ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Michael Gene Worden Steve Carter
Indianapolis, Indiana Attorney General of Indiana
Janet L. Parsanko
Deputy Attorney General
SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA
STEVEN EDWARDS, ) ) Appellant (Defendant Below ), ) ) v. ) No.49S00-0008-CR-476 ) STATE OF INDIANA, ) ) Appellee (Plaintiff Below ). )
August 23, 2001
Shortly after 9:20 that evening, Grady returned home from Christmas shopping and received
a page from Alred. Grady responded by calling Alreds cell
phone around 10 p.m. After telling his wife he would be
right back, Grady left in a blue and silver pick-up truck.
At 11:34 p.m., the Indianapolis Fire Department received a report of a fire
at North White River Parkway, West Drive. Firefighters and police officers responding
to the scene discovered Gradys body on fire. Police found a pager
and drivers license (both partially melted) next to the body, and $93 in
Gradys pocket. Gradys truck and cell phone were not recovered at the
An autopsy revealed that Grady had been hit on the forehead, causing bleeding
in the brain. He had also been hit on the neck with
enough force to crush his larynx. Although the autopsy did not show
with certainty whether Grady was burned while alive or dead, burns covered more
than 75 percent of his body. Grady died as a
result of blunt force trauma to the head and neck and thermal injury
from the fire.
Edwards returned to the Oakland residence not long after the police came upon
Gradys body, around 2 a.m. on December 21st. He asked Harris to
get him a plastic bag and bleach. He entered the
bathroom, and subsequently re-emerged, handing Harris the plastic bag and asking him to
take it to the dumpster without looking inside. As Harris took the
bag to the dumpster, he observed that the bag contained Edwards clothes and
smelled of bleach. He returned to the house and talked with Edwards
for a while. During their conversation, Edwards said that he would soon
receive money from Alred.
Later on the 21st, Edwards complained to Harris that Alred had not yet
brought him the money. The next day, Alred and another man came
to the Oakland residence and gave Edwards $3000. Edwards and Harris then
made phone calls, drove around for a few hours, and purchased $2700 worth
of cocaine. During this time, Edwards told Harris that Alred and the
other man were some killers. (R. at 622.) He said that
they had whooped some guy and burnt him. (R. at 622-23.)
He then threatened to kill Harris if he ran his mouth. (R. at
Harris first talked to police about this case after his name appeared in
a Crimestoppers advertisement following a newspaper article about the Grady murder. Harris
aunt took him to the police station. Harris did not want to
talk, but after learning that police had some information implicating him in the
crime, he gave a statement. Edwards was later arrested and charged with
murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and criminal confinement.
On the day Harris was to testify at trial, he told the prosecutor
he was going to testify differently than he had previously testified under oath.
He confirmed his intention to the trial judge, who advised Harris that
he could be charged with perjury if his testimony differed from previous statements
given under oath. Harris was then given an opportunity to speak with
counsel in the presence of his grandmother.
Called later as a witness, Harris gave testimony consistent with his earlier statements.
Edwards attorney questioned Harris about his announced intention to testify differently, and
Edwards admitted before the jury that he had considered changing his testimony.
The jury found Edwards guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, but acquitted him
of murder and criminal confinement. Edwards then pled guilty to the habitual
offender charge. The court sentenced Edwards to forty years for conspiracy to
commit murder plus thirty years for being an habitual offender.
Edwards now brings this case on direct appeal.
Although we will not reweigh the evidence or judge witness credibility on appeal,
Tillman v. State, 642 N.E.2d 221, 223 (Ind. 1994), Edwards asks us to
re-evaluate Harris testimony based upon the incredible dubiosity rule. (Appellants Rep. Br.
at 1.) This rule is applicable only when a lone
witness offers inherently contradictory testimony that is equivocal or the result of coercion
and there is a complete lack of circumstantial evidence of the appellants guilt.
