IN THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS
OF TEXAS




NO. 74,136

 

YNOBE MATTHEWS, Appellant

v.


THE STATE OF TEXAS



ON DIRECT APPEAL
FROM BRAZOS COUNTY

Keasler, J., delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court.

O P I N I O N



In June 2001, a jury convicted Ynobe Matthews of capital murder. (1) As a result of the jury's answers to the special issues set forth in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 37.071, sections 2(b) and 2(e), the trial judge sentenced Matthews to death. (2) Direct appeal to this Court is automatic. (3) Matthews raises a single point of error challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's finding of guilt. Specifically, Matthews asserts that no rational juror could have found that, at the time he murdered the victim, Matthews was sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault her. We reject this contention and affirm the conviction and sentence of death.

In reviewing the legal sufficiency of the evidence, we look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. (4) This standard holds the trier of fact responsible for fairly resolving conflicts in the testimony, weighing the evidence, and drawing reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts. (5)

On May 27, 2000, 21-year-old Carolyn Casey attended a party in her apartment complex. Matthews, who was living with a friend in the same complex, also attended the party. After drinking alcohol during the evening, Casey claimed illness and left the party to return to her apartment. Casey vomited before she made her way back to her residence. One of the hosts of the party, Chris Hyles, testified that he did not see anyone leave with Casey, and when she left, Matthews was not in the apartment. But when Matthews returned to the party later, Hyles noticed "a real foul smell" coming from him that he could not describe - only that it was not consistent with body odor. Around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m., Casey's neighbor, Yasha Hartberg, heard loud noises coming from Casey's apartment. He testified that they sounded like "multiple thuds, kind of rapid succession, over almost as soon as they began."

Around 4:50 the morning of May 28th, the fire department responded to a structure fire call at Casey's apartment building. Firefighter Rowert Mumford quickly determined that the smoke originated from Casey's apartment. As he climbed the stairs to Casey's apartment, Mumford observed smoke coming from a partially opened window near the door. He also noticed that the screen on the window had been cut and folded outward. After Lieutenant Bobby Rogers and another firefighter joined him, Mumford opened the door to the apartment and encountered thick smoke. Using a flashlight, Lieutenant Rogers entered the bedroom and found Casey's body. He also observed a small fire still smoldering in the flesh of her feet. Believing that he had discovered a crime scene, Rogers notified his supervisor while Mumford notified the police. Rogers then re-entered the apartment to extinguish what remained of the fire.

Shortly thereafter, the police arrived at the apartment to investigate. Casey was wearing only a t-shirt and socks, and she was positioned with the top half of her body propped against the side of her bed and the bottom half of her body lying along the floor. The inner part of her legs and vaginal area had been burned. Paper and a container of pens and makeup brushes were placed between her legs apparently as combustibles to start the fire. Officer Anthony Kunkel observed that the burned area between the victim's legs also contained fecal matter. Upon further investigation, he found a pair of torn blue panties on the bed. Both seams were completely torn away and the waistband was missing. A large amount of fecal material was discovered inside the panties. The waistband was later discovered underneath the bedding.

Noting the cuts in the window screen closest to the door, officers determined that someone could reach in through the slit screen and the open window and unlock the front door. The police also discovered the contents of the victim's purse, including her wallet and checkbook, had been dumped onto the living room table. Casey's car and house keys were missing but a number of other valuable items remained in the apartment. In the bathroom, officers noted that the toilet seat was raised, towels were on the floor, and a fire alarm was lying in the sink. A partial set of knives was found in the kitchen. One knife in the set was found in Casey's bedroom underneath the bed. A couple of days later, officers located towels matching those that they found on Casey's bathroom floor and Casey's house and car keys in one of the apartment complex dumpsters.

During the late morning of May 28th, Officer Paul Price interviewed Matthews and his roommate Mike Groll. Sometime thereafter, Price recovered a pair of dark blue shorts and a white t-shirt that Matthews purportedly had been wearing the night of the crime. A videotape from a nearby convenience store, however, showed that Matthews was wearing different clothes on the night of the offense from those that he had turned over to the police. When confronted with this video, Matthews turned over the clothing that he was wearing in the surveillance video. Matthews also consented to the police collecting samples of his head hair, pubic hair, blood, and saliva. Forensic testing revealed that fibers similar to the fibers of Matthews's clothing were found on the victim's clothing, her body, and under her fingernails. Further, fibers from Casey's panties were found on Matthews's shirt. Although no semen was found on swabs taken from the victim, Matthews's DNA matched scrapings taken from Casey's fingernails on both hands.

Dr. Jan Garavaglia, a forensic pathologist with the Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office, conducted the autopsy on Casey's body. She determined that Casey had been strangled but could not determine whether she had been sexually assaulted due to the extensive burns in the genital area. Swabs from the victim's vagina, rectum, and mouth tested negative for the presence of semen. However, Dr. Garavaglia opined that any evidence that existed in the vaginal area could have been destroyed by the fire. Dr. Garavaglia also noted that it is very common for people to defecate in their undergarments when they are very scared or at the time of death. Based on the crime scene and her autopsy, Dr. Garavaglia opined that the victim was moved after her death.

Mike Groll testified that Casey was like a sister to him, and they often talked about personal matters. However, Casey had never mentioned an interest in Matthews. Nor did anyone else that the police interviewed recall any indication of a romantic relationship between Casey and Matthews.

On June 2nd, after Matthews had already denied any involvement in the crime, he agreed to meet with Detective Jeff Capps. During the interview, Capps confronted Matthews with the fact that his DNA was found at the scene. After speaking with his mother, Matthews told Capps that he and Casey had been "seeing each other on and off" for a couple of weeks to a month. He told Capps that, on the night of May 27th or in the early morning hours of May 28th, he went to Casey's apartment, and they had consensual sex. Before the sex act, he ripped her panties off while they were "messing around." Matthews noted that after intercourse, he argued with Casey because she had been enticing his younger brother. He told Capps that Casey responded that she could "fuck'em if I want to," and Matthews called her a "bitch." Casey then took a swing at Matthews, and he threw her on the bed and choked her to death. Matthews further stated that he returned to Casey's apartment after the murder and ignited a fire between her legs to cover up any evidence of intercourse. He stated that he used a towel to wipe down any fingerprints and cut the screen to the living room window to give the appearance of a burglary.

Although no direct evidence of sexual assault exists, the jury could have reasonably inferred that Matthews was sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault Casey at the time that he killed her. Most notably, Matthews stated that he ripped off Casey's panties before engaging in consensual sex. However, the panties were ripped in such a manner that they could not be re-worn. The fact that the panties contained a large amount of fecal material, together with the pathologist's testimony that it is common for people to defecate in their undergarments when they are very scared or at the time of death, rationally supports a finding that Casey's panties were ripped off during a terrifying event before she died. Additionally, the undisputed evidence showed that Casey left the party feeling very ill and wanting to go home. These facts, Matthews's admitted efforts to destroy evidence of sexual intercourse, and inconsistencies between Matthews's claims and the evidence presented at the scene, support the reasonable inference that Matthews murdered Casey while in the course of sexually assaulting or attempting to sexually assault her. Matthews's point of error is overruled.

We affirm the judgment of the trial court.



DATE DELIVERED: July 2, 2003



DO NOT PUBLISH

1. Tex. Penal Code Ann. 19.03(a).

2. Art. 37.071, 2(g). Unless otherwise indicated this and all future references to Articles refer to the Code of Criminal Procedure.

3. Art. 37.071, 2(h).

4. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979).

5. Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319.