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Chambless v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

February 12, 2019

Cody J. Chambless, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Allen Superior Court The Honorable John F. Surbeck, Jr., Judge Trial Court Cause No. 02D06-1801-F5-1

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Nicholas F. Wallace Deputy Public Defender Leonard, Hammond, Thoma & Terrill Fort Wayne, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana J.T. Whitehead Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          KIRSCH, JUDGE.

         [¶1] Cody J. Chambless ("Chambless") appeals his convictions for Level 5 felony domestic battery, [1] Level 6 felony domestic battery, [2] and Level 6 felony strangulation[3] arising from the assault of his girlfriend ("K.B.") He raises three evidentiary issues and one sufficiency of evidence issue, which we restate as follows:

I. Regarding admission of evidence, whether the trial court: (A) committed fundamental error in admitting K.B.'s 911 phone call into evidence; (B) abused its discretion in admitting K.B.'s statement to the medic who treated her that Chambless was her attacker; and (C) abused its discretion in admitting the jail phone conversation between Chambless and K.B. in which K.B. accused Chambless of choking her; and
II. Whether sufficient evidence supports Chambless's convictions.

         We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Chambless was K.B.'s boyfriend. Tr. Vol. 1 at 24. On Christmas day of 2017,

K.B. was living with Chambless in an Allen County apartment. Id. at 24-25. K.B. was working ninety-six hours per pay period as a cook at the Pilot truck stop while Chambless was unemployed. Id. at 25. K.B. worked Christmas Eve from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. Christmas morning. Id. at 26. She arrived home at about 7:25 or 7:30 a.m.; Chambless was at home watching television and drinking. Id. K.B. put on her pajamas and rested for a few hours, and when she awoke, Chambless was still drinking. Id.

         [¶3] K.B. was tired of Chambless's drinking, which she described as an everyday occurrence: "every time I come home he's drinking, every time I wake up before work, he's drinking . . . . So he was drinking and that really upset me." Id. at 26-27. They argued and fought; K.B. threatened to leave Chambless, warning him that it was "his drinking or me." Id. at 27. During the fight, Chambless punched holes in the wall and broke a door on an upstairs bathroom. Id. at 27-28; State's Ex. 6, 8. The fight occurred around 10:10 a.m. Id. at 52.

         [¶4] K.B. ran from the apartment to a BP gas station two or three blocks away. Tr. Vol. 1 at 28-29, 48. Even though it was cold outside, K.B., in her haste, did not don a winter coat or boots, instead wearing only a shirt, pants, and regular shoes. Id. 28-29, 53. When she arrived at the BP station, K.B. told the employees about the fight, and they called 911 for her. Id. at 28-29. During the call, K.B. told the police that Chambless had beaten her. Id. at 28. She also said that she was having trouble breathing. Id. at 30. Her breathing sounded labored and wheezy. See State's Ex. 1.

         [¶5] Medics, including Marah Bradbury ("Medic Bradbury"), responded to the 911 call and tended to K.B. at the gas station by checking her blood pressure and pulse. Tr. Vol. 1 at 30, 47. K.B. told Medic Bradbury that Chambless had assaulted her. Id. at 30, 48. Offering more details, K.B. said that Chambless slapped her in the face and strangled her with his hands, making her feel like she would faint. Id. at 48. K.B. also told Medic Bradbury that she escaped Chambless "just in time" and ran to the gas station to call for help. Id. Medic Bradbury observed abrasions to each side of K.B.'s jaw and a bruise on the bottom of K.B.'s neck. Id. at 47.

         [¶6] Police officers, including Officer Robert Geiger of the Fort Wayne Police Department ("Officer Geiger"), also responded to the 911 call, arriving at the BP station around 10:30 a.m. Id. at 36, 51-52. K.B. was still upset and crying when she spoke with Officer Geiger; she told him that she was still afraid. Id. at 37, 51. K.B. told the officers that Chambless had strangled her. Id. at 36. Officer Geiger observed redness around K.B.'s neck. Id. at 53. Later that day, K.B. spoke to Detective Michael Epps of the Fort Wayne Police Department ("Detective Epps"), and likewise told him that Chambless had choked her. Id. at 40, 57. Detective Epps observed a scratch on K.B.'s neck and swelling on her left cheek. Id. at 57.

         [¶7] The State charged Chambless with three counts: Count I, Level 5 felony domestic battery with a prior domestic battery conviction where K.B. was the victim; Count II, Level 6 felony domestic battery with a prior domestic battery conviction where someone other than K.B. was the victim; and Count III, Level 6 felony strangulation. Appellant's App. Vol. II at 14-18.

         [¶8] Chambless was initially incarcerated at the Allen County Jail. Upon placement there, inmates such as Chambless receive a packet that tells them that the jail monitors inmate phone calls. Tr. Vol. 1 at 61-62. The same information is posted in every cell block. Id. at 62. When an inmate uses a jail phone, an audio recording reminds the inmate that the phone call is monitored. Id. On December 26, 2017, while Chambless was in jail, he and K.B. spoke on the phone about their fight from the previous night. Id. at 65, 70; State's Ex. 11. In their conversation, K.B. told Chambless: "you strangled the fuck" out of me. Tr. Vol. 1 at 70; State's Ex. 11.

         [¶9] At Chambless's jury trial, the State tendered, and the trial court admitted, an audio recording of K.B.'s 911 call without objection from Chambless. Tr. Vol. 1 at 22-23. The trial court also admitted, this time over Chambless's hearsay objection, the audio recording of Chambless's phone call from jail to K.B. Id. at 63-65; 70; State's Ex. 11. The State tendered Exhibit 11 through Corporal Jeff Kroemer of the Allen County Sheriff's Department, who operated the phone system at the Allen County Jail, and who listened to the conversation between Chambless and K.B. The exhibit was published to the jury. Tr. Vol. 1 at 66.

         [¶10] The State also elicited testimony, over Chambless's objection, from Medic Bradbury, who recounted K.B.'s statements to Medic Bradbury that Chambless had assaulted K.B. by striking her and choking her and that she had escaped "just in time" to run to the gas station for help. Id. at 30, 40-41, 46-49.

         [¶11] When K.B. testified, she recanted her allegation that Chambless had assaulted her. She said Chambless had not choked her but that she had choked herself, explaining:

[K.B.]: Because I was just tired of everything, I'm tired of the stress and going through everything. I was to the point where I was just ready to end my life. I lost my daughter six (6) years ago, towards, four (4) days before Christmas, and living with that, it hurts. I've never gotten help for it. I don't know if I ever will.

. . . .

[Defense counsel]: Okay. We just heard on the 911 call, as [the deputy prosecutor] said, that you told them my boyfriend assaulted me. Why would you tell them that?
[K.B.]: Cause I was just tired of everything, the stress, everything going on at home, him drinking, him not working. I'm the only one paying the bills. Yeah, he goes on Craigslist and sells his stuff, trade his stuff to help out, yeah. It helps out with the food and everything, and cigarettes, but it's - the bigger picture I'm looking at . . . bills, somewhere for us to live, and a roof over our head, and it's just all the stress and everything. I ...

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