Jane Ann Noblitt
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Randi E. Froug
Columbus, IndianaAttorneys for Appellee
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
Jane Ann Noblitt
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Randi E. Froug
Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellee (Plaintiff below).
) Supreme Court No.
September 16, 1999
Defendant Donald Earl was convicted in the stabbing death of his girlfriend after the two had been fighting. He now appeals, arguing that sudden heat mitigates his culpability. Finding the evidence sufficient to conclude that the State negated the presence of sudden
heat beyond a reasonable doubt, we affirm.
We have jurisdiction over this direct appeal because the longest single sentence
exceeds fifty years. Ind. Const. art. VII, § 4; Ind. Appellate Rule 4(A)(7).
On the evening of May 5, 1996, Defendant and Lynn began to argue. At one point
during the argument, Defendant threatened Lynn and her daughters with a shovel, telling
them that he was going to [t]each you to respect me and that he had come to . . . Indianapolis to kill Lynn Conger. (R. at 329-31). At another point in the same argument,
Defendant threatened Lynn with a meat cleaver. Late the next evening, Defendant stabbed
Lynn while her children were asleep in the next room. Afterwards, Defendant locked the
bedroom door behind him and pulled the phone cords out of the walls. He then took Lynn's
car keys from her purse and drove off in her car.
The police later apprehended Defendant in Dayton, Ohio. While in custody, Defendant phoned Gene Buckner, a relative of Lynn's and admitted stabbing Lynn after an
argument. Following a bench trial, Defendant was convicted of MurderSee footnote
and Auto Theft.See footnote
The trial court sentenced Defendant to the Department of Correction for sixty-five years for
his murder conviction and three years for his auto theft conviction.
Defendant contends the State failed to meet its burden of negating beyond a reasonable doubt Defendant's claim that he killed Lynn while acting under sudden heat, thereby
entitling him to a reversal of his murder conviction. We disagree.
Voluntary Manslaughter is a lesser included offense of Murder, distinguishable by
the factor of the defendant having killed, while acting under sudden heat. Ind. Code § 35-
42-1-3 (1993). To establish sudden heat, the defendant must show sufficient provocation
to engender . . . passion. Johnson v. State, 518 N.E.2d 1073, 1077 (Ind. 1988). Sufficient
provocation is demonstrated by such emotions as anger, rage, sudden resentment, or terror
[that are] sufficient to obscure the reason of an ordinary person, prevent deliberation and
premeditation, and render the defendant incapable of cool reflection. Id.
To obtain a conviction for Murder, the State is under no obligation to negate the
presence of sudden heat because [t]here is no implied element of the absence of sudden
heat in the crime of murder. Palmer v. State, 425 N.E.2d 640, 644 (Ind. 1981). However,
once a defendant places sudden heat into issue, the State then bears the burden of negating
the presence of sudden heat beyond a reasonable doubt. McBroom v. State, 530 N.E.2d
725, 728 (Ind. 1988). It may meet this burden by rebutting the defendant's evidence or
affirmatively showing in its case-in-chief that the defendant was not acting in sudden heat
when the killing occurred. Gregory v. State, 540 N.E.2d 585, 593 (Ind. 1989).
Defendant asserts that he acted in sudden heat when he stabbed Lynn. In support of this contention, Defendant offered evidence that he and Lynn had an unusually tempestuous
relationship with a long history of quarrel and confrontation. In addition, Defendant
presented evidence of bruises and other injuries he claims to have sustained when the victim
struck him with a crutch on the Sunday prior to, and the evening of, her death. As for the
circumstances surrounding Lynn's death, Defendant contends that he never intended to kill
her, but that he stabbed her only after she taunted him repeatedly and came after him with
a knife. Defendant claims that he struggled to get the knife away from Lynn, and that once
he obtained the knife, he just snapped. Although we agree that this evidence adequately
introduced the element of sudden heat, we find that the totality of the evidence presented in
this case is sufficient to support the court's conclusion that Defendant did not act in sudden
The State presented evidence that on the night before the murder, Defendant _
while threatening Lynn with a shovel and a meat cleaver _ directly stated that he had
returned to Indianapolis kill Lynn Conger. This statement of intent foreshadowed events
to come and served to illustrate premeditation and calculation, rather than the sudden heat
asserted by Defendant.
In addition, although Defendant contends to have killed Lynn during a fight, the evidence presented at trial does not support this assertion. Lynn's children, who were asleep in the next room, did not hear any argument or fighting the night Defendant stabbed her. As noted, Defendant stated that the stabbing happened only after Lynn beat him repeatedly with
a crutch and attempted to stab him. Defendant also provided some additional evidence that
there had been either an argument or physical altercation the night of the killing. However,
the trial court, as finder of fact, had the responsibility of balancing this evidence against that
suggesting that Defendant intentionally killed Lynn and was not acting in sudden heat.
Defendant seeks support for his position from Griffin v. State, 644 N.E.2d 561 (Ind.
1994), where we reversed a defendant's murder conviction, holding that the trial court
erroneously refused to give a voluntary manslaughter instruction. We find Defendant's
reliance on Griffin to be misplaced. First, the facts of the present case are considerably
different from those in Griffin. This is especially so given that Defendant stated his intention to kill Lynn on the evening before the incident. Second, in Griffin we did not find the
presence of sudden heat sufficient to preclude a conviction for murder. Rather, we found
that there was sufficient evidence of sudden heat to support an instruction on voluntary
manslaughter, explaining that when the question to instruct on a lesser included offense is
a close one, it is prudent for the trial court to give the instruction and avoid the risk of the
expense and delay involved in a retrial. Id. at 563. Because the present case involved a
bench trial, these considerations do not apply.
We find the evidence sufficient to conclude that the State negated Defendant's claim of sudden heat beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court properly convicted Defendant of murder, rather than voluntary manslaughter.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SELBY, and BOEHM, JJ., concur.
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