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State v. Belt

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 15, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs November 8, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Bedford County No. 18024 Forest A. Durard, Jr., Judge.

         The defendant, George A. Belt, was convicted by a Bedford County Circuit Court jury of two counts of rape, Class B felonies; one count of incest, a Class C felony; and one count of purchasing alcohol for a minor, a Class A misdemeanor. The trial court merged the rape convictions and imposed a sentence of twenty years for that conviction. The court imposed a sentence of ten years for the incest conviction and eleven months and twenty-nine days for the purchasing alcohol for a minor conviction. The court ordered that all the sentences be served concurrently. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence convicting him of rape and incest and also argues that the trial court imposed an excessive sentence. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed.

          Donna Orr Hargrove, District Public Defender; and Michael J. Collins (on appeal and at trial) and James R. Tucker, Jr. (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders, for the appellant, George A. Belt.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Robert J. Carter, District Attorney General; and Michael D. Randles, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.


          ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE.


         State's Proof

         The victim's mother testified that she had five children, including her daughter, the victim, who was fourteen years old at the time of trial in November 2015. The victim's mother said that the defendant was her husband and that they married in June 2009. By January 2015, she and the defendant were living in Bedford County with the victim and the victim's mother's two youngest sons. At that time, the victim's mother worked a 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift five to seven days a week.

         The victim's mother testified that she went to work on Saturday, January 10, while her sons spent the day with her mother and the victim stayed home with the defendant. That night, she unexpectedly got off work early and arrived home around 9:30 p.m. The victim was already in bed asleep, and the defendant told her that the victim "had been sick, that her stomach was bothering her." The victim's mother slept late the next morning, and then the family went to the victim's mother's house for dinner that evening. The victim "was just real quiet, " but the victim's mother "just assumed her stomach was still bothering her like from the day before." A few days later, the victim's mother learned that something had happened to the victim on January 10. The victim's mother said that she was still married to the defendant but only because she "can't afford to get a divorce right now."

         The victim testified that, on the day in question, she was at home with the defendant, while her mother was at work and brothers were at her grandmother's house. The defendant invited her to go with him to the liquor store. The victim went inside the store with the defendant, and he purchased a bottle of whiskey for himself and two "puckers"[1] for the victim. When they got home, they went to the bedroom that the defendant and the victim's mother shared to watch television and drink. The victim sat on a futon sofa, and the defendant sat on the bed. After the victim drank the "puckers, " the defendant invited her to sit on the bed and drink some of his whiskey. The victim began feeling drunk and was not sure whether she passed out or fell asleep, but the next thing she remembered was being in her own room. She was lying on her back on her bed. The defendant was touching her directly on her vagina with his mouth. He also touched her vagina with his hand, but she did not know whether his hand went inside her vagina. He touched her vagina with his erect penis and tried to "push it in." The victim said that "[i]t hurt" when he attempted to penetrate her. The victim denied encouraging or wanting the defendant to touch her. She did not say anything to the defendant during the ordeal and was not sure whether he knew that she was awake.

         The victim testified that she did not remember her mother coming home, but she was aware that her mother was home when she awoke the next morning. When she got up, the victim had a headache and her vagina was sore. The victim did not tell her mother about what had happened because she "didn't want to hurt anybody else." However, a few days later, she told a friend at school, who told the school resource officer. Thereafter, the victim told the resource officer herself and, later, a detective who came to school to talk to her.

         The victim recalled that, the day after the rape, she and the defendant went to the park for a "mini driving lesson type thing." During that time, the defendant asked her if she was still a virgin. The victim asked the defendant, "Why are you asking that?" but could not remember his reply.

         Lori Littrell, a physician assistant at "Our Kids Center, " testified that she conducted a forensic medical examination of the victim on January 20. A medical history was obtained from the victim, including information about her general health, and then the victim was asked specific questions about any type of sexual contact that had happened to her. The victim reported that the parts of her body that no one should touch "are her downstairs butt and breasts." She said that her stepfather had touched her "downstairs, " pointing to her genital area, with his hands on her skin, "o[n] the outside." She said that this contact happened one time. The victim related that her stepfather also touched her "downstairs, " again pointing to her genital area, "[o]n the outside, "[o]n [her] skin, " with "[h]is thing." The victim reported that her "part inside was a little sore the next day, but I know it didn't go all the way in." She said that this contact happened one time. When asked if her stepfather touched her with any other part of his body, the victim said, "[h]is tongue, " again "[o]n the outside" and "[o]ne time." The victim said that the contacts happened "in [her] bedroom on the bed. [The defendant] was kind of standing, leaning over the bed." The victim stated that she had been drinking that night. The victim denied having to touch the defendant's body in any way and denied having any type of sexual contact with any other person.

         Ms. Littrell testified that, after taking the medical history, she conducted an anogenital examination on the victim. Ms. Littrell said that the victim "had a normal anogenital exam. So, when we looked for any signs of injury or signs of infection, everything looked normal in her genital area and her anal area." However, Ms. Littrell stated that a normal exam did not mean that the victim had not been the victim of penile or digital penetration. She explained that the majority of children who are evaluated for concerns of sexual abuse do not have any kind of physical injury and that the statistics showed that injury is actually uncommon. Ms. Littrell explained the female anatomy and how a young girl or young woman could experience penetration without experiencing injury. She also explained that injury would not be expected with certain types of sexual contact or with penile genital contact that did not "go all the way through the hymen and into the vaginal canal." Ms. Littrell further explained that an injury to a child could heal quickly and completely before the child reports an incident. Ms. Littrell concluded that the findings of her examination of the victim did not rule out the possibility that the victim was sexually abused.

         Detective Carol Jean with the Shelbyville Police Department testified that she and James Brinkley, a case worker with the Department of Children's Services, met with the victim at her school on January 15, 2015, in response to a report of possible sexual abuse. The victim identified the defendant as the perpetrator and related that the incident had occurred on January 10 at her home. After the interview with the victim, Mr. Brinkley contacted the defendant and requested that he go to the police department to speak with the officers.

         When the defendant arrived, Detective Jean and Detective Sergeant Chucky Merlo met with the defendant in an interview room and read him his Miranda rights. After waiving his rights, the defendant participated in an interview. The defendant admitted to taking the victim to the liquor store, buying her alcohol, and taking her back to the house where they drank together. The defendant admitted that the victim got drunk and that he took her to her room and put her in her bed. During the first interview, the defendant denied having any sexual contact with the victim, but he admitted that he took the victim out for a driving lesson the next day during which he asked her if she was still a virgin. When asked why ...

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