The Indiana Court of Appeals found a trial judge abused his discretion in admitting portions of a defendant’s out-of-court taped police statements, but the appellate panel determined that error was harmless and not reason to reverse the man’s multiple rape and sexual conduct convictions.
Ruling on Imari C. Butler v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1012-CR-775, the appellate court unanimously upheld a ruling by Marion Superior Judge Kurt Eisgruber.
The case involved a woman identified only as B.G., who in April 2009 went to an Indianapolis club with two friends and later ended up alone with a flat tire. She’d given her cell phone to a friend and forgot to get it before they left the club and went separate ways, so B.G. went to pick up her phone later that night. She ended up driving around lost after 2 a.m. before her car hit a pothole and got a flat tire, leading her to a gas station where Imari Butler offered to fix the flat. He then asked for a ride and tried to touch her underwear before B.G. refused and smacked his hand away. Butler became demanding and angry, punching B.G. in the face and ultimately forcing her to give him oral sex in the car. Afterward, she tried to drive away but he then threatened to kill her and had intercourse with B.G. against her will.
B.G. went home and her roommate took her to the hospital. The rape investigation led to police interviewing Butler as a suspect in B.G.’s rape. The police learned Butler was detained on another matter and took him in custody, recording the interview that led to the state’s charging him with several felonies that included rape, criminal deviate conduct, and criminal confinement.
At a two-day jury trial in November 2010, Butler was convicted and sentenced to a total 60-year executed sentence, with the trial judge ordering 56 of those years to be spent in prison and four years in community corrections.
On appeal, Butler argued that the trial judge shouldn’t have admitted portions of his taped police interview with the detective. He’d objected at trial and stated the evidence was inadmissible, but after a redaction hearing the court allowed as evidence those portions referencing prior crimes, the detective's assertions of fact, and the detective's opinions about Butler’s character and guilt.
The appellate court agreed some of those statements should have been redacted, and it cited the case of Smith v. State, 721 N.E.2d 213, 216 (Ind. 1999), that held out-of-courts statements by police offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted aren’t permitted at trial. That is the same issue in this case, and the appellate judges found this evidence shouldn’t have been allowed.
But relying on Wilkes v. State, 917 N.E. 2d 675, 686 (Ind. 2009), the appeals court held that even despite that error, enough evidence also existed to affirm the convictions and so in the broader picture that error was harmless and doesn’t require reversal. Physical and DNA evidence and testimony are sufficient. The judges also noted that Indiana law allows uncorroborated testimony of a sexual-assault crime victim to be sufficient in sustaining a conviction, which the Court of Appeals held in 2006.
“In light of these facts, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting portions of Butler’s taped interview, but we will not reverse Butler’s convictions because the error was harmless,” Judge Patria Riley wrote.