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Stepherson v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

February 28, 2017


         On Appeal from the 230th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1417457

          Panel consists of Justices Jamison, Wise, and Jewell.


          Martha Hill Jamison, Justice

         A jury convicted appellant Demarkice Demond Stepherson of manslaughter and further determined that he used a deadly weapon in committing the offense. The trial court sentenced appellant to fifteen years in prison. In two issues, appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support both his conviction and the deadly weapon finding. Concluding that the evidence was sufficient to establish appellant's guilt and that he used his hands as a deadly weapon, we affirm.


         Appellant was charged with causing the death of his cousin Stanley Rice by striking him with his hands. At trial, several eyewitnesses testified to an altercation between the two men occurring on February 9, 2014. At that time, appellant lived at his great-grandmother's house along with at least two younger cousins, K.L. and T.L., and K.L.'s mother, Brittany Paley. Rice had previously lived in the home, but apparently had been told not to return. On the day in question, Rice's former girlfriend, Sheila Cunningham, drove him to the house to retrieve some of his possessions. When they arrived, Rice opened the garage door to collect his items.

         K.L. testified that from inside the house, he heard the garage door rise and went to look out a window. K.L. talked briefly to Rice through the window and then went to tell Paley, who was also in the house, that Rice was outside. According to K.L., appellant overheard this and immediately put on his shoes and went outside. When K.L. followed appellant outside, he saw appellant jump at Rice and strike him twice in the face with his fist. The blows caused Rice to fall to the ground, and appellant then got on top of Rice and continued to strike Rice in the head and body with his fists. K.L. attempted unsuccessfully to pull appellant off of Rice. K.L warned appellant that the police were on the way, and appellant responded, "I'm not getting up till the police come." Eventually, Paley pulled appellant off of Rice by the neck, and Rice got up and walked away. According to K.L., Rice had a busted lip, a cut under his eye, and was bleeding from his nose.

         T.L. testified that when he came outside after hearing screaming, he saw appellant on top of Rice, striking Rice in the head with his fists. Appellant said, "Why are you talking about my grandma? She['s] in the hospital sick."

         Paley was called to testify by the defense. She stated that she told Rice to leave, but he said he needed to "get some clothes or something." She then attempted to call her aunt about the situation when Rice and appellant began fighting. She said that appellant "jumped" Rice, but she did not actually see who threw the first punch. She insisted, however, that they were hitting each other and that it was not just appellant hitting Rice. She yelled at them both to stop and eventually broke up the fight, grabbing appellant and pulling him off of Rice.

         Cunningham testified that after she and Rice arrived at the house, appellant came out of the house and confronted Rice before striking Rice with his fists. When Rice fell, appellant got on top of Rice and continued striking Rice with his fists, mostly on the head and face. Cunningham heard appellant say, "You were talking about my granny." Cunningham screamed for appellant to stop and told him she had called the police. When Rice finally got up, he and Cunningham left the property. Rice said he was afraid and wanted to leave. According to Cunningham, Rice had a busted lip, a swollen eye, and several cuts and bruises, and he appeared to be in pain and very upset. They waited a short distance away for the police to arrive. After speaking to the police, Cunningham drove Rice to a friend's house. She and the friend urged Rice to go to the hospital, but he refused, saying that he already had a doctor's appointment scheduled for the next day.

         Officer Duy Nguyen of the Houston Police Department testified that when he met with Rice and Cunningham, Rice appeared to have fresh wounds, including a bruised eye that had blood in it and a swollen lip. There was blood on Rice's face and sweater, and Rice was holding a rag to his head to stop the bleeding. Nguyen offered to call an ambulance, but Rice refused the offer. Photographs of Rice that Nguyen took that day were introduced into evidence.

         Major Wright testified that Cunningham brought Rice back to his residence after the altercation. Rice would not eat anything and just wanted to sleep. The following day, Wright checked on Rice around noon, and he appeared to be doing better. However, when Wright came back around 3:00 p.m., Rice was lying on the floor. His body was cold, but Wright said that at first he detected a faint pulse. But, when Wright checked a second time, he detected no pulse, so he called an ambulance. Rice was pronounced dead at the scene.

         HPD Officers Heidi Dougherty and Juan Ramos testified that they transported appellant to the Homicide Division's headquarters. As they were walking him to their patrol vehicle, appellant said, "Y'all act like I murdered [him]." Appellant also said, "He talked about my grandma, so I whooped his ass."

         Appellant's videotaped statement was also played for the jury. In the statement, appellant confirmed much of the other witnesses' descriptions of the altercation, including that he hit Rice twice, knocking him to the ground, and then got on top of him and continued to hit him after he fell. Appellant stated that he felt Rice "was trespassing at my house, " and "if someone raise[s] your garage up, pow, you can shoot them because that's on your property." Appellant further explained that the "whole family" was mad at Rice because he had failed to pay rent when he lived at the grandmother's house. Appellant was mad at Rice, so he didn't stop hitting Rice even with others trying to pull him off. He also insisted that Rice was trying to throw him off or "flip" him, so he kept hitting Rice. He said that he thought he would beat Rice, and Rice would leave and not come back. Appellant asserted that if not pulled off of ...

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