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Hale v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 17, 2019

Nathaniel Hale, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court Cause No. 29D01-1703-F1-2048 The Honorable Steven R. Nation, Judge

          Attorneys for Appellant Jack Kenney Stacy R. Uliana Bargersville, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Tiffany A. McCoy Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          NAJAM, JUDGE.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Nathaniel Hale appeals his convictions for five counts of child molesting, as Level 1 felonies, following a jury trial.[1] Hale presents the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the State presented sufficient evidence to support his convictions.
2. Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it sentenced him.
3. Whether his sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offenses and his character.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] In 2016, Hale became engaged to S.F. Hale moved into S.F.'s home, where she lived with her then-ten-year-old daughter, K.F. One night in September, Hale went into K.F.'s bedroom while she was sleeping. K.F. heard him enter, but she pretended to be asleep. Hale reached under the blanket on K.F.'s bed and put his hand inside K.F.'s pajama pants and underwear. Hale moved his hand and fingers "up and down or in circular motions" on her "private parts," which she later explained referred to her "vagina," and that it "hurt [K.F.] a lot." Tr. Vol. 2 at 207-08. This incident lasted approximately three to six minutes before Hale left the bedroom. About a week later, Hale entered K.F.'s bedroom again while she was sleeping, and he used his fingers to go "up or down or [in] circular motions" on her vagina. Id. at 210.

         [¶4] A week or so after that incident, Hale again entered K.F.'s bedroom while she was sleeping, and he touched her "on [her] private parts" under her underwear "doing the same motions" as before. Id. at 212. Hale also took K.F.'s hand and put her hand on his penis "and made [her] hand go up and down with his hand." Id. After approximately ten minutes, Hale left K.F.'s bedroom.

         [¶5] One night, K.F. fell asleep on a couch in the living room. Hale sat down on the couch next to her and touched K.F.'s vagina under her clothing, and he put his hand on her hand and made her hand move up and down on his penis. While Hale was touching K.F., he asked her whether it felt good and whether she wanted to see his penis. K.F. pretended to be asleep, but she eventually got up and told Hale that she had to go to the bathroom. K.F.'s hands felt wet after touching Hale's penis, so she washed them.

         [¶6] On another occasion in early January 2017, K.F. asked Hale to play a game, and the two were sitting on Hale's bed in his bedroom. K.F. was sitting with her legs crossed in front of her when Hale began moving his fingers up and down her leg. Hale eventually began touching K.F.'s "private parts on the outside of [her] pants," and K.F. got off of the bed to "get away from that." Id. at 218. They stopped playing the game, and K.F. sat down again on the bed. K.F. said she was tired, and she lay down on the bed. At that point, Hale put his hands inside K.F.'s pants and touched her vagina with "up and down" and "circular" motions, and he made her touch his penis. Id. at 219. After several minutes, Hale left the bedroom, and K.F. fell asleep.

         [¶7] One day or so later, when K.F. came home from school, S.F. told her that she and Hale were "taking a break" from their engagement and that Hale "had left" their house for an indefinite period of time. Id. at 220. K.F. felt like it "was a good time" to tell her mother about what Hale had done to her over the past several months. Id. After hearing about the molestations, S.F. contacted law enforcement, and S.F. and K.F. went to stay at K.F.'s grandparents' house. On January 11, K.F. met with a forensic interviewer to discuss the molestations.

         [¶8] The State charged Hale with seven counts of child molesting, five as Level 1 felonies and two as Level 4 felonies. At trial, then-twelve-year-old K.F. described each of the molestations, and a portion of her videorecorded forensic interview was played for the jury. The jury found Hale guilty as charged. The trial court entered judgment of conviction accordingly and sentenced Hale to thirty years for each Level 1 felony conviction (Counts 1-5) and six years for each Level 4 felony conviction (Counts 6 and 7). And the court ordered as follows:

• Counts 1, 2, and 3 shall be served concurrently but consecutive[] to Counts 4 and 5, and to Counts 6 and 7.
• Counts 4 and 5 shall be served concurrently but consecutive[] to Counts 1 through 3, and to Counts 6 and 7.
• Counts 6 and 7 shall be served [concurrently but] consecutive[] to Counts l through 3, and to Counts 4 and 5.

         Thus, the trial court imposed an aggregate term of sixty-six years. This appeal ensued.

         Discussion and Decision

         Issue One: Sufficiency of the Evidence

         [¶9] When reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction, we consider only the probative evidence and reasonable inferences supporting the verdict. Meehan v. State, 7 N.E.3d 255, 257 (Ind. 2014).

"It is the fact-finder's role, not that of appellate courts, to assess witness credibility and weigh the evidence to determine whether it is sufficient to support a conviction. Appellate courts affirm the conviction unless no reasonable fact-finder could find the elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It is therefore not necessary that the evidence overcome every reasonable hypothesis of innocence. [T]he evidence is sufficient if an inference may reasonably be drawn from it to support the verdict."

Id. (quoting Drane v. State, 867 N.E.2d 144, 146-47 (Ind. 2007)). Further, it is well settled that the testimony of a sole child witness is sufficient to sustain a conviction for molestation. Hoglund v. State, 962 N.E.2d 1230, 1238 (Ind. 2012).

         [¶10] To prove the five counts of child molesting, as Level 1 felonies, as charged, the State was required to show that on five occasions Hale, who was at least twenty-one years old, performed "other sexual conduct" with K.F., who was under the age of fourteen. Ind. Code § 35-42-4-3(a)(1) (2018). To prove "other sexual conduct" as charged here, the State was required to show that Hale used his hand or finger to penetrate the sex organ of K.F. I.C. § 35-31.5-2-221.5. Our Supreme Court recently held that "proof of the slightest penetration of the sex organ, including penetration of the external genitalia, is sufficient to demonstrate a person performed other sexual []conduct with a child." Boggs v. State, 104 N.E.3d 1287, 1289 (Ind. 2018) (emphasis added).

         [¶11] Hale contends that the State presented insufficient evidence to prove that his hand or finger penetrated the sex organ of K.F. In particular, Hale maintains that the evidence is insufficient to show penetration because: K.F., who was twelve years old at the time of trial, "had the capability of describing any penetration by Hale's fingers or hand if it had occurred, but she did not"; "the record is devoid of any medical or physical evidence of penetration"; and, while K.F. described pain after the molestations, she did not attribute that pain to penetration of her genitalia. Appellant's Br. at 18. Hale acknowledges that child witnesses are not required to give a detailed anatomical description of penetration, but he asserts that "K.F.'s vague and equivocal testimony here fell far short of meeting the element of penetration[.]" Id. at 19. We cannot agree.

         [¶12] At trial, K.F. testified in relevant part as follows:

Q: Okay. [During the first incident, ] was [Hale's] hand inside your pants or inside your underwear, or both?
A: Both. It was inside both.
Q: Okay. And what did you feel?
A: I felt that [Hale's] hand was moving and like, almost like up and down or like circular motions.
Q: And where was it moving up and down or in circular motions?
A: My private parts.
** *
Q: Is there another word that you use for your ...

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