ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE:
KATHERINE A. CORNELIUS KAREN M. FREEMAN-WILSON
Marion County Public Defender Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
RENE MAJORS, )
) Supreme Court Cause Number
v. ) 49S00-0004-CR-254
STATE OF INDIANA, )
APPEAL FROM THE MARION SUPERIOR COURT
CRIMINAL DIVISION 5
The Honorable Gary L. Miller, Judge
Cause No. 49G05-9805-CF-083454
ON DIRECT APPEAL
June 6, 2001
Following a jury trial, Rene Majors was convicted of murder and robbery in
connection with the beating death of her eighty-four-year-old former landlord Roberta Higginson.
In this direct appeal, Majors raises two issues for our review: (1)
is the evidence sufficient to support her murder conviction; and (2) did the
trial court err by allowing into evidence testimony concerning an incident that occurred
between Mrs. Higginson and Majors two days before the murder.
The evidence is sufficient and finding no error, we affirm the trial court.
The facts most favorable to the verdict show that in the early morning
hours of May 15, 1998, Majors approached William Rivers at an Indianapolis liquor
store and told him that she wanted to get high, but she did
not have any money. R. at 286. Majors said that she
was going to the home of Roberta Higginson, her eighty-four-year-old former landlord, to
get some money. R. at 286. She invited Rivers to go
with her, and he agreed. When they arrived at Mrs. Higginsons home,
she let them both inside. Majors talked with Mrs. Higginson in the
living room, and after some time had passed, Majors picked up a beer
stein and struck Mrs. Higginson in the head three or four times.
Majors then stated that Mrs. Higginson had a lot of money and guns
in the house, and Rivers responded that they should get them and get
out. R. at 290.
Rivers left the living room in search of guns. When he returned
he saw Majors strike Mrs. Higginson in the head with a walking cane
five or six times while Mrs. Higginson was sitting in a chair.
Mrs. Higginson fell out of the chair onto the floor, and Majors kicked
Majors and Rivers took a blue suitcase, strongbox, money, shotgun shells, and two
guns from Mrs. Higginsons home. They then sold the guns and used
the proceeds to purchase crack cocaine.
Later that morning, Majors and Rivers returned to Mrs. Higginsons home to retrieve
a hat and hairpiece they had left behind. Mrs. Higginson was still
lying on the floor by the chair. Majors and Rivers moved Mrs.
Higginsons body to the basement steps. A subsequent autopsy revealed that Mrs.
Higginson died from multiple blunt force injuries to the head.
A jury convicted Majors of murder, felony murder, and robbery. The trial
court vacated the felony murder conviction. The trial court then ordered Majors
to serve consecutive sentences of sixty-five years for the murder conviction and eight
years for the robbery conviction. This direct appeal followed. Additional facts
are set forth below where relevant.
Majors first contends the evidence is insufficient to support her conviction for murder.
More specifically, she complains that the testimony of William Rivers, the only eyewitness
to the event, was incredibly dubious given his attitude regarding prison time, his
career as a professional liar and the manner in which his memory improved
after having access to crime scene photos and the probable cause affidavit.
Br. of Appellant at 22. Under the incredible dubiosity rule, a court
will impinge on a jurys responsibility to judge witness credibilityonly when confronted with
inherently improbable testimony or coerced, equivocal, wholly uncorroborated testimony of incredible dubiosity.
Tillman v. State, 642 N.E.2d 221, 223 (Ind. 1994). The incredible dubiosity
rule, however, 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. Id.
In this case, there is circumstantial evidence of Majors guilt. The police
found Majors fingerprints in Mrs. Higginsons home. R. at 585, 589.
Further, the police found two blue suitcases, one of which had the name
R. Higginson tagged onto it, and a pair of black sweatpants
See footnote stained with
blood in the basement of Majors mothers house. R. at 553-54, 739-41.
Subsequent DNA testing revealed that the blood on the sweatpants was that
of Mrs. Higginson. R. at 711. Because circumstantial evidence of Majors
guilt exists, her reliance on the incredible dubiosity rule is misplaced.
White v. State, 706 N.E.2d 1078, 1080 (Ind. 1999) (holding that the incredible
dubiosity rule did not apply because there was circumstantial evidence of the defendants
guilt, namely, his shirt and bandana were found near the crime scene).
As such, no basis for applying this rule exists, and Majors request simply
amounts to an invitation for us to reweigh the evidence, which we will
Next, Majors contends the trial court erred by allowing into evidence testimony concerning
an incident that occurred between her and Mrs. Higginson two days before the
murder. Officer Marvin Barlow of the Indianapolis Police Department testified to the
following events at trial: on May 13, 1998, he was called to
Mrs. Higginsons home; when he arrived, Mrs. Higginson was in her front yard
screaming and waving a gun; he calmed Mrs. Higginson down and took the
gun from her; Mrs. Higginson told him that Majors had been living with
her three weeks but had not paid any rent and she wanted Majors
to leave; Majors, who was crying and sitting on Mrs. Higginsons front porch
with her belongings, confirmed that she had not paid any rent; and he
helped Majors move her belongings to another persons house. R. at 184-89.
Majors contends that Officer Barlows testimony is inadmissible because it is irrelevant
and unduly prejudicial. The State, on the other hand, maintains that Officer
Barlows testimony is admissible to show Majors motive.
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. [E]vidence of motive is always relevant in the
proof of a crime. Cook v. State, 734 N.E.2d 563, 567 (Ind.
2000), rehg denied. However, relevant evidence may nevertheless be excluded if its
probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Evid.R.
Majors argues that Officer Barlows testimony is irrelevant because [Mrs. Higginsons] threat against
Ms. Majors did not establish a motive for any future conduct. Br.
of Appellant at 10. We disagree. Rivers testified at trial that
after he and Majors left Mrs. Higginsons home the first time, he asked
Majors why she killed Mrs. Higginson. When asked what Majors response to
his question was, Rivers testified to the following:
She [Majors] said her and [Mrs.] Higginson had gotten into it about three
days earlier and that [Mrs.] Higginson had pulled a gun on her and
stuck the gun in
her mouth and made her crawl around on the floor for about an
hour until she
was able to convince [Mrs.] Higginson to call the police and the police
came and escorted Rene from [Mrs.] Higginsons house and took uhthe gun from
R. at 303. Officer Barlows testimony relates to this same event and
takes up, in more detail, where Mrs. Higginson called the police. Together,
this evidence makes it more probable that Majors robbed and killed Mrs. Higginson
in retaliation for Mrs. Higginsons aggression two days before the murder.
Additionally, Majors argues that even if Officer Barlows testimony is relevant, it is
unfairly prejudicial because the jury was allowed to consider her to be a
shiftless, irresponsible sort of person. Br. of Appellant at 16-17. Again
we disagree. Officer Barlows testimony focused primarily, if not exclusively, on Mrs.
Higginsons prior misconduct. Majors even seems to admit as much, stating in
her brief that [t]he incident really did not involve any bad act by
Ms. Majors, since the evidence merely showed she was Mrs. Higginsons victim.
Br. of Appellant at 9. Thus, the probative value of Officer Barlows
testimony was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
The decision to admit evidence 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). 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). There was no abuse
of discretion here.
We affirm the trial court.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON and SULLIVAN, JJ., concur
BOEHM, J., concurs in result.
Rivers testified that Majors wore a black jogging suit during the
crime. R. at 361.