Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
Appeal from the 323rd District Court Tarrant County, Texas
Trial Court No. 323-103751-16
Kerr and Birdwell, JJ.; and Rebecca Simmons, J. (Sitting by
REBECCA SIMMONS VISITING JUSTICE
found that M.S. had engaged in delinquent conduct by
committing the offenses of capital murder and aggravated
robbery. The trial court entered affirmative findings
pursuant to the jury findings and found that M.S. was in need
of rehabilitation and placed her in the custody of the Texas
Juvenile Justice Department for 20 years with the possibility
of transfer to the Institutional Division of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice.
appeals, contending in points one through four that the trial
court erred by including a "legal-duty" parties
charge from section 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code because M.S.
had no legal duty to prevent the commission of the
capital-murder and aggravated robbery offenses. In her fifth
point, M.S. complains that the trial court erred by placing
"law of parties" language in an incorrect location
within the application paragraphs relating to the
capital-murder and robbery offenses thereby authorizing the
jury to adjudicate Appellant delinquent of (1) the capital
murder charges as a principal only; and (2) the
aggravated-robbery charges simply because she was a party to
using or exhibiting a firearm. We reverse the judgment of the
was charged as a party to the capital murder and aggravated
robbery that occurred on the evening of July 26, 2016, at the
home of Zach Beloate (Beloate), which left Beloate wounded
and his roommate Ethan Walker (Ethan) dead. M.S. had turned
16 years old the day before the incident. The testimony at
trial revealed several juveniles and adults participated in
the incident including Ariana Bharrat (Ariana), Megan Holt
(Megan), M.S., T.K., J.B., Latharian Merritt (Larry), and
Sean Robinson (Bankz). According to Megan, M.S. brought up
the idea of stealing from Beloate because she was
romantically involved with him and because Beloate and Ethan
were drug dealers who often had drugs and cash on the
premises. M.S. developed the plan and explained the layout of
evening of July 26, Ariana drove Megan, M.S., T.K., and Bankz
to Beloate's. Larry and J.B. were in another car driven
by one of Larry's girlfriends. Larry and Bankz were armed
with guns; J.B. had brass knuckles. The general plan was for
M.S. to divert Beloate with sexual activity, Megan would keep
the front door unlocked, and Bankz, J.B., and Larry would
enter and threaten Beloate and Ethan while T.K. and Megan
searched for drugs. Megan testified that she knew there was a
plan to rob Ethan and she went to the house voluntarily.
night of the incident, M.S. and Megan were the first to enter
Beloate's house and then Ariana joined them. All three
ended up in Beloate's bedroom, along with Victor Landes,
to smoke marijuana. Within approximately 15 minutes, Larry,
Bankz, J.B., and T.K. came into the house. Bankz entered
Beloate's room pointing his gun at everyone while J.B.
followed. The three girls left the room, and Megan helped
T.K. look for drugs. Larry displayed his gun and entered a
bedroom where Ethan and a minor, A.R., were located. Ethan
and Beloate were questioned concerning the location of drugs,
but no drugs were found. Both Beloate and Ethan were shot,
and Ethan subsequently died from the gunshot. When the three
girls heard gun shots they ran to Ariana's car where T.K.
and Bankz ultimately joined them before leaving for
trial, M.S. offered evidence to establish that she was the
victim of human trafficking and that her participation in the
incident had been the result of duress by Ariana, her
groomer, and Tramon Jordan (Tramon), her pimp. M.S. first met
Ariana when she was 12 and Ariana was a senior in high
school. She hung out with Ariana who eventually introduced
her to Tramon when M.S. was 14. Thereafter, Ariana and Tramon
would take M.S. to strip at clubs in Fort Worth and
ultimately Las Vegas. In addition to stripping, Tramon forced
M.S. into prostitution when she was 15. M.S. testified that
she was unable to escape from Ariana or Tramon because they
threatened to harm her family and they physically assaulted
her. At trial Texas Department of Public Safety Agent Coleman
and Counselor Toni McKinley, an expert on human trafficking,
both testified that M.S. was a victim of human trafficking.
points one through four Appellant complains that the trial
court improperly instructed the jury in the law of parties by
including an incorrect "legal duty" law of parties
instruction in the abstract portion of the jury charge.
According to M.S., this error flowed into the capital-murder
application paragraph as well as the aggravated-robbery
application paragraphs relating to Beloate and Ethan.
