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Hiles v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

September 13, 2019

REBECCA STANTON HILES APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM BRACKEN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE STOCKTON B. WOOD, JUDGE ACTION NO. 17-CR-00016

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Samuel N. Potter Assistant Public Advocate Frankfort, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Mark D. Barry Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky

          BEFORE: COMBS, GOODWINE, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          GOODWINE, JUDGE.

         Rebecca Hiles ("Appellant") appeals, as a matter of right, her judgment of conviction in the Bracken Circuit Court for criminal facilitation to incest and being a second-degree persistent felony offender. Appellant argues the: (1) Commonwealth failed to meet its burden in proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, she knew and aided in the crime committed; (2) Commonwealth introduced irrelevant, and unduly prejudicial, evidence; and (3) jury instruction presented, failed to adequately state the law of facilitation. Finding no error, we affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 9, 2014, Daniel Hiles and Appellant married. At that time, Appellant had an eleven-year-old daughter, Mary.[1] Daniel, Appellant, and Mary lived together in a trailer for three years. And at some unknown date, Daniel and Mary began having a sexual relationship. Sexual activity usually occurred on nights that Appellant was asleep on a couch in her living room. During this time, Mary would exit her room, motion Daniel to walk to the back of the trailer with her, and the two engaged in sexual intercourse.

         In February 2016, Donna Hurst, a case worker for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services ("Cabinet"), received information regarding possible sexual abuse between Daniel and Mary that occurred the previous month. Due to these allegations, the Cabinet opened an investigation.[2] On February 10, Ms. Hurst arrived at Appellant's trailer with a Kentucky State Police trooper and interviewed Appellant and Daniel. During the interview, Daniel denied any sexual abuse and explained to Ms. Hurst that Mary could be "clingy." Further, Appellant stated she had no concerns with Daniel and Mary. But Appellant also mentioned she would get angry at Daniel for constantly taking up for Mary when she and her daughter would get into fights.

         In a subsequent interview, with only the Appellant, Ms. Hurst informed her that she received information about Mary's sexual abuse in the home. The information included a statement Daniel made to a police officer, stating "What's a guy to do if a girl is putting her hand down his pants?" Appellant made no response to the statement. Once again, Appellant denied all allegations of sexual abuse, and the Cabinet closed the investigation.

         Four months later, Mary was removed from the home-on matters not directly related to this case-and placed in the Cabinet's custody. The Cabinet placed her in the Holly Hill Rehabilitation Facility in Campbell County, Kentucky. While Mary was at Holly Hill, the Cabinet undertook an unrelated investigation, placing limitations on Appellant's and Daniel's visitation with Mary. Initially, Holly Hill restricted family contact, so Mary could acclimate to the new environment. She started home visits, without restrictions, in September. Holly Hill revoked the visits shortly after in November, after receiving a report alleging sex between Daniel and Mary.

         In November 2016, the Cabinet opened its second investigation regarding Daniel's sexual abuse of Mary. The second investigation began after Ms. Hurst received another report of sexual contact between Daniel and Mary. Once again, Ms. Hurst and a state trooper went to the Hiles's trailer to speak with the couple. At that time, Ms. Hurst told Appellant the Cabinet had-once again- received allegations of Daniel's sexual misconduct with Mary. As before, Appellant and Daniel denied knowledge of any sexual abuse of Mary.

         After the second interview, Ms. Hurst discussed implementing a "prevention plan" with Appellant. This plan entailed the following conditions: (1) barred Daniel from having contact with Mary, while she was in the State's custody at Holly Hill; (2) neither Appellant nor Daniel would have any unsupervised contact with Mary until further notice; and (3) prevented Daniel from being the sole caretaker of Mary. After Appellant and Ms. Hurst discussed the prevention plan, she and Daniel acknowledged and signed it. Ms. Hurst also informed Appellant that Mary would undergo a forensic interview at the Child Advocacy Center ("CAC"). In response to this, Appellant asked if Mary was "blaming Daniel for things that happened in the past?"

         During the second investigation, Meagon Patton, a supervisor at the Cabinet, met with Appellant and told her she "had concerns in regard to sexual abuse, with Daniel as the perpetrator and [Mary] as the victim." She further told Appellant that neither she nor Daniel could have contact with Mary until further investigation was completed. Appellant assured Ms. Patton that when Mary was released, the two of them would live in Appellant's Mother's house-and not with Daniel.

         In February 2017, Mary returned home to Appellant, and the two began living in Appellant's Mother's house.[3] At the time of Mary's return, Ms. Hurst told Appellant she believed Mary was being sexually abused by Daniel. She told Appellant that in her own experience, observations, and interviews, she felt there were "too many red flags." Appellant continued expressing her disbelief that anything was happening and told Ms. Hurst that Mary was reporting something that happened in the past.

