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In re A.M.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

August 29, 2019

In the Matter of A.M., A Juvenile

          On Appeal from the 323rd District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 323-107645-18

          Before Sudderth, C.J.; Birdwell and Womack, JJ. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Womack



         I. Introduction

         A jury adjudicated A.M. delinquent after finding that she had engaged in delinquent conduct by committing the offense of murder when she stabbed and caused the death of N.L.[1] The jury found that A.M. was in need of rehabilitation or that the protection of the public or A.M. required a disposition and did not find that A.M. had caused the death of N.L. under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. The jury sentenced A.M. to commitment for twenty-five years. The juvenile court adjudicated A.M. delinquent and sentenced her to commitment in accordance with the jury's disposition. The juvenile court also made an affirmative finding that A.M. had used or exhibited a deadly weapon, a knife, during the commission of the offense or during the immediate flight therefrom.

         In a single issue, A.M. appeals the juvenile court's denial of her request that the jury be charged on the lesser-included offense of manslaughter. We will affirm the juvenile court's judgment and commitment.

         II. Background

         A. Witness Testimony

         These events involve four girls. At the time of trial, S.B and J.D. were fourteen years old. On May 28, 2018, S.B., J.D., and A.M. went to N.L.'s house and planned to spend the night with her. A.M., N.L., and J.D. lived near each other, and it was a one-to two-minute walk between A.M.'s and N.L.'s apartments.

         Earlier in the day, the girls went swimming in Fort Worth and returned to N.L.'s apartment where they listened to music and danced. In the evening, A.M. and N.L. had a petty argument. J.D. went home with A.M., and later they went to a nearby store for A.M.'s mother. During that time, S.B. and N.L. continued dancing and listening to music at N.L.'s apartment. A.M. and N.L. messaged each other, and S.B. observed that N.L. appeared to be angry.

         After delivering groceries to her mother, A.M. and J.D. walked back to N.L.'s house for the purpose of retrieving A.M.'s clothes. J.D. stayed outside. A.M. was angry when she left N.L.'s apartment. She slammed the door as she left and declared to J.D. that she was going to fight N.L. J.D. and A.M. walked back to A.M.'s apartment and arrived after midnight. J.D. tried to sleep, but A.M. was angry and continued using her phone to message someone. A.M. eventually told J.D. to get up and stated that N.L. was coming over. A.M. and J.D. began waiting outside A.M.'s apartment at about 2:30 a.m.

         After N.L. informed S.B. that she had to exchange some clothes with A.M., they walked to A.M.'s apartment and arrived at about 3:00 a.m. A.M. walked up to N.L. S.B. was worried, and J.D. stayed on the sidewalk. According to S.B., N.L. handed A.M.'s bag of clothes to her. A.M. set the bag on the ground behind her and threw a bag of N.L.'s clothes at N.L.'s feet. S.B. observed that when N.L. attempted to pick up the bag, A.M. "ran up on her and hit [N.L.]" about her face. N.L. started to fight back. J.D. did not recall who started the fight. The two girls fought for about two minutes before S.B. and J.D. broke up the fight and pulled A.M. and N.L. off each other.

         A.M. and N.L. remained angry and cussed at each other after the fight. J.D. told N.L. to go home. S.B. thought A.M. had finished fighting, but as A.M. walked back to her apartment, S.B heard A.M. say, "I'm going to kill this bitch." S.B. did not think A.M. was serious. As she and N.L. began to walk away, N.L. returned to retrieve her blanket from J.D. J.D. had stayed outside because she was worried about N.L. She returned the blanket to N.L. but then told S.B. and N.L. to run. S.B. saw A.M. running with a kitchen knife. J.D. was worried that A.M. was going to hurt N.L. J.D. struggled with A.M. for about thirty seconds and attempted to grab the knife from A.M.'s hand or make A.M. drop the knife. A.M. said, "Let go," began swinging the knife, and got away. During this time, J.D. heard N.L. say, "Let her kill me," "Let her stab me. I want to die any ways [sic]," and N.L. did not appear to be afraid. J.D., who was scared that A.M. was going to try to hurt her too, backed up and told S.B. and N.L. to run. S.B. also told N.L. to run. Although N.L. ran, she tripped over the curb. S.B. saw N.L. fall and saw A.M. stab N.L. in the neck. J.D. saw A.M. walk up to N.L., heard N.L scream, "[My] neck," and then saw blood.[2] J.D. admitted that she had seen A.M. walk up to N.L. but had not seen the stabbing and explained that she had guessed that A.M. had stabbed N.L. According to S.B., when A.M. went to stab N.L., A.M. did not trip, was not playing around, joking, or trying to scare N.L. S.B. testified, "It was intentional." J.D. stated that A.M. was the only person with a knife and declared that A.M.'s act of stabbing was no accident, "[b]ecause the way she walked up on [N.L.], that's not no accident."

