught the State by surprise, the
prosecutor was granted permission to treat Bradshaw as a hostile witness. Quoting
from Bradshaws statement and facts surrounding how and when it was taken, the
State proceeded to ask Bradshaw several questions regarding his knowledge of the facts
in this case. The State attempted to elicit from Bradshaw that he
had signed a written statement declaring, among other things, that Bradshaw knew Williams
as Gill and that Williams had told Bradshaw he was present at the
scene on the night of the shootings. R. at 583. However,
Bradshaw consistently denied any conversation with Williams and denied he gave any such
information to Detective Samp. When shown the written statement with his signature,
Bradshaw acknowledged that the signature was his but denied signing the statement.
R. at 584-85.
After Bradshaw testified, the State called Detective Samp to the stand. The
State questioned the detective regarding the written statement he had taken from Bradshaw.
The State then attempted to admit the written statement into evidence.
Williams objected, and the trial court sustained his objection. R. at 643.
The trial court then instructed the jury as follows:
Before we took our break the State offered [the] statement of Marcus Bradshaw,
Exhibit 57. The Court has ruled that that statement will not be
admitted. And Ill remind you of one of the instructions that you
were read when we began the trial that you must not consider exhibits
or testimony to which an objection was sustained. That is  not
a part of this case ladies and gentlemen.
R. at 643. After the State rested, Williams moved to strike Bradshaws
testimony in its entirety and to instruct the jury to disregard it.
R. at 691. Williams argued that all of Bradshaws testimony was irrelevant
and overly prejudicial in light of the trial courts ruling regarding the inadmissibility
of the written statement. R. at 692. The trial court denied
the motion, stating I dont think theres much in it, if anything, helpful
to the [S]tate, but Im not going to strike the testimony. R.
at 693. III.
Williams contends that all of Bradshaws testimony was rendered irrelevant by the trial
courts ruling that Bradshaws written statement was inadmissible. Even assuming Williams is
correct, we fail to see how he was harmed. When inadmissible evidence
has been presented to the jury, reversal of a conviction is required only
if the erroneous admission prejudiced the defendants substantial rights. Dockery v. State,
644 N.E.2d 573, 580 (Ind. 1994). In determining whether error in the
introduction of evidence warrants reversal, the court must assess the probable impact of
the evidence on the jury. Hardin v. State, 611 N.E.2d 123, 131-32
(Ind. 1993), affd in part and vacated in part on other grounds by
Swanson v. State, 666 N.E.2d 397 (Ind. 1996). Nothing in Bradshaws testimony
prejudiced Williams. Instead it actually helped him. Bradshaw specifically denied that
Williams told him anything; denied knowing Williams as Gill; and declared that any
knowledge he received of the crime came from police officers reading from a
newspaper account. R. at 603-04. Thus, even if the trial court
erred in this case, the error was harmless.
Williams next contends the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions. More
specifically he complains that the identification testimony of Almeka Dodds, the only eyewitness
to the event, was incredibly dubious. We first observe that testimony from
a single eyewitness is sufficient to sustain a conviction. Hubbard v. State,
719 N.E.2d 1219, 1220 (Ind. 1999). Further the incredible dubiosity rule is
limited to cases where a sole witness presents inherently contradictory testimony which is
equivocal or the result of coercion and there is a complete lack of
circumstantial evidence of the defendants guilt. Tillman v. State, 642 N.E.2d 221,
223 (Ind. 1994).
In this case, Williams cites Dodds inability to identify him in a photo
array on the night of the crimes but her ability to identify him
in a photo array in September 1998 as evidence that Dodds testimony is
incredibly dubious. Although Dodds was unable to conclusively identify Williams on the
night of the crimes, she told police that one of the pictures in
the photo array looked like Gill. R. at 431, 662. That
picture was of Williams. R. at 665. That Dodds was unable
to positively identify Williams on the night of the crimes but was later
able to positively identify him is not inherently contradictory. See Hubbard, 719
N.E.2d at 1220 (holding that the victims initial inability to name his attacker,
who was an acquaintance, was not inherently incredible).
Further, the facts surrounding Dodds identification of Williams were fully presented to the
jury at trial. Williams extensively cross-examined Dodds regarding her inability to identify
him on the night of the crimes. R. at 442-51. Nevertheless,
Dodds held firm in her position that she was 100% positive that Williams
was involved in these crimes. R. at 442, 443, 448, 450.
When asked why she was able to identify Williams a year and a
half later, Dodds responded, When something like that happens to you, you cant
take that out [of] your mind. You cant --- that picture [doesnt]
go away. R. at 450. We conclude that Dodds eyewitness testimony
was sufficient to support Williams convictions.
For his last allegation of error, Williams challenges his sentence. The trial
court found one aggravator, Williams prior criminal record, and no mitigators. R.
at 193. It then imposed the maximum sentence for each of the
four convictions and ran the sentences consecutively for a total sentence of 200
years imprisonment. R. at 193. The trial court specifically found that
the consecutive sentencing was based upon these four different counts being separate acts,
not all part of one event that might be seen to be available
for concurrent sentencing. R. at 193. Williams contends this was error
because the four offenses constitute an episode of criminal conduct under Indiana Code
§ 35-50-1-2(b), thereby precluding consecutive sentencing.
Indiana Code § 35-50-1-2(b) defines episode of criminal conduct as offenses or a
connected series of offenses that are closely related in time, place, and circumstance.
Here, the murders, attempted murder, and burglary occurred in the same house
and within minutes of each other. Contrary to the trial courts finding,
the four offenses qualify as an episode of criminal conduct. See Ballard
v. State, 715 N.E.2d 1276, 1280 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) (finding episode of
criminal conduct where crimes were at same location and occurred within a half
hour of each other). Although we agree with Williams on this point,
he is still not entitled to relief.
Indiana Code § 35-50-1-2(c) places limitations on consecutive sentencing for an episode of
criminal conduct: except for crimes of violence, the total of the consecutive
terms of imprisonment . . . to which the defendant is sentenced for
felony convictions arising out of an episode of criminal conduct shall not exceed
the presumptive sentence for a felony which is one (1) class of felony
higher than the most serious of the felonies for which the person has
been convicted. (emphasis added). Crimes of violence are delineated in the statute
and include such crimes as murder and robbery. See Ind. Code §
35-50-1-2(a). It does not include attempted murder. Id.; Ellis v. State,
736 N.E.2d 731, 736 (Ind. 2000). Because murder and robbery are not
subject to these limitations, the trial court did not err by ordering the
two sentences for murder and the sentence for robbery to run consecutive to
each other. As for the sentence for attempted murder, limitations on consecutive
sentencing do not apply between crimes of violence and those that are not
crimes of violence. Ellis, 736 N.E.2d at 737. As such, the
trial court also did not err by ordering the sentence for attempted murder
to run consecutive to the other sentences.
We affirm the trial court.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SULLIVAN and BOEHM, JJ., concur.
In a separate trial Freddie Byers, Williams accomplice in this case,
was also convicted of two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder,
and one count of robbery. He too was sentenced to a total
term of 200 years imprisonment.
Byers v. State, 709 N.E.2d 1024 (Ind.