Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs June 25, 2019
from the Criminal Court for Monroe County No. 585510 Sandra
defendant, Michael Andrew Lethco, was convicted of aggravated
sexual battery for which he received a nine-year sentence. On
appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence
supporting his conviction and asserts the State elicited
improper testimony from the victim regarding other instances
of abuse which prejudiced the defendant. Upon our thorough
review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal
B. Ward, Madisonville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Garrett D. Ward, Assistant Attorney General; Stephen D.
Crump, District Attorney General; and Dorothy Cherry and Clay
Collins, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the
appellee, State of Tennessee.
Ross Dyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Norma McGee Ogle and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.
ROSS DYER, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
Monroe County grand jury indicted the defendant for one count
of aggravated sexual battery committed against his
nine-year-old daughter, the victim. The crime occurred in
2012, but the victim did not disclose the defendant's
abuse until 2014. When the defendant's trial began in
2017, the victim was thirteen years old. At trial, she
testified that after her parents separated in 2012, the
defendant moved into a one-bedroom apartment for
approximately two months. The victim frequently visited the
defendant and often spent the night with him. During the
visits, the victim slept in the bed with the defendant rather
than on the couch in the living room. She slept in Pull-Ups
and a t-shirt while the defendant wore "just
shorts." The victim testified she did not know why no
one slept on the couch in the living room during her visits.
However, on cross-examination, she acknowledged there were
hornets in the ceiling fan in the living room.
one visit, the defendant came to bed as the victim "was
about to go to sleep." The victim was lying with her
back to the defendant when he "reached over," put
his arm around her waist, and "then put his finger in
[her] vagina." The defendant did not move his hand while
it was in her vagina, but the victim described the act as
painful. To make the defendant stop, the victim "rolled
over, like away from him."
victim stated she did not discuss the incident with the
defendant, but she did tell her mother. However, the victim
explained she waited "a long time" to tell her
mother because she was scared and she "didn't know
what was going on." After telling her mother, the victim
no longer visited the defendant. The victim also testified
the defendant usually snored in his sleep, but he was not
snoring before he touched her. The abuse occurred more than
once, but the victim did not know how many times it happened.
After the defendant began dating someone, the victim no
longer slept in the bed with him during her visits.
victim's mother, the defendant's ex-wife, stated
after they separated in 2012, the defendant rented an
apartment on Ball Play Road in Monroe County, Tennessee, for
approximately two months. While living at the apartment, the
victim visited the defendant "twenty or thirty
times." At the time, the victim wore Pull-Ups to bed.
the victim did not disclose the defendant's abuse until
2014, her mother stated the victim mentioned the abuse in
passing in 2013. The victim's mother questioned her
further and confronted the defendant. The defendant
"kind of brushed it off and said nothing happened,"
and the victim's mother did nothing further. After the
victim's disclosure in 2014, her mother reported the
abuse to the Department of Children's Services. The
victim's mother did not confront the defendant again, and
the victim no longer visited him.
victim's mother and the defendant divorced in late
February or early March 2014. She described the
defendant's sleeping habits during their marriage, noting
he fell asleep quickly, was a sound sleeper, and snored in
his sleep. She also stated the defendant once attempted to
have sex with her while he was asleep. The defendant woke up
prior to ejaculating and apologized to her.
Stapp, a child protective services investigator for the
Department of Children's Services, interviewed the victim
on March 25, 2014, and set up a forensic interview of the
victim on April 9, 2014. Ms. Stapp also interviewed the
defendant and the victim's mother. Ms. Stapp could not
recall if she questioned the mother about the defendant's
sleeping habits. Further, Ms. Stapp did not speak with
Samantha Lethco, the defendant's current
Ms. Stapp's testimony, the State offered into evidence
two recorded interviews of the defendant. The first interview
consisted of video footage of Detective Tonia Norwood's
initial interview of the defendant. The second interview
included a voice recording of the defendant's testimony
given during an adjudication hearing in Juvenile Court for
Anderson County on July 15, 2014. The trial court provided a
limiting instruction to the jury in response to each
recording, stating evidence of other crimes mentioned in the
recordings "may only ...