CHASE HALEY BARTON, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee
Opinion By Justice O'Neill
A jury convicted appellant Chase Haley Barton of murdering his girlfriend, Karina Alvarez–Castro. He was sentenced to fifty years' imprisonment. On appeal, he argues the evidence is legally insufficient to support his conviction. We affirm the trial court's judgment.
In the early morning hours of December 4, 2008, appellant called 9–1–1 and told the operator he was showing his girlfriend his gun, and he did not know it was loaded. He said, “We were both looking at it ․ One of us fucked up, I don't know exactly which one of us it was. I'll take the blame for it․” The 9–1–1 operator testified appellant was hard to understand because of slurred speech.
When Officer Julie Banasiak arrived at the apartment, the front door and blinds were shut, which she found odd because when someone reports a shooting, a person is usually standing outside to flag down the officer. She knocked on the door, but no one answered. She heard what sounded like furniture moving and thumping sounds. She knocked and announced again, and appellant opened the door.
Officer Banasiak saw Karina laying on the floor near her own pool of vomit. Physical evidence revealed she had been shot once through the back. The bullet went through her and into the wall of the apartment next door. The bullet, however, was never recovered.
Officer Banasiak found a shell casing under the blanket of appellant's roommate, Chris Graham, who claimed to have slept through the whole incident. She also found a live round next to a couch, a revolver sitting on another couch, and a .380 pistol in an open kitchen drawer.
Appellant told Officer Banasiak the .380 pistol was the gun that shot Karina. He said they were tinkering with the pistol, and when he pulled the trigger, it dry fired. He pulled it again, and it shot Karina. Officer Banasiak testified appellant cooperated the whole time, but he seemed “spaced out” or under the influence of drugs.
Detective Junius Rucker conducted the investigation of the physical evidence. He testified the magazine, which holds the ammunition, was found in the gun. When he removed the magazine, it contained one live round. He also found one round in the chamber. Thus, the .380 pistol was still a loaded weapon when officers found it in the apartment.
Officers took appellant into custody and conducted an interview, which was videotaped. Appellant admitted to smoking “maybe” one blunt during the day; however, he told the interviewing officer he did not feel impaired in any way during the interview. He agreed he was of sound mind and understood everything going on.
During the interview, he first said he never pointed the gun at Karina, which the officer quickly pointed out was impossible based on the physical evidence. Appellant also said he tried to help Karina by moving her so she would not choke on her own vomit. However, his white clothes did not have any vomit or blood stains on them.
He also changed his story regarding where people were sitting or standing in the apartment when the shooting occurred. He originally stated Karina was laying on a couch and he was standing up, which meant he shot the gun at a downward angle. He also indicated he shot her in the chest. The interviewing officer explained that based on the crime scene, Karina was shot in the back and the bullet went through her and into the apartment wall, which meant Karina was not laying on the couch and he was not standing where he indicated. Appellant continued to argue and tried to explain where they were positioned.
During the interview, appellant also made other statements that were untrue based on physical evidence and other testimony. He said an SKS gun was not in his apartment, yet he later testified at trial he was outside with Karina on the night of the shooting showing her how to fire an SKS. He also said he waited outside for officers to arrive; however, Officer Banasiak testified she had to knock and announce twice before appellant answered the door.
He also argued with the officer about whether the bullet went all the way through Karina. He claimed he took her shirt off and checked; however, evidence did not indicate that she had been moved or her shirt removed. Also, appellant's white clothes did not have any blood on them, which would be unlikely if he had tried to remove the shirt of a bleeding gunshot victim.
The jury also heard testimony from Raymond Cooper, a firearms and tool mark examiner with the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, who explained the basic workings of a semi-automatic weapon. He explained the magazine holds the ammunition, and the magazine is placed in the base of the gun. In order for the gun to fire, one has to pull the slide back, which then extracts a cartridge. When the slide is released, it strips the cartridge from the magazine and loads it into the chamber. If the slide is not restricted in any way, it is designed to strip another cartridge from the magazine, load the chamber, and fire. This sequence will continue until the magazine is empty.
To unload a semi-automatic weapon, one must remove the magazine and pull the slide back to insure another cartridge is not in the chamber. If there is one in the chamber, it should be extracted. If a bullet remains in the magazine or chamber, then the gun is not unloaded.
He testified in order to dry fire, the chamber of the gun must be empty. If the magazine is put back in after a dry fire, in order to get a live round back in the chamber, “you'd have to pull the slide back again to strip one off the magazine.”
Dr. Joni McClain, the deputy chief medical examiner, testified Karina bled out from a gunshot wound to the back. The bullet traveled upward right to left and back to front. It went through her lung and heart. She concluded the manner of death was homicide.
Appellant testified in his own defense. While he claimed during his videotaped interview he smoked only a blunt on the day of the shooting, he admitted at trial he was high on marijuana and Xanax and likely took hydrocodone and promethazine codeine syrup. He claimed on the night in question he decided to take Karina out into a field by his apartment and show her how to shoot a gun. He shot the SKS and she shot the .380. Appellant did not tell anyone about these activities during his videotaped interview.
