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State v. Hart

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 6, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs October 2, 2019

          Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Henderson County No. 16133-3. Kyle C. Atkins, Judge

         A Henderson County jury convicted the Defendant, Jonathan Blake Hart, of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery, and the trial court sentenced him to fifty-five years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the trial court erred when it: (1) barred his father from testifying; (2) denied his motion to exclude the medical expert's conclusion that child sexual abuse had occurred; (3) admitted drawings from the forensic interview; and (4) limited his cross-examination of an investigator. The Defendant also contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and that his motion for new trial should have been granted on these same grounds. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

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

          Samuel W. Hinson, Lexington, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jonathan Blake Hart.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Katharine K. Decker, Assistant Attorney General; Jody S. Pickens, District Attorney General; and Chadwick R. Wood, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Norma McGee Ogle, JJ., joined.



         I. Facts

         This case arises from the Defendant's rape of the victim, a nine-year-old girl who was his girlfriend's daughter and with whom he lived. Based on this conduct, a Henderson County grand jury indicted the Defendant for two counts of rape of a child. Prior to trial, the Defendant filed a motion in limine[1] seeking to exclude testimony by the State's medical expert regarding her diagnosis of "child sexual abuse." The trial court denied the Defendant's motion on the grounds that the expert's medical diagnosis of "child sexual abuse" encompassed a larger definition than the elements of rape of a child, the ultimate issue in the case.

         A. Trial

         The following evidence was presented at the Defendant's trial: Kim Gibson testified that she worked at the Carl Perkins Center for Child Abuse in 2016 as a forensic interviewer. Ms. Gibson stated that she interviewed the victim in this case, S.C.L., [2] at the child abuse center in January of 2016. Ms. Gibson and the victim were alone in the interview room, and the interview was video recorded. The hour-long recording was played for the jury. In the interview, the victim told Ms. Gibson that she was "great" except that her "dad" had done things to her that were not supposed to happen to a child. She identified her dad as the Defendant and said that he had "raped" her. The victim said that the Defendant put his "thing" in her bottom and made her bottom bleed. The victim said it happened more than once; the first time was in an apartment she referred to as "McKenzie." The victim told Ms. Gibson details about how the Defendant initiated the rape. The victim said that the rape hurt and that the Defendant raped her in her "private spot." The Defendant told the victim not to tell her mother, who was out getting groceries. The victim recalled that she was going to a swimming party that day and that she was wearing a swimsuit when he raped her. She stated that it was a pink one-piece swimsuit and that she was wearing blue shorts. The victim described being in the Defendant's bedroom and him bending her over and "humping" her, and the Defendant saying how good it felt. The victim described the Defendant's penis for Ms. Gibson and drew a picture of it. She stated that the Defendant put lotion on his penis. She described the noises the Defendant made.

         During the interview, the victim drew pictures of the Defendant being hanged and wrote, "Die. Die. Die." The victim described the Defendant making her perform oral sex on him and said that she tasted blood while she did so. She described his penis as feeling squishy and said the "stuff" that came out of his penis was white and looked like "milk." The victim described wiping the "stuff" off of her with a towel after it splattered "all over [her] face." After moving from the McKenzie apartment, the victim recalled moving several times. In "Lexington," the victim stated that the Defendant took his pants off and almost raped her, but she asked to go to the bathroom. The Defendant then asked her to massage his back. The victim denied anything had happened except at the apartment in McKenzie. The victim described hearing the Defendant and her mother "humping" loudly in the apartment.

         The victim described touching the Defendant's penis and him making her go "slow" so "stuff" would not come out of it. The victim recalled a trailer in the Pin Oak neighborhood where the victim said the Defendant raped her in the back room of the trailer. The victim said the Defendant used lotion on himself and told her to bend over. She said the Defendant was drunk and that he put his penis in her "private spot" and that it hurt. She stated that her bottom was bleeding.

         Ms. Gibson testified that, during her interview with the victim, the child was "responsive," but Ms. Gibson did not ask the victim leading questions, only follow- up questions.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Gibson stated that it was not unusual for child victims to recant their claim of sexual abuse, simply because they wanted their lives to return to normal. When asked if the victim appeared to be traumatized when discussing the events, Ms. Gibson stated that the victim drew some pictures during the interview that indicated her negative feelings toward the Defendant. Ms. Gibson agreed that the victim was not upset, crying, or screaming during the interview and that she seemed comfortable. Ms. Gibson agreed that, during the interview, the victim referred to another man touching her but did not provide any details so Ms. Gibson did not ask any follow-up questions about the second man. Ms. Gibson stated that if a victim has been "coached" into making his or her accusations, the victim often cannot provide sensory details or answer additional questions. Ms. Gibson confirmed that the victim identified several other family members who were present during these incidents but stated it was not her job to follow-up with those individuals.

         On redirect examination, the State sought to publish the victim's drawings from her interview to the jury, and the Defendant objected on the grounds that they had no probative value. The trial court overruled the objection, concluding that the drawings were probative to the issue of the victim's state of mind, which had been raised during cross-examination of Ms. Gibson. The pictures, drawn by the victim, showed the Defendant and the victim's writing, "You shouldn't be my dad anymore;" "You are the worst dad ever;" "Die, Dad. I hate you;" and "Hate you." In Ms. Gibson's opinion, the drawings were indicative of the victim's trauma. She reiterated that she did not see any evidence of "coaching" when she met with the victim.

         S.C.L., the victim in this case, testified that she was twelve years old at the time of trial. She recalled her interview with Ms. Gibson, which occurred when she was nine years old, almost ten. The victim stated that she had watched the video recording of the interview and that she had been truthful in it. She stated that the "Daddy" she referred to in the video was the Defendant.

         On cross-examination, the victim testified that she lived with her mom who was not present at the trial.

         Investigator David Dowdy testified that he was a criminal investigator for the Henderson County Sheriff's Office. He stated that multiple investigations in other jurisdictions were being conducted on this case during his own investigation due to the fact that the victim had made statements about the abuse occurring in multiple locations in different counties. Investigator Dowdy testified that he observed the victim's forensic interview with Ms. Gibson, at the request of the Lexington Police Department. Investigator Dowdy stated that, during the interview, the victim described incidents with the Defendant in the city of Lexington as well as in the town of McKenzie. He contacted the McKenzie Police Department based on the victim's report of an incident occurring there. In keeping with his jurisdictional authority, Investigator Dowdy was "tasked" with investigating an alleged incident in the Pin Oak area, an area of Henderson County not located within any incorporated city limits.

         Based on his observations of the victim's statements, Investigator Dowdy was able to corroborate some of the facts provided by searching through old police records, specifically a prior instance when the victim's mother called the police regarding a domestic disturbance with the Defendant at a certain address in the Pin Oak area. Investigator Dowdy sought the warrant for the Defendant's arrest in this case, using the date of that incident, October 29, 2012, when the victim claimed the Defendant had sexually assaulted her. Investigator Dowdy stated ...

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