Standard of Review
Texas Rules of Civil Procedure generally govern the jury
charge in juvenile proceedings. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §
56.01(b); see In re L.D.C., 400 S.W.3d 572, 574
(Tex. 2013). But a juvenile proceeding is quasi-criminal;
thus, criminal law precedent may be instructive in juvenile
cases. See In re C.O.S., 988 S.W.2d 760, 765-67
(Tex. 1999). In criminal cases, jury-charge error is reviewed
using a two-step process. Ngo v. State, 175 S.W.3d
738, 743 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). First, the court determines
whether error exists in the charge. Id. If there is
error, we determine if the appellant has been harmed:
"The degree of harm necessary for reversal depends on
whether the appellant preserved the error by objection."
Id. If an appellant has preserved the error by
objection, we must reverse if we find "some harm"
to his rights. See id. (citing Almanza v.
State, 686 S.W.2d 157, 171 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985) (op.
on reh'g)). But where there is no objection, we will not
reverse for jury-charge error unless the record shows
"egregious harm" to the appellant. Warner v.
State, 245 S.W.3d 458, 461 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008)
("The failure to preserve jury-charge error is not a bar
to appellate review, but rather it establishes the degree of
harm necessary for reversal.").
did not object to the legal-duty law of parties instruction
in the jury charge. When the charge error is not preserved
"and the accused must claim that the error was
'fundamental,' [she] will obtain a reversal only if
the error is so egregious and created such harm that [she]
'has not had a fair and impartial trial'-in short
'egregious harm.'" Almanza, 686 S.W.2d
at 171; see Mendez v. State, 545 S.W.3d 548, 552
(Tex. Crim. App. 2018). Bearing this standard in mind, we
turn to the charge.
court must instruct the jury on the law applicable to the
case. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 36.14. It is
well-settled that "[j]ury charges which fail to apply
the law to the facts adduced at trial are erroneous."
See, e.g., Gray v. State, 152 S.W.3d 125,
128 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004) (citing Perez v. State,
537 S.W.2d 455, 456 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976); and Harris v.
State, 522 S.W.2d 199, 200 (Tex. Crim. App. 1975)). This
is so because if an issue is "law applicable to the
case," "[t]he jury must be instructed 'under
what circumstances they should convict, or under what
circumstances they should acquit.'" Id. at
127-28 (quoting Ex parte Chandler, 719 S.W.2d 602,
606 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986) (Clinton, J., dissenting)).
"It is not sufficient for the jury to receive an
abstract instruction on the law and then to render a verdict
according to a general conclusion on whether the law has been
violated." Williams v. State, 547 S.W.2d 18, 20
(Tex. Crim. App. 1977).
"abstract paragraphs [of a jury charge] serve as a
glossary to help the jury understand the meaning of concepts
and terms used in the application paragraphs of the
charge." Arteaga v. State, 521 S.W.3d 329, 338
(Tex. Crim. App. 2017) (citing Crenshaw v. State,
378 S.W.3d 460, 466 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012)). "An
abstract statement of the law that goes beyond the indictment
allegations usually will not present reversible error unless
'the instruction is an incorrect or misleading statement
of a law which the jury must understand in order to implement
the commands of the application paragraph.'"
Id. (citing Plata v. State, 926 S.W.2d 300,
302-03 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996)).
Was Inclusion of the "Legal-Duty" Theory
first address whether the inclusion of the legal-duty
parties' instruction was error. M.S. argues that the
trial court committed error by including a legal-duty
parties' instruction in the abstract portion of the
charge because there was no factual or legal basis to support
a duty on M.S.'s part to prevent the offenses for which
she was charged, adjudicated delinquent, and sentenced. The
State argues that the inclusion of the "legal-duty"
law of parties instruction was proper because M.S. had a
legal duty to prevent the commission of the offense because
she created the danger.
person is criminally responsible as a party to an offense
"if the offense is committed by his own conduct, by the
conduct of another for which he is criminally responsible, or
both." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 7.01(a). A person is
criminally responsible for another's criminal conduct if:
(1) acting with the kind of culpability required for the
offense, he causes or aids an innocent or nonresponsible
person to engage in conduct prohibited by the definition of
(2) acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of
the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or
attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense; or
(3) having a legal duty to prevent commission of the offense
and acting with intent to promote or assist its commission,
he fails to make a reasonable effort to ...