ALBERT RIDGEWAY v. THE STATE OF TEXAS

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Court of Appeals of Texas, Texarkana.

ALBERT RIDGEWAY, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

No. 06-17-00013-CR

Decided: August 23, 2017

Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Albert Ridgeway was convicted by a jury of aggravated sexual assault of a child and was sentenced to twenty-five years' imprisonment. Ridgeway's sole point of error on appeal alleges that the evidence is insufficient to establish his guilt.1 Because we conclude otherwise, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

I. Standard of Review

The standards for a legal sufficiency review are well known and were fully set forth by the Waco Court of Appeals in Reyes v. State, as follows:

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 therefrom, a rational fact[-]finder could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318–19, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); Hooper v. State, 214 S.W.3d 9, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). This “familiar standard gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of fact fairly to resolve conflicts in the testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.” Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781. “Each fact need not point directly and independently to the guilt of the appellant, as long as the cumulative force of all the incriminating circumstances is sufficient to support the conviction.” Hooper, 214 S.W.3d at 13.

Reyes v. State, 422 S.W.3d 18, 23 (Tex. App.—Waco 2013, pet ref'd) (quoting Lucio v. State, 351 S.W.3d 878, 894 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011)).

“The Court of Criminal Appeals has also explained that our review of ‘all of the evidence’ includes evidence that was properly and improperly admitted.” Id. (quoting Conner v. State, 67 S.W.3d 192, 197 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001)). “And if the record supports conflicting inferences, we must presume that the fact[-]finder resolved the conflicts in favor of the prosecution and therefore defer to that determination.” Id. (citing Jackson, 443 U.S. at 326). “Further, direct and circumstantial evidence are treated equally: ‘Circumstantial evidence is as probative as direct evidence in establishing the guilt of an actor, and circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to establish guilt.’ ” Id. (quoting Hooper, 214 S.W.3d at 13). “Finally, it is well established that the fact[-]finder is entitled to judge the credibility of witnesses and can choose to believe all, some, or none of the testimony presented by the parties.” Id. (citing Chambers v. State, 805 S.W.2d 459, 461 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991)).

The State's indictment alleged that Ridgeway, on or about July 14, 2004, knowingly caused the penetration of the mouth of Amanda R.,2 a child who was then and there younger than six years of age, by Ridgeway's sexual organ. Pointing to conflicting evidence in the record, including a ten-year delay in making an outcry, Ridgeway argues that Amanda, whom Ridgeway pointed out loved drama class, made a “false accusation” founded on “statements of a theater fanatic.”

II. The Evidence at Trial

Amanda, who was seventeen years old at the time of trial, testified that Ridgeway sexually abused her when she was five years old. Amanda said that the abuse occurred when she was left in Ridgeway's care while her mother and step-father went on their honeymoon. Amanda told the jury that on more than one occasion, Ridgeway showed her pornography and caused her to “do the things that were happening in the pornography to him.” Specifically, she testified that she performed oral sex on Ridgeway on more than one occasion.

Although the incident occurred during her early childhood years and seemed like a dream, Amanda was certain that the event had occurred. She testified,

It was always in my mind, but I just didn't think it could be something that could have happened because I thought me and the defendant were really close and he wouldn't do something like that, must be a weird imagination. So I had always pushed it to the back of my mind, but it had always kind of stayed there.

Amanda made her outcry at the age of fifteen when her memory resurfaced during a psychology class lecture regarding sexual abuse. Although she was in drama club and enjoyed acting, she testified that she was not playing a role during her testimony.

William Potter, a detective with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, heard Amanda's outcry during a forensic interview. Potter testified that Amanda identified Ridgeway as the person who made her watch pornographic videos and “kiss his pee-pee.” During the interview, Amanda told Potter that she performed oral sex on Ridgeway once so he would allow her to play in a treehouse and again in exchange for marshmallow jelly beans.

Amanda's mother, Emily, testified that Ridgeway dated her mother and that Amanda was left alone with Ridgeway on occasion. Emily testified that around the time Amanda was five years old, Amanda told her that she had a dream in which Ridgeway “had asked her to kiss his pee-pee.” Emily testified that she felt sick, did not know what to do, and decided to speak to her mother about the incident instead of informing authorities so as not to “make a false accusation.” According to Emily, Amanda did not make any further outcry until she was fifteen years old.

