Evidence including a Facebook message sent to a 15-year-old girl was properly admitted in the trial of a man convicted of sexually abusing her at knifepoint, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The court affirmed Class A and Class B felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor in Charles R. Strunk v. State of Indiana, 47A01-1411-CR-487. A jury in Lawrence County convicted Strunk and sentenced him to 54 years in prison after hearing evidence that included a Facebook message Strunk sent his victim, whose family was friends with him.
Prior to sending the message, Strunk appeared at J.B.’s home after she said she wanted him to take her mushroom hunting sometime. He led her to nearby woods where he brandished a knife and forced her to strip. He drew symbols on her body with a Sharpie before forcing her to engage in oral sex, according to the record. At some point, J.B.’s sister called for her, and she told Strunk she had to check on her. On the way back, Strunk had a seizure.
A few hours later, Strunk sent a Facebook message reading, "im sorry about what happened. But if yoi possibly can we need to finish the ritual. Untill we do i must suffer the aftermath of it all. That is what caused the seizures. And it will only get worse from there. So please save me from this suffering. Please I beg of you.”
The victim then reported she had been molested, after which Strunk was charged and convicted. On appeal, Strunk challenged admission of the Facebook post and trial court rulings that limited his cross-examination of J.B. and the court’s refusal to admit the entire recording of Strunk’s conversation with a deputy.
Strunk argued the evidence would have included allegations that the victim smoked marijuana after she was examined by a sexual assault nurse examiner and that Strunk alleged the victim was upset because he threw out her marijuana.
“The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it limited Strunk’s cross-examination of J.B., admitted Strunk’s Facebook message to J.B., or admitted only an excerpt of Strunk’s statement to the police,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel. “We accordingly affirm.”
Strunk waived the argument over his entire statement not being admitted, but even if he hadn’t, the trial court’s ruling would be valid because Strunk did not argue that there was a misleading impression created by admitting just an excerpt of his statement, the court held. Likewise, the court properly limited his cross-examination.
“There is no evidence J.B.’s smoking of a single marijuana cigarette six to seven hours after the molestation impaired her perception, ability to remember, or ability to testify about the molestation,” May wrote.
The Facebook message was properly admitted under the authentication standard in Indiana Rule of Evidence 901: “To satisfy the requirement of authenticating or identifying an item of evidence, the proponent must produce evidence sufficient to support a finding that the item is what the proponent claims it is.”