Convictions for a man who attempted to murder his best friend have been upheld after the Indiana Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion in admitting statements under the excited utterance exception, or when it allowed the state to ask the victim leading questions due to his injuries.
After a night of drinking on New Year’s Eve in 2017, Cody Stinson and his girlfriend, along with half-brother Shane Hobbs and best friend Mark McVay, left a bar they had been asked to. As they were driving away, Stinson reached from the vehicle’s backseat and proceeded to stab McVay several times, leaving him slumped over and bleeding profusely.
Upon arriving at Hobbs’ home, everyone exited the car, leaving an unresponsive McVay in the front seat. Hobbs rushed Stinson’s girlfriend inside his home for safety, and then jumped back into the car and locked the door, leaving Stinson in the yard. After driving to a mortuary to ask for help, Hobbs called 911. McVay ultimately survived after emergency personal transported him to a trauma center, leaving him with limited ability to speak and no use of his right hand.
Stinson was found guilty of Level 1 felony attempted murder and Level 5 felony battery with a deadly weapon. He was also found to be a habitual offender, receiving an aggregate 66-year sentence.
In appealing his convictions, Stinson argued that the Allen Superior Court abused its discretion when it admitted Hobbs’ out-of-court statements as recounted in court by Hobbs’ girlfriend, contending that they were inadmissible hearsay that did not fall within the excited utterance exception.
The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed, however, noting that there was a foundation for the finding because it was “clearly a startling event.”
“There is little doubt that these four friends, who were celebrating New Year’s Eve together, did not expect that, at the end of the evening, Stinson would have stabbed his best friend,” Judge James S. Kirsch wrote for the court.
It concluded that Hobbs’ statement to his girlfriend that McVay had been stabbed and to call 911 was made under the stress or excitement caused by the stabbing. The appellate court also found Hobbs’ statement that “The kid’s dying … in your car” to be an excited utterance based on when and why they were made.
However, Stinson continued with a second assertion that the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed the state to ask McVay leading questions during direct examination — despite not objecting to such questioning prior to appeal.
The appellate court found that allowing McVay to simply answer “yes” or “no” regarding the injuries he sustained from the stabbing was not an abuse of discretion. It further pointed out that even if Stinson had objected, it would have been overruled.
“Stinson knew that McVay was seriously disabled, had limited speech, and could only answer questions with a yes or no,” Kirsch wrote. “… Given the fact that McVay’s injuries limited his ability to communicate, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it allowed the State to ask McVay leading questions during direct examination.”
The case is Cody A. Stinson v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2925.