Tillman, 642 N.E.2d at 223 (citing Gaddis v. State, 253 Ind. 73,
82, 251 N.E.2d 658, 663 (1969)). To interfere with the jurys authority
to judge witness credibility and evaluate evidence, the court must be presented with
testimony which runs counter to human experience and that reasonable persons could not
believe. Campbell v. State 732 N.E.2d 197, 207 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000).
It is a rare occasion.
Edwards claims Harris aborted intention to change his testimony renders his statements equivocal and contradictory. He also maintains that reasonable persons could not believe Harris testimony because he is untrustworthy and a juvenile delinquent drug dealing admitted liar. (Appellants Br. at 1.) As such, Edwards says it is inconceivable Edwards would confide in him about participation in any crime.
The incredible dubiosity test is a difficult standard to meet, one that requires
great ambiguity and inconsistency in the evidence. However, it is not impossible.
Sisson v. State, 710 N.E.2d 203 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), the
key witness testified on direct examination that the defendant was involved in three
burglaries, then recanted during cross-examination and stated that the defendant was only present
during the first burglary. Id. at 205, 208. The witness also
admitted during cross-examination that he had lied to police and to the jury.
Id. at 206. His testimony was also rife with equivocal language,
and he was inconsistent about which houses the defendant had helped burglarize.
Id. The jury acquitted the appellant of two burglaries, but convicted him
of burglarizing one house about which the witness was particularly unclear. Id.
at 207. The Court of Appeals held that such blatantly contradictory testimony
could not support the jurys verdict. Id. at 207-08.
Sisson demonstrates the sort of prevarication and contradiction necessary to merit reversal based
on the incredible dubiosity rule. The testimony must be so convoluted and/or
contrary to human experience that no reasonable person could believe it. Campbell,
732 N.E.2d at 207.
Harris testimony does not meet that standard. Unlike the witness in Sisson,
Harris was not inconsistent throughout his testimony. His statements before the jury
at trial were in accord with those given previously under oath. And
though Harris did consider changing his testimony during the trial, the jury was
made aware of this fact during cross-examination. As Harris proposed alteration of
his testimony was put squarely before the jury, the jury had the ability
to perform its role as a trier of fact and determine the extent
to which it affected the integrity of his testimony. See Albrecht v.
State, 737 N.E.2d 719, 733 (Ind. 2000). Harris testified on re-direct that
he attempted to change his story because he was scared. The jury
would not be unreasonable in accepting this (or another) plausible explanation.
Edwards complains that Harris testimony was inconsistent with other evidence presented (as to
the color of Alreds vehicle, and whether or not he was awakened by
Linda Phillips at 2 a.m. December 21, 1998). (Appellants Br. at 16.)
Harris testified that the Ford Taurus driven by Alred the night of
the murder was gray. Rental company records indicated the Taurus rented by
Alred was light prairie tan. (R. at 406, 408.) It is the
jurys duty to resolve variations in testimony. It was not, as a
matter of law, inappropriate for the jury to accept Harris testimony on the
essential elements for conspiracy, despite a modest discrepancy on the color of Alreds
Edwards asserts that Harris lied when stating that Phillips woke him at 2
a.m., because Phillips testified she was on medication and out of it and
did not speak to anyone. The jury could have resolved this alleged inconsistency
without finding Harris unbelievable. Phillips own testimony indicates she was unclear about
the events of the early morning hours of December 21st. Whether or
not Phillips awakened Harris is a matter of fact for the jury to
determine and weigh. It is not an issue that demands that the
jury discredit Harris testimony.
Edwards also asserts that Harris testimony is unbelievable because only a complete moron
would divulge such incriminating information to a punk kid like Chris. (Appellants Br.
at 17.) To reverse under the incredible dubiosity rule, the court must
find that the testimony runs counter to human experience and that no reasonable
person could believe it. Campbell, 732 N.E.2d at 207. It is
neither counter to human experiences nor unreasonable that Edwards would confide in a
person with whom he lived, whom he called his right hand man, (R.
at 627), and with whom he shared family (Edwards was the brother of
Harris guardian and aunt-by-marriage, Stacey Harris).
