Sentence upheld for man convicted of beating pregnant girlfriend

A man who beat his pregnant girlfriend and urged her to change her story and not testify against him did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals to reverse his sentence and convictions.

Thaddaus Scott was charged with various crimes, including battery resulting in bodily injury to a pregnant woman, after he beat his girlfriend, Maria Cook, after an argument. When Cook threw a flowerpot off a balcony during the argument, Scott became angered and punched Cook multiple times in the face until she fell.

Scott continued to strike Cook and eventually grabbed her by the hair and dragged her from the balcony inside the house, continuing to strike her and threatening to kill her. While Scott was in jail, he continuously contacted Cook, despite a no-contact order, and pressed her to change her story so his case would be dismissed. He also urged her not to appear for depositions and at trial.

When Cook failed to appear during the first scheduled trial date, the trial court found that the state had met its burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that Cook was not present because of Scott’s wrongdoing. It then ruled that it would allow her statements to law enforcement to be introduced into evidence through the testimony of Officer Phillip Short and Detective Jason Ross.

Cook did not appear Scott’s jury trial, and both Ross and the state were unsuccessful in their attempts to contact her. The trial court proceeded to question Short and Ross about Cook’s statements that identified Scott as the person who caused her injuries, overruling Scott’s objections.

Scott was ultimately found guilty of Level 5 felony battery resulting in bodily injury to a pregnant woman, Level 5 felony obstruction of justice, and 30 counts of Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy. He received an aggregate 10½-year sentence.

In an appeal of the trial court’s decision, Scott argued the admission of Cook’s statements to Short and Ross violated his Sixth Amendment confrontation rights. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals found his argument unpersuasive in two ways.

First, the appellate court concluded that although the forfeiture by wrongdoing doctrine under the Confrontation Clause and the hearsay exception are very similar in theory, Scott failed to make an argument that the hearsay analysis was relevant in his case. It then concluded that Scott’s conduct in repeatedly urging Cook to change her story and not attend depositions or trial was designed in part to keep her from testifying against him.

The appellate court also found sufficient evidence to support Scott’s conviction for obstruction of justice, pointing out that there was “a clear indication that something would happen if Cook failed to comply with Scott’s requests: namely, that he would not get out of jail and she would still be working tirelessly caring for two children without his help.”

“The facts in (McElfresh v. State, 51 N.E.3d 103 (Ind. 2016)) are similar to the instant case,” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the appellate court. “Here, we have a much louder drumbeat of pressure — the sheer number of phone calls that clearly spell out the consequences if Cook failed to do as Scott demanded.”

Finding that a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that the pressure from repeated phone calls and the statement made by Scott was coercive, the appellate court concluded there was sufficient evidence to prove the required base elements of obstruction of justice.

Thus, Scott’s sentence and convictions were affirmed in Thaddaus Scott v. State of Indiana,19A-CR-516.

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