         S.B. ran over to N.L., took her hand, and stood her up, but A.M. returned to her apartment. J.D. and some boys who were walking from the grocery store tried to help N.L., and one of the boys ran to alert police. J.D. did not know where A.M. was at the time. S.B. ran to A.M.'s house and told A.M.'s mother to get a towel because N.L. had been stabbed. A.M.'s mother came outside with a towel, placed it around N.L.'s neck, and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

         S.B. and J.D. ran to N.L.'s apartment to get her older brother, K.J. S.B. observed that A.M. followed them for a while but then noticed that A.M. ran to another location. While A.M. was following them, J.D. heard A.M. tell them "not to tell nobody." J.D. did not know where A.M. went.

         When S.B. and J.D. returned, emergency personnel were placing N.L. in an ambulance. S.B. later learned that N.L. had died. N.L. was fourteen years old at the time of her death.

         A.M. was not present when detectives first arrived at her apartment, but her mother and stepfather were. A.M.'s stepfather eventually brought A.M. to the police station where she was interviewed. After the interview, A.M. took police to the location where she had deposited the knife. Police located the twelve-inch knife, which had a seven and one-half inch blade, with a blanket on the patio of a vacant apartment 235 feet away from the area where the incident occurred. Testing confirmed the presence of N.L.'s DNA on the knife handle and blade. Based on his training and experience, Detective Matthew Barron opined that a knife like the one that was recovered could be a deadly weapon in the manner of its use or intended use and that the knife was a deadly weapon in this case.

         Deputy medical examiner Marc Krouse performed N.L.'s autopsy. N.L. had several small injuries and a couple of hidden bruises under her scalp. Krouse concluded that the downward three-and-one-half or four-inch stab wound to the neck and chest had caused N.L.'s death and that the manner of her death was homicide. The autopsy revealed that the knife had cut through N.L.'s jugular vein and had penetrated her lung. Krouse opined that a stab wound to the neck like the one N.L. suffered was clearly dangerous to human life and that the injury to N.L.'s jugular vein was not survivable.

         B. Respondent's Testimony

         A.M. testified at trial and admitted that she had returned to her apartment after fighting N.L., had retrieved a knife, and had run back outside. A.M. explained that she did this to scare N.L. and claimed, "My intent was to never harm her." According to A.M., N.L. turned around; said, "You real bold"; and then walked up to A.M. and said, "Stick me, stick me. I ain't scared to die. I want to die any ways." A.M. claimed that she told N.L. to go home, and N.L. approached and swung at her. A.M. said she "reacted" by stabbing N.L. A.M. testified, "I made the most horrible mistake of my life and I wish I was thinking at the time but emotions were so high and we both [had] not fully calmed down yet." After A.M. withdrew the knife, she tried to stop N.L., who was panicking, from running. N.L. collapsed.

         A.M. claimed that she went into her house and came back with towels to put on N.L.'s neck but did not tell her mother about the stabbing because she was only thinking of helping N.L. A.M. also claimed that after her mother ran outside to help N.L., she instructed A.M. to run. A.M. ran back to the apartment, grabbed N.L.'s blanket, wrapped the knife in it, and ran to another area of the apartment complex. A.M. placed the knife and the blanket "over [a] balcony." At about 4 a.m., A.M.'s mother informed her by message that N.L. was dead. Eventually, A.M. provided her location to her father, and he transported her to the police station.

         A.M. admitted that she was not truthful when she first spoke with the detectives and had falsely told them that N.L. had a knife too. A.M. testified that she had harmed N.L. "unintentionally" and had walked outside with the knife with the intention of scaring N.L. so that she would run home. A.M. and N.L.'s phones were examined, and the messages on them indicated that they had intended to fight each other. However, in one of her messages, A.M. wrote to N.L., "[B]itch I'll kill you on my . . . life." A.M. testified that she "didn't mean" what she had written. In her response, N.L. had written, "OMG is this a threat, am I supposed [to] be scared?"

         A.M. agreed that she could have stayed inside after the fight or could have dropped the knife when J.D. grabbed her wrist but declared that she had never stated after the fight that she was "going to kill this bitch." The following colloquy then occurred:

[The State]: I mean, you were already super mad when you came outside that night, right?
[A.M.]: Yes.
[The State]: You were already super mad when you pulled away from [J.D.] even though she was ...

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