Conflicting evidence was also presented at trial. Ridgeway testified in his own defense and denied any sexual abuse of Amanda. In addition, according to Potter, Amanda had also discussed the allegations with her mother and had asked her, “[H]ow do I know when a dream is not a dream.” During Amanda's cross-examination, the following transpired:

Q. [By Ridgeway's Counsel] But now you're saying you knew it was not a dream, correct?

A. Correct. Now that I'm sure of myself I know it's not a dream.

Q. Well, you were sure of yourself about 30 minutes ago when you talked to [the prosecutor], right?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Okay. And that's when you referred to it as being -- you thought it might be a dream, correct?

A. Correct. That's when the original discussion had happened, but now in the present I know it wasn't a dream. But a couple of years back I was debating with myself just because recurring dreams are a thing.

Q. Okay. So now we're talking about recurring dreams. So this has been a dream that has recurred in your mind over time?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. You've had this dream on many occasions about ․ [Ridgeway], allegedly sexually abusing you, correct?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And a dream is not reality, correct?

A. Correct.[3]

At trial, Amanda also testified that she began seeing counselors when she was twelve years old and, after a counseling session, claimed to remember occurrences of domestic abuse between Erica and Amanda's biological father which allegedly happened when she was one or two years old. She further testified that she had accidentally seen pornography at her biological father's house when she was eight or nine years old and that a Child Protective Services (CPS) report had been made against her father after he lifted her shirt to look at her bra.

Pointing to (1) his testimony, (2) evidence that Amanda had seen pornography at her father's house, (3) Amanda's statements about her memory and the difference between a dream and reality, (4) evidence that Amanda was a troubled teenager who had been in counseling since she was twelve, (4) Amanda's love of theater, and (5) the fact that the CPS investigation against Amanda's father was closed, Ridgeway argues that the evidence is legally insufficient to support his conviction.

III. Legally Sufficient Evidence Supported the Jury's Finding of Guilt

The application portion of Ridgeway's brief is approximately one page long. In general terms, he argues that “the circumstances surrounding the extremely delayed outcry were very suspicious.” Essentially, Ridgeway's brief presents a credibility argument. However, “[t]he jury is the exclusive judge of the credibility of witnesses and of the weight to be given testimony, and it is also the exclusive province of the jury to reconcile conflicts in the evidence.” Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000).

Amanda testified that she performed oral sex on Ridgeway. Article 38.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states:

(a) A conviction under ․ Section 22.021, Penal Code, is supportable on the uncorroborated testimony of the victim of the sexual offense if the victim informed any person, other than the defendant, of the alleged offense within one year after the date on which the offense is alleged to have occurred.

(b) The requirement that the victim inform another person of an alleged offense does not apply if at the time of the alleged offense the victim was a person:

(1) 17 years of age or younger ․

TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. ANN. art. 38.07 (West Supp. 2016). Emily's testimony of statements made by Amanda when she was five years old could have been considered by the jury as lending credibility to Amanda's statements. In this case, as the fact-finder, the jury chose to believe Amanda and to disbelieve Ridgeway. Our task is to determine simply whether the jury had sufficient evidence to support the verdict.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude that a rational jury could find that Ridgeway committed the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we find the evidence legally sufficient to support the jury's finding of guilt.

III. Conclusion

We affirm the trial court's judgment.

FOOTNOTES

1.   Originally appealed to the Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco, this case was transferred to this Court by the Texas Supreme Court pursuant to its docket equalization efforts. See TEX. GOV'T CODE ANN. § 73.001 (West 2013). We follow the precedent of the Tenth Court of Appeals in deciding this case. See TEX. R. APP. P. 41.3.

2.   We will refer to the minor victims and their immediate family members by pseudonyms pursuant to Rule 9.10(a)(3) of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure. See TEX. R. APP. P. 9.10(a)(3).

3.   Lawrence Thompson, Jr., the director of therapy and psychological services at the Harris County Children's Assessment Center, did not interview Amanda, but testified generally that children do not dream of sexual behaviors without being exposed to them. We note, however, that Amanda did not testify when she began having dreams involving the sexual abuse.

Bailey C. Moseley Justice