         Appellant and Mary lived in the house-but not for long. Shortly after Mary's return home, Appellant received a letter, which stated the investigation was determined to be unsubstantiated[4] and Mary could live with Appellant and Daniel once again. At some point, Daniel moved back into the trailer with Appellant and Mary, stating "[The Cabinet] dropped the case on me or something."

         In late February or early March, Appellant sent photographs to her friend, Melinda Phillips, by phone. The photographs showed Mary and Daniel sleeping together on a couch, with Mary lying on top of Daniel. Appellant told Ms. Phillips to send the photos to a social worker-but not until after the 3rd of the month because she needed to "pay her bills and not lose [her other children]."

         In March 2017, Ms. Patton went to the Hileses' trailer because the Cabinet received a third allegation of sexual abuse. Appellant heatedly responded that she "could not believe this was happening," that it was "B.S.," and "nothing was going on." Ms. Patton informed Appellant that she had photographs. She also noticed Appellant had a black eye, which she told Ms. Patton Mary gave her.[5]

         The next morning, Appellant sent a text message to Deputy Bob Scott, [6] stating "[Daniel] admitted it and wants to turn himself in." Before turning himself in, Daniel had sex with the Appellant. After Daniel went to the police station, Deputy Scott interviewed him. During his interviews, Daniel first denied Appellant had knowledge of the sexual misconduct, but later said she did know.[7]

         The Commonwealth charged Appellant with three counts of facilitation to incest. The indictment charged that she "knowingly provided Daniel Hiles the means and opportunity" to commit incest against Mary. At the close of the Commonwealth's case-in-chief, Appellant moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied her motion and declined making findings of fact on the record.[8]Appellant renewed her motion for directed verdict after announcing she would not put on a case. The trial court, once again, denied the motion. A Bracken County jury convicted Appellant on one count of facilitation to incest and one count of persistent felony offender, second degree. It recommended a five-year sentence for facilitation, enhanced to seven years by the persistent felony offense, second degree. On February 23, 2018, the trial court sentenced Appellant, in accordance with the jury's recommendation, and entered its judgment of conviction. This appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         "We review the issues raised by the parties using . . . different standards. Therefore, as we analyze each issue, we set forth the appropriate standards as necessary." Banker v. Univ. of Louisville Athletic Ass'n, Inc., 466 S.W.3d 456, 460 (Ky. 2015).

         This is an appeal of a criminal conviction. In our review, we are charged with addressing three issues: (1) whether the Commonwealth introduced sufficient proof of Appellant's knowledge and providing means and opportunity for the crime committed; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion by allowing certain statements to be introduced at trial; and (3) whether the trial court correctly instructed the jury on the crime of facilitation.

         I. The Commonwealth's Burden of Proof

         Appellant's first argument is the trial court erred by denying her motion for a directed verdict. Generally, the standard of review for motions for directed verdict is as follows:

On motion for directed verdict, the trial court must draw all fair and reasonable inferences from the evidence in favor of the Commonwealth. If the evidence is sufficient to induce a reasonable juror to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, a directed verdict should not be given. For the purpose of ruling on the motion, the trial court must assume that the evidence for the Commonwealth is true, but reserving to the jury questions as to the credibility and weight to be given to such testimony.
On appellate review, the test of a directed verdict is, if under the evidence as a whole, it would be clearly unreasonable for a jury to find guilt, only then the defendant is entitled to a directed verdict of acquittal.

Commonwealth v. Benham, 816 S.W.2d 186, 187 (Ky. 1991). This standard is deferential to the trial court, and reversal is only appropriate if it could be "clearly unreasonable" for the jury to find the defendant guilty. Id. at 186-87. Finally, we base our review on the proof introduced at trial and the elements of the statute defining the offense. Lawton v. Commonwealth, 354 S.W.3d 565, 575 (Ky. 2011).

         For a defendant to be convicted of a crime, the Commonwealth must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of the crime the defendant allegedly committed. Here, Appellant was convicted of criminal facilitation to incest. Under Kentucky law, an individual commits criminal facilitation if "acting with knowledge that another person is committing or intends to commit a crime, he engages in conduct which knowingly provides such person with means or opportunity for the commission of the crime and which in fact aids such person to commit the crime." KRS[9] 506.080.[10]

         Here, based on KRS 506.080, the Commonwealth had to show that Appellant: (1) acted with knowledge that the principal actor is committing, or intends to commit, a crime; and (2) knowingly provided either the means or the opportunity for the principal actor to commit the crime. The factual timeline shows that a "reasonable jury" could find that Appellant committed both elements of the crime.

         First, it was reasonable to conclude Appellant knew Daniel was committing, or intended to commit, incest. The factual record from February 2016 to March 2017, does not bode well for Appellant's defense. The timeline of events below shows how Appellant ...


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