He claimed that once they returned to his apartment, he took the .380 from her and tried to unload it. He said he pulled the slide back, pulled a button to release the clip and then “I went to dry fire it, but when I dry fired it, it went off.” Like his previous interview, he continued to claim Karina was laying on the couch when the gun fired. He also claimed he did not know the gun was loaded and he did not aim it at her.
On cross-examination, appellant claimed he had never handled a gun until 2007. However, the State introduced evidence of a November 15, 2005 conviction for unlawfully carrying a hand gun. The State also questioned his assertions that he tried to move Karina so she would not choke on her own vomit. The State showed pictures of an undisturbed puddle of vomit. Further, the State reminded appellant that Officer Banasiak testified she found Karina laying right by the puddle.
The jury convicted appellant of murder and sentenced him to fifty years' confinement. This appeal followed.
In a single issue, appellant challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction because the State failed to prove he knowingly or intentionally committed murder. In determining whether the evidence is legally sufficient to support a conviction, a reviewing court must consider all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and determine whether, based on that evidence and reasonable inferences, a rational factfinder could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318–19 (1979). This standard gives full play to the responsibility of the factfinder to fairly resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts. Id. at 319. An appellate court will not reassess credibility because the factfinder is the sole judge of a witness's credibility and the weight to be given the testimony. Id.
To prove appellant committed murder, the State was required to show appellant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Karina or intended to cause serious bodily injury and committed an act clearly dangerous to human life that caused Karina's death. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 19.02(b) (West 2011). The penal code defines the culpable mental states as follows:
(a) A person acts intentionally with respect to the nature of his conduct or to a result of his conduct when it is his conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result.
(b) A person acts knowingly with respect to the nature of his conduct or the circumstances surrounding his conduct when he is aware of the nature of his conduct or that the circumstances exist. A person acts knowingly with respect to the result of his conduct when he is aware that his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result.
Id. § 6.03(a), (b) (West 2011).
Intent is most often proven through the circumstantial evidence surrounding the crime, and the jury may infer the requisite intent from the acts, words, and conduct of the accused, and the method of committing the crime and the nature of the wounds inflicted on the victim. Manrique v. State, 994 S.W.2d 640, 649 (Tex.Crim.App.1999) (Meyers, J., concurring); see also Conner v. State, 67 S.W.3d 192, 197 (Tex.Crim.App.2001); Sholars v. State, 312 S.W.3d 694, 703 (Tex.App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2009, pet. ref'd).
While appellant argues the record does not establish his intent to kill Karina, the jury heard sufficient circumstantial evidence to support his conviction. During his videotaped interview, appellant repeatedly changed his story about which couch Karina was laying on and where he was standing when she was shot. The alteration to his story usually occurred after the officer told him the physical evidence did not support his story. The jury could reasonably conclude he changed his story because he had something to hide, which is evidence of his consciousness of guilt. See, e.g., Couchman v. State, 3 S.W.3d 155, 163–64 (Tex.App.—Fort Worth 1999, pet. ref'd).
The jury also heard evidence about loading and unloading a semi-automatic weapon. They could reasonably deduce that if appellant dry fired, which meant the chamber was empty, then he had to slide the slide of the gun back to reload it before attempting to fire the gun again. See, e.g., Johnson v. State, 915 S.W.2d 653, 658 (Tex.App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1996, pet. ref'd) (holding intent shown when defendant loaded gun just before pointing it at victim and shooting him). The physical evidence also revealed that the projection of the bullet was angled up in such a way that appellant was sitting down and Karina was standing up with her back to him. Given that her back was turned and appellant aimed the gun up towards her, the jury could reasonably disbelieve appellant's story that he unloaded the gun, the gun dry fired, and then it accidentally went off again. Further, contrary to his assertions, the physical evidence did not indicate appellant attempted to help Karina after she was shot nor did he respond quickly when Officer Banasiak reached the scene. Rather, she had to knock twice and she heard what sounded like furniture being moved around. Taken together, the circumstantial evidence establishes his intent to commit murder.
While appellant recognizes motive is not an element of murder that must be proven, he argues its presence tends to make it more likely than not that an accused committed a crime. See Sims v. State, 807 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tex.App.—Dallas 1991, pet. ref'd) (“Motive is not a necessary element to sustain a conviction for murder.”). He claims he loved Karina and had no reason to kill her; therefore, his lack of motive tends to prove his innocence. The jury, however, heard this evidence when appellant testified and chose not to believe him. As the sole judge of a witness's credibility and the weight to be given the testimony, we will not reassess credibility. Jackson, 443 U.S. 319.
Having considered the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude a rational trier of fact could conclude appellant intentionally or knowingly caused the death of Karina. Appellant's sole issue is overruled.
The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.
MICHAEL J. O'NEILL JUSTICE