Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rucker v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 15, 2017

CHICO DUWAN RUCKER APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

         ON APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE JAMES D. ISHMAEL, JR., JUDGE NO. 14-CR-01178

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: John Gerhart Landon Assistant Public Advocate Department of Public Advocacy.

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky Joseph Todd Henning Assistant Attorney General Office of the Attorney General.

          OPINION

          HUGHES JUSTICE.

         Appellant, Chico Duwan Rucker, appeals as a matter of right from a judgment of the Fayette Circuit Court sentencing him to twenty years' imprisonment for second-degree manslaughter, tampering with physical evidence, and fraudulent use of a credit card over $500. Rucker alleges the trial court erred in four ways: 1) by permitting the introduction of sexually explicit communications he made after the victim's death; 2) by authorizing the admission of sexually explicit communications he made before the victim's death; 3) by allowing the Commonwealth to introduce hearsay testimony; and 4) by permitting the Commonwealth to show photographs and a video recording depicting the victim's body. Due to the improper admission of Rucker's sexually explicit communications made after the victim's death, we reverse his conviction and remand this case to the trial court for a new trial.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         During the evening of June 28, 2013, Elma Farris discovered another woman's phone number in Rucker's cellular phone. Farris, who was in a romantic relationship with Rucker, became upset and began to attack Rucker while he was asleep in bed. According to Rucker, he pushed Farris away from him, causing her to fall to the floor and hit her head. Afterwards, Rucker gathered some his belongings together and took a cab to spend the evening at an inn.

         The following day, Rucker returned to Farris's apartment and discovered her body. Fearful of notifying the authorities, Rucker wrapped Farris's body in a shower curtain and disposed of it by placing it in a nearby dumpster. Afterwards, Rucker intermittently occupied Farris's apartment and used her debit card to make purchases and cash withdrawals.

         A body was located a week later due to complaints of a foul odor. After Farris's relatives notified the authorities that she had been missing for several days, the body was identified as that of Farris. At the same time, police learned that Rucker and Farris had been romantically involved and living together.

         On the same day that police discovered Farris's body, Rucker was arrested on unrelated traffic warrants. When searched Rucker was found with personal property belonging to Farris, including her cellular phone and debit card. Upon questioning by police, Rucker initially denied knowledge of Farris's disappearance, but he ultimately informed the police about their struggle and his subsequent flight from the apartment. Rucker maintained that Farris's death was an accident and that he was unaware of her death until his return to the apartment the next day.

         Rucker was indicted by the Fayette County grand jury for second-degree manslaughter, tampering with physical evidence, and fraudulent use of a credit card under $500.[1] After a jury trial, he was found guilty of all charges. The jury recommended ten years' imprisonment for second-degree manslaughter and five years' imprisonment for tampering with physical evidence and fraudulent use of a credit card over $500. The jury recommended that those sentences be served consecutively for a total sentence of twenty years' imprisonment, and the trial court sentenced Rucker accordingly. Rucker brings this appeal as a matter of right.

         ANALYSIS

         I. The Trial Court Abused Its Discretion by Permitting the Admission of Irrelevant and Unduly Prejudicial Prior-Bad-Acts Evidence.

         Rucker argues that reversible error occurred when the trial court allowed the Commonwealth to introduce sexually explicit social media exchanges he had with other women after Farris's death.[2] We are compelled to agree.

         In Rucker's opening statement, he explained the process through which he discovered Farris's body. According to Rucker, when he arrived back at the apartment he discovered Farris's body and believed her to be asleep, but quickly realized that she was stiff, had no pulse, and was cold. Consequently, Rucker was "scared to death, " and did not know what to do. When trial resumed the following morning, the Commonwealth sought to introduce in its case-in-chief sexually explicit communications involving Rucker. These sexually explicit images and conversations were exchanged through the use of Facebook-a social media platform. The conversations at issue covered a ten-day period beginning on June 28, 2013, the day of Farris's death, and lasting until July 7, 2013. The Commonwealth's theory of the case was that Rucker killed Farris on June 28 and that he returned to the apartment the following evening.

         The Commonwealth argued that Rucker had opened the door to the admission of this evidence in his opening statement, and that it went to his state of mind. Rucker objected to the introduction of this evidence, claiming that the messages were irrelevant, unduly prejudicial, and improper character evidence under Kentucky Rule of Evidence (KRE) 404(b). The trial court permitted the introduction of this evidence, agreeing with the Commonwealth that the messages went to Rucker's state of mind and that they were not covered by KRE 404(b).

         Subsequently, during the Commonwealth's case-in-chief, Detective Joe Sission, read portions of the Facebook messages sent by Rucker after Farris's death to the jury. It took Detective Sission 'approximately nineteen minutes to read these exchanges. He also showed the jury two explicit photographs that Rucker sent with the messages.

         Contrary to the trial court's ruling, Rucker's Facebook messages were prior-bad-acts evidence and therefore subject to analysis under KRE 404(b). . The relevant portion of KRE 404(b) states as follows,

Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible:
(1) If offered for some other purpose, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.