Appeal from the 434th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 11-DCR-056513
consists of Justices Keyes, Brown, and Lloyd.
Harper was convicted of capital murder of multiple persons
and sentenced to confinement for life. In eight issues,
Cornelius contends that (1) there is legally insufficient
evidence that he committed the murders, (2) there is legally
insufficient evidence the murders were committed either
during the same criminal transaction or pursuant to the same
scheme or course of conduct, (3) his right to an unanimous
verdict was violated, (4) the trial court abused its
discretion by excluding testimony that he maintained his
innocence while incarcerated awaiting trial, (5) the trial
court abused its discretion by excluding testimony that the
State's jailhouse informant testified falsely during
trial, (6) the trial court abused its discretion by excluding
evidence of a pertinent character trait of a State witness,
(7) he has been deprived of a true and accurate
reporter's record, and (8) the trial court abused its
discretion by permitting the trial proceedings to continue
after he became incompetent. We affirm.
is stabbed at her duplex
Jackson and her boyfriend, Yancey Daniels, lived together in
the back unit of a duplex in Missouri City. The property was
owned by Leiah's mother, Pamela Jackson, who lived in the
early fall morning, around 12:30 a.m., Pamela heard a loud
noise at the front of her unit, opened the front door, and
found Leiah, then eight-and-a-half-months pregnant, lying on
the ground, bleeding from multiple stab wounds. Pamela called
testified that, while the two waited for the paramedics,
Leiah's eyes began to close, and Leiah told her,
"Yancey's cousin did this and Yancey's not
here." Leiah was taken to a Houston hospital, where she
and the baby were pronounced dead.
the police arrived at the duplex, they found Yancey's SUV
with blood spattered on the inside and outside of the
vehicle. The SUV had a window broken out, but there was no
broken glass on the ground, indicating the window had been
broken elsewhere. The police recovered four spent .380
caliber bullet casings from inside the vehicle and found
gunshot residue in the center console. In the front yard, the
police found a .380 caliber handgun and a trail of fresh
blood between the two duplex units.
the back unit, the police found blood on light switches and
doorknobs leading to the back bedroom-where, according to
Pamela, Yancey had recently said he kept a large amount of
cash. The police observed that the items in the room's
closet appeared to be disturbed, with a container pulled out
and its contents emptied onto the floor. The police further
observed that the blood trail continued from the back bedroom
out the backdoor to the backyard, where part of the fence was
down, indicating that the perpetrator had exited through the
neighbor, Matthew Fields, told the police that around the
time of the stabbing, he heard a woman scream and then a loud
"thud, " like someone landing after jumping over a
fence. Matthew said he then saw a figure in the yard next to
his, directly behind the duplex, walking away from the scene.
Matthew said that he believed the figure was tall because his
head was above the fence line.
body is found at a nearby apartment complex
that day, the police found Yancey's body in the courtyard
of an apartment complex in nearby Houston. Yancey had been
shot seven times at close range, including twice in the head.
The police found a fired bullet and fresh, broken automotive
glass at the scene of Yancey's murder.
becomes the primary suspect
police investigated the murders, Cornelius quickly became the
primary suspect. The police determined that Cornelius and
Yancey were first cousins and that Cornelius was the only
cousin who Yancey saw on a regular basis.
further determined that, on the afternoon before the murders,
Cornelius met with Yancey and Leiah at the house of
Yancey's father, Bill Daniels. Bill testified that
Cornelius had been coming to his house looking for Yancey for
about a month, and Yancey appeared to have been avoiding him.
According to Bill, when Cornelius arrived that afternoon, he
seemed agitated. When Yancey, Leiah, and Cornelius finished
visiting with Bill, the three of them drove off in
that evening, sometime after 10:30 p.m., Cornelius returned
to Bill's house in Yancey's SUV to pick up a car
battery. Cornelius said they needed it to jump Yancey's
other car, a Mitsubishi. Yancey did not come into Bill's
house, and Bill never saw whether Yancey was actually with
11:36 p.m., Cornelius called his friend, Marina Honeycutt,
from Yancey's phone. Marina testified that Cornelius told
her that he was buying a Mitsubishi from his cousin
(presumably Yancey) and that he was going to come see her
that night at her apartment-which was in the same complex
where Yancey's body was later found. Marina further
testified that Cornelius never actually visited her that
early morning following the murders, around 4:00 a.m.,
Bill's daughter and Yancey's sister, Tarhonda
Daniels, learned that Leiah had been stabbed and that Yancey
was missing. She drove to Bill's house and told him what
had happened to Leiah.
7:00 a.m., Bill and Tarhonda drove to Cornelius's
apartment, looking for Yancey. When they told Cornelius that
Leiah had been stabbed and that both she and her baby were
dead, Cornelius responded, "The baby is dead, too?"
Bill testified that he believed Cornelius was surprised that
the baby was dead, but not Leiah. Tarhonda testified that she
believed Cornelius was feigning shock at hearing the news.
When they asked about Yancey, Cornelius told them that he had
been dropped off by Yancey around 10:00 p.m. the night
before, went to bed, and had not heard from him since.
