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.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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.
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
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.
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.
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. 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.
The Trial Court Abused Its Discretion by Permitting the
Admission of Irrelevant and Unduly Prejudicial Prior-Bad-Acts
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. We are compelled to agree.
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.
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
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.
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 ...