Despite victim’s claim of being angry, not scared, COA upholds stalking conviction

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Despite a victim’s claim on the stand that she was angry at her alleged stalker, not scared of him, sufficient evidence supported the man’s stalking conviction, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

In Joseph T. Buti v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1364, appellant-defendant Joseph Buti shared a child with K.P., but the two lived separately during the relevant time. That included Dec. 6, 2019, when K.P. was driving with Tristen Snider in her car.

K.P. took a wrong turn on the route to Snider’s home, telling him that her “baby daddy” was behind them. She could see Buti driving next to them, “swerving all around[,] trying to cut in front of [them and] slam on the brakes in front of [them] to get [K.P.] to stop.”

K.P. slammed on her brakes and turned left, then called 911 and drove to the South Bend Police Department. Buti stopped following K.P. when she got close to the police station, but he called her and “talked about how he was going to shoot up the car, kill [K.P.] and who was with her; and he said he was going to shoot up her house, kill her and their daughter.”

When K.P. and Snider made it to the police station, she told officer Dalton Stroupe that “she was scared to go home [and] that the situation was nerve-wracking.” She then headed for Snider’s house, where Buti arrived with two others, including a man who smashed the back window of Snider’s car with a brick.

Later that month, while Snider was at his job at Walmart, he saw Buti following K.P. around the store. He also followed Snider into an employee-only area of the store, getting in Snider’s face and shoving him. The police were called, and K.P. and Snider sought a protective order.

Then in March 2020, police received a call that someone was threatening K.P. She told a responding officer that if Buti killed her, “please tell my daughter I love her.”

Two days later, Buti broke a window at her home. The next day, K.P. called 911 to report that Buti “was in her backyard ‘banging’ on her windows” and that she was hiding in her bathroom.

Later that same day, K.P. called police again because Buti had broken into her bedroom with a gun while she was sleeping. She reported that she had fled to her car but was being chased, with Buti shooting as she tried to get away. He eventually stopped pursuing her and police met K.P. at her house.

The state subsequently charged Buti with Level 5 felony stalking and Level 6 felony counts of intimidation, residential entry and criminal recklessness.

However, K.P. testified for Buti at trial and said she “wasn’t scared [but] was more angry.” She also testified that “[she] never felt that [Buti] would actually hurt [her] or anything around [her] or [her] daughter.” Additionally, she claimed she was the one who chased him in her car.

Even so, a jury found Buti guilty of stalking and intimidation but not guilty of the remaining charges. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of three years for stalking and one year for intimidation, suspended, and placed on probation for two years.

On appeal, Buti challenged only his stalking conviction, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support it. He specifically pointed to K.P.’s testimony that she was more angry than scared and that she was the one who had chased him, among other claims she made on the stand.

But in rejecting Buti’s sufficiency challenge, the COA pointed to testimony from the officers who responded to K.P.’s 911 calls. Those officers testified that K.P. was visibly upset, sobbing, anxious and/or scared each time police responded to her calls about Buti.

“Although K.P. was the victim, a victim’s testimony is no different from that of any other witness, and the jury ‘must consider all the evidence presented at trial,’” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the unanimous appellate panel, quoting Ludy v. State, 784 N.E.2d 459, 461-42 (Ind. 2003).

“… K.P.’s demeanor and statements to police, her decisions to call 911, and her statements to dispatch are probative evidence supporting an inference that she actually felt terrorized, frightened, intimidated, or threatened by Buti’s conduct,” Crone wrote. “Buti’s argument is merely an invitation to reweigh the evidence, which we must decline.

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