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Atkinson v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

March 16, 2017

ALFONSO ATKINSON, Appellant,
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee.

         On appeal from the 156th District Court of Live Oak County, Texas.

          Before Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Longoria.

          OPINION

          NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ Justice.

         Appellant Alfonso Atkinson appeals his conviction for manslaughter. By one issue, Atkinson argues that there is insufficient evidence to show that he was reckless in causing the death of Calvin Jacob Rathel. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Shortly after 6:00 P.M. on the evening of January 14, 2015, Rathel appeared at the front door of Deanna Talbot's home in Lagarto, Texas. Talbot's granddaughter Dallas opened the door and found Rathel bleeding, clutching his stomach. According to Talbot's testimony, Rathel told her that he had been stabbed by his friend "Alfonso, " Talbot's neighbor. Rathel said that he and Alfonso had been drinking at Alfonso's house when their conversation erupted into an argument. Rathel died ten to fifteen minutes before authorities arrived.

         An autopsy was performed by medical examiner Adel Shaker, who determined that the cause of death was a stab wound to the stomach. Shaker also documented cuts on Rathel's fingers, hand, and forearm, which Shaker characterized as "defensive injuries." Shaker testified that given the clean nature of the incisions, the wounds could not have been caused by a mishap such as falling into a pile of jagged iron, as Atkinson suggested at trial, or by any single act with a weapon. Instead, the wounds were of such different direction, location, and depth that they had to be the result of multiple stabs with a knife.

         Deputy Joe Guerra of the Live Oak County Sheriff's Office was amongst the first to arrive at the scene. Deputy Guerra testified that he noticed a trail of blood beginning in Talbot's driveway and ending at a house where Atkinson was standing on the front porch. Deputy Guerra also observed gold paint on Atkinson's lips and blood on his pants. He placed Atkinson in the patrol unit.

         Chief Deputy Charlie Strumley then arrived, administered Miranda warnings, and questioned Atkinson. During an interview which was captured on a dashcam recording, Atkinson varied his account of the day: Atkinson at first stated he had been at home alone all day; he then asserted he was home but denied knowing whether anyone else was present; he next claimed he was not aware of anything happening at the house because he had not been home; he last said his mother had been home that day, but she left at some point, and no one else was present. When asked about the shiny substance on his lips and red spot on his pants, Atkinson admitted that he had been huffing paint and claimed the spot was from meat he had been cooking. Chief Strumley testified that he believed Atkinson to be intoxicated, given that Atkinson had paint on his lips and smelled of alcohol.

         Atkinson then gave consent for a search of the premises. Chief Strumley left Atkinson in the back of the police unit, during which time Atkinson licked his lips clean. When Chief Strumley resumed questioning, Atkinson stated that at approximately 1:00 P.M., he barbequed inside the "shed" in his back yard with his friend Joe Torres who left his house at approximately 2:00 P.M. Atkinson explained that he remained at home after Torres's departure, but left at some point to go "around the block, " and that he had only recently returned home.

         Atkinson denied knowing anything about the blood found spattered near the fire pit in his shed. However, Atkinson volunteered that his mother had brought a friend he did not know to stay at the family's cabin the previous day. When Chief Strumley showed Rathel's driver's license to Atkinson, Atkinson stated that Rathel looked like his mother's friend, whom he had not seen since the previous day. However, when questioned further about his mother, Atkinson stated that he and Rathel had driven her to the bus station that morning. When asked again about the substance on his lips and the red spot on his pants, Atkinson denied that he had been huffing paint and claimed that the red spot was "paint."

         Chief Strumley testified that a camouflage jacket with blood stains was found during the search of Atkinson's house. The blood stains matched Rathel's DNA.

         Torres testified that he arrived at Atkinson's house at around 11:00 A.M. that day. According to Torres, Atkinson was wearing a "military-type jacket" and had a hunting knife in a holster on his hip. He stated that a friend of Atkinson's was there, who was introduced to him as "Jake." The three men barbequed, and Torres learned that Jake was "staying with Alfonso in one of the little shacks" near the property. They left Atkinson's house at approximately 2:00 P.M. and drove to Torres's house three miles away, where they planned a construction project. When Atkinson and Jake left Torres's house some time later, Atkinson invited Torres to join them for dinner. Torres returned to Atkinson's house at 7:15 P.M., but arrived to find the street blocked off with police tape.

         Randy Aguirre of the Texas Rangers testified that he found a nine-inch knife in Atkinson's front yard. Ranger Aguirre further testified that on the day after Jake Rathel's death, he interviewed Atkinson on video while he was in custody. In the video, Atkinson stated that he met Rathel for the first time on the day of his death. Atkinson stated that he had driven his mother to the bus station with Rathel early that morning, then returned home and dropped Rathel off at ...


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