Edwards further contends that the police and Harris aunt, Tracie Brooks, coerced Harris
statements. Harris testified that he did not want to talk to the
police, but that everyone in his house and neighborhood told him he should
talk after his name appeared in the paper. Harris also said his
aunt threatened to turn him in to the police if he did not
testify. Edwards claims that since Brooks was not Harris legal guardian,
and since Brooks may have received money from Crimestoppers for facilitating Harris statement,
Brooks coerced him into giving a statement to police for her own benefit.
There is no actual evidence, however, that Brooks attempted to influence the
content of Harris statement. Though Harris initial meeting with police occurred at
Brooks urging, her involvement does not compromise Harris testimony.
Harris testified that during his initial meeting with police he was told he
could be charged in the crime if he did not cooperate. He
also stated that the police threatened to go to his neighborhood and say
he was giving them the names of those to whom he had sold
drugs. Harris said he was scared by these threats and decided to
give a statement. Detective Scheffel testified at trial that he and Sergeant
Heffner told Harris they thought they had enough information to implicate him in
the crime, but could neither confirm nor deny that Heffner had threatened to
tell Harris neighbors he was talking to police about his drug dealings.
The members of the jury heard this testimony and were aware of the
circumstances surrounding Harris statement.
In Albrecht, 737 N.E.2d at 733, the court held that the testimony of
a witness who had initially provided an alibi for the defendant, but changed
his story after police threatened him with prosecution and incarceration, could still have
been found credible by the jury. As in this case, the circumstances
of the witnesss testimony in Albrecht were put before the jury, and the
court determined that [t]he extent to which threats may have, in some degree,
affected a third partys testimony goes to the weight to be given the
testimony by the trier of fact. Id.
Harris stated consistently throughout his testimony that Edwards left in a car driven
by Alred, that he returned in the early morning of December 21, 1998,
and asked Harris to dispose of clothes for him, and that Edwards had
received $3000 from Alred. Harris testimony was not incredibly dubious, and the
jurys estimation of Harris credibility is not improper as a matter of law.
The jury heard evidence that Harris had been unwilling to talk to
police and that detectives had encouraged him to give a statement by informing
him of the possible consequences of not talking to police. An informed
jury did not have to equate Harris reluctance with deceit. There is
no need to re-evaluate the jurys determination of witness credibility.
Edwards also contends that a phone call made to Alreds phone from the
Oakland residence at 11:27 on the evening of the murder helps discredit Harris
testimony and the jury verdict. Edwards claims that since both Phillips
and Harris claimed not to know Alreds cell phone number, Edwards must have
made this call. He contends that this not only proves that Harris
lied about the time of Edwards return, but also definitively removes Edwards from
the crime scene.
While it could be inferred that Edwards made the call, however, it is
not an established fact that the jury must believe. Furthermore, Edwards was
convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, and the State needed to prove only
the existence of an agreement to commit murder and an overt act in
furtherance of the crime. Ind. Code Ann. § 35-41-5-2 (West Supp. 1999).
Whether or not Edwards placed the phone call at 11:27 p.m. has
no bearing on his prior statement about going to kill this man, (R.
at 593), or upon his leaving with Alred earlier in the evening.
Finally, we note that Harris testimony is not the only evidence supporting the
verdict. The State offered testimony to establish that Grady and Alred had
dealt together in cocaine, presented phone records indicating telephone calls and pages
between Alred and Grady and Edwards the night of the murder, and
showed that a pair of handcuffs was found on Gradys body, while
testimony indicated that a pair was missing from Edwards residence. (See Appellees
Br. at 12.) This constituted a fair amount of circumstantial evidence of
conspiracy to commit murder. With Harris testimony, there was enough evidence to
conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Edwards conspired with Alred to commit murder.
Dickson, Sullivan, Boehm, and Rucker, JJ., concur.