Tarhonda testified that Cornelius did not appear to have been
sleeping when they arrived.
that morning, while Bill and Tarhonda were still looking for
Yancey, Cornelius drove to Bill's house and spoke with
Bill's friend, Robbie Cooper. Robbie told Cornelius that
Bill and Tarhonda had driven to somewhere on West Airport
Boulevard, which (unbeknownst to Robbie) was the main street
of the apartment complex where Yancey's body was later
found. When Cornelius heard this, he became visibly upset and
began hitting the washing machine and dryer.
afternoon, the police searched Cornelius's apartment,
which he shared with his then-girlfriend, Ana Pina. The
police found several spent .380 caliber bullet casings. The
police then searched the car that Cornelius had driven to
Bill's house the day before and found more .380 caliber
firearms analysis later showed that the casings found in
Cornelius's apartment and car and the bullets recovered
from Yancey's body and found at the apartment complex
where his body was located were all fired by the handgun
found at the duplex. The analysis further showed that the
handgun's magazine spring was broken and that it had
problems extracting spent casings, causing it to jam.
that afternoon, the police interviewed Cornelius. During the
interview, the police noticed that Cornelius's knuckles
were red and swollen and that he had scratches on his hands.
Cornelius initially denied owning a handgun but later
admitted that he had owned one after the police told him they
had found casings in his apartment. Cornelius told the police
that he had spent the previous evening with Leiah and Yancey
but returned home around 10:20 p.m.
police then interviewed Ana. Ana said that Cornelius told her
to tell them that he had arrived home the previous evening at
10:20 p.m., even though she was asleep and did not know what
time he actually returned.
is indicted, tried, and convicted
was indicted for the capital murder of Yancey, Leiah, and
their unborn child. The State's theory was that Cornelius
first shot Yancey and then stabbed Leiah. The State presented
evidence from the duplex, the apartment complex where
Yancey's body was found, and Cornelius's apartment.
The State also presented testimony from multiple witnesses,
including an inmate with whom Cornelius had spent a
significant amount of time while awaiting trial, Tyler Quinn,
who testified in detail that Cornelius had confessed to the
jury found Cornelius guilty, and the trial court sentenced
him to confinement for life. Cornelius appeals.
first issue, Cornelius contends that there is insufficient
evidence that he murdered Yancey, Leiah, or their unborn
child. In his third issue, Cornelius contends that, even if
there is sufficient evidence that he murdered Yancey, Leiah,
and their unborn child, there is insufficient evidence that
he committed the murders either during the same criminal
transaction or pursuant to the same scheme or course of
conduct. We will consider these two issues together.
Standard of review
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, we view all the
evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to
determine whether any rational factfinder could have found
the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable
doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19
(1979); see Adames v. State, 353 S.W.3d 854, 859
(Tex. Crim. App. 2011) (holding that Jackson
standard is only standard to use when determining sufficiency
of evidence). The jury is the exclusive judge of the facts
and the weight to be given to the testimony. See Bartlett
v. State, 270 S.W.3d 147, 150 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008).
afford almost complete deference to the jury's
credibility determinations. Lacon v. State, 253
S.W.3d 699, 705 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). We may not reevaluate
the weight and credibility of the evidence or substitute our
judgment for that of the factfinder. Williams v.
State, 235 S.W.3d 742, 750 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).
Rather, we determine "whether, after viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution,
any rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt." Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319; Thornton
v. State, 425 S.W.3d 289, 303 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).
evidence is as probative as direct evidence in establishing
guilt, and circumstantial evidence alone can be sufficient to
establish guilt. Sorrells v. State, 343 S.W.3d 152,
155 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011); Clayton, 235 S.W.3d at
778. "Each fact need not point directly and
independently to the guilt of the appellant, as long as the
cumulative force of all the incriminating circumstances is
sufficient to support the conviction." Hooper v.
State, 214 S.W.3d 9, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).
"Evidence is legally insufficient when the 'only
proper verdict' is acquittal." Nelson v.
State, 405 S.W.3d 113, 122 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st
Dist.] 2013, pet. ref'd) (quoting Tibbs v.
Florida, 457 U.S. 31, 42 (1982)).
The evidence is legally sufficient to support
was charged with capital murder under Section 19.03(a)(7) of
the Penal Code. Section 19.03(a)(7) provides that a person
commits capital murder if he "commits murder as defined
under Section 19.02(b)(1)" and "murders more than
one person" either "during the same criminal
transaction" or "during different criminal
transactions but . . . pursuant to the same scheme or course
of conduct . . . ." Tex. Penal Code § 19.03(a)(7).
difference between murders that occur "during the same
criminal transaction" and murders that occur
"pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct"
is "the degree of 'the continuity of the
killing.'" Coble v. State, 871 S.W.2d 192,
198 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993) (quoting Rios v. State,
846 S.W.2d 310, 314 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992)). Murders occur
"during the same criminal transaction" when the
evidence shows a "continuous and uninterrupted chain of
conduct occurring over a very short period of time . . .
." Heiselbetz v. State, 906 S.W.2d 500, 506
(Tex. Crim. App. 1995) (quoting Vuong v. State, 830
S.W.2d 929, 941 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992)); see Coble,
871 S.W.2d at 198-99 (holding that murders occurred
"during the same criminal transaction" when they
"occurred in close proximity to each other, on the same
road, within a few hours of each other, in a continuous and
uninterrupted series of events"). Murders occur
"pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct"
when the evidence shows a break in conduct but an
"over-arching objective or motive . . . ."
Feldman v. State, 71 S.W.3d 738, 754 (Tex. Crim.
trial court's charge instructed the jury to find
Cornelius guilty of capital murder if it determined beyond a
reasonable doubt that Cornelius murdered Yancey, Leiah, and
their unborn baby either during the same criminal transaction
or pursuant to ...