On Appeal from the 179th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 1397455
Appellant Henry Eugene Burleson was charged with capital murder of a father and son during a home invasion. See TEX. PENAL CODE § 19.03(a)(2). A jury found Burleson guilty, and the trial court assessed punishment at life, without the possibility of parole, in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division. In his sole issue, Burleson contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because the accomplice witness testimony presented was inadequately corroborated. We affirm.
A. Non-accomplice evidence
At trial, Letisia Sanchez testified that she was the victim of a home invasion in July 2013 during which her husband, Mario DeSantiago Martinez, and son, Leobardo, were shot and killed. Sanchez testified that, on that night, after she and Martinez pulled into their garage and Martinez exited the car, two men and a woman approached them. Sanchez testified that one of the men wore a hat and a bandana below his eyes covering his face and held a gun to Martinez's head. Sanchez described the masked man as a 20 to 22-year-old black man with a small stature and long, curly hair. The other man and woman were later identified as Willie Davis and Diamond Webb, who did not attempt to cover their faces during the robbery.
Sanchez testified that Davis opened her car door, got her out of the car, and grabbed her purse. According to Sanchez, Davis also had a gun. Sanchez testified that Webb, Davis, and the masked man followed her and her husband into the house where they encountered her 20-year-old son Leobardo sleeping on the couch. Sanchez testified that the masked man woke Leobardo up and, at gunpoint, directed him, Sanchez, and Martinez to sit on the couches. Meanwhile, Davis went upstairs where Sanchez's 13-year-old son Roberto was sleeping on the couch. Sanchez testified that Webb then came in and tied Sanchez's hands and legs together with duct tape. According to Sanchez, Martinez tried to throw a box at the masked man and, as he did so, Leobardo attempted to get up from the couch but slipped on a pillow. The masked man then shot Leobardo and Martinez multiple times. Sanchez testified that Davis, Webb, and the masked man then fled the scene and she called 911. Sanchez identified Davis and Webb from a photo line-up but was unable to identify the masked man.
Sanchez's 13-year-old son Roberto also testified at trial. Roberto testified that Davis woke him up at gunpoint and started rummaging through the upstairs rooms. According to Roberto, Davis took him downstairs to get a knife to open a room that was locked, and, before going back upstairs, Roberto saw Webb and the masked man. Roberto testified that at some point, he heard his mother screaming and Davis ran downstairs but returned to grab a safe before fleeing with the others. Roberto described Davis and Webb to the police, who compiled sketches. He subsequently identified Davis in a photo line-up, but he did not identify Burleson. Roberto described the masked man as a skinny, black male, approximately 5 feet 9 inches in height with long hair in dreadlocks. The State presented Roberto with a photograph of Burleson. Roberto testified that he would describe Burleson's hair in the picture as dreadlocks in a ponytail.
Brittany Snively also testified at trial. According to Snively, she and Burleson were in a relationship in July 2013 and they had a child together. She testified that she owned a white Pontiac G6 which Burleson would use sometimes and that he had free access to it when he was taking care of their daughter. Snively could not recall whether Burleson used her car on the night of the offense. Snively testified that there was a zebra print pattern on her car's steering wheel and that her daughter's pink car seat would have been in the back seat in July 2013. The State presented Snively with pictures of a car's interior which she confirmed were images of her car. Snively also testified that, in 2013, Burleson's hair was longer and he wore it in an afro but occasionally would pull it back in a "do-rag" as in the photograph shown to Roberto. She confirmed that the State's photograph of Burleson that listed his height as 5'8" and weight as 146 pounds was a fair and accurate depiction of Burleson in July 2013. Snively also testified that she knew Davis through Burleson and had seen them hanging out together. She testified that she did not know Diamond Webb and was not aware of her ever being in her car.
Sergeant S. Miller, one of the police officers who responded to the crime scene, also testified. He testified that, as part of the investigation, the police obtained surveillance video from three homes located near the complainants' home. The State presented the surveillance videos at trial, one of which depicted three individuals getting out of a white car. Sergeant Miller testified that, based on the car's lights and wheels, he identified it as a white Pontiac G6. According to Miller, another video showed three people running back to the car, with the person returning to the passenger seat carrying something.
Miller testified that, after receiving a tip, he spoke with Diamond Webb as part of the investigation. According to Miller, Webb eventually admitted her involvement in the offense and identified two men, Robert and J.J., as the other two people involved. Miller stated that he researched the police database and identified Davis and Burleson as the two people Webb identified as Robert and J.J.
Sergeant Miller testified that he interviewed Burleson in early August, at which time Burleson denied knowing Brittany Snively. Burleson later admitted that he and Snively were friends, but claimed he had not seen her in some time and denied having an intimate relationship or ever having driven her car. Sergeant Miller stated that Burleson said he barely knew Davis and that he occasionally saw him on the basketball court. He testified that he learned that Webb and Burleson were cousins, and that they shared the same address. He also testified that Davis turned himself in to the police. Miller also testified that, in Burleson's wallet, he found a receipt for a $2,400 transaction on the date of the murders, which he found suspicious because Burleson was unemployed. Miller noted that $9,000-$10,000 was stolen during the invasion of the complainants' home earlier that morning.
B. Accomplice witness evidence
Diamond Webb testified regarding her involvement in the capital murder. She testified that on the night of July 5, 2013, Burleson and Davis pulled up in a white car and invited her to come for a ride with them. According to Webb, Burleson was driving and Davis was in the passenger seat. Webb testified that she recalled a pink car seat in the car's back seat and a zebra decoration on the car's steering wheel. When the State presented Webb a picture of the inside of Snively's car, Webb identified it as the car she had ridden in that night.
Webb testified that they drove around and went into a neighborhood where Burleson stopped the car across the street from the house they ultimately went into. According to Webb, she saw Burleson retrieve two guns from underneath the driver's seat and hand one to Davis. Webb then testified to the same sequence of events as Sanchez. She recounted that they entered the garage and Burleson, who wore a do-rag over his face below his eyes, held his gun up to Martinez. After they went inside, Davis went upstairs and she and Burleson stayed downstairs in the living room where the mother, father, and son sat on couches. When Martinez tried to throw something at Burleson, Burleson shot Martinez. Webb testified that Leobardo then went for Burleson but tripped on a cover and Burleson shot him multiple times before they left the house. According to Webb, she noticed Davis carrying something that she later learned to be a safe.
In his sole issue, Burleson contends that the State did not present sufficient evidence to corroborate Webb's accomplice testimony.
A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law
Under Texas law, a criminal conviction cannot be based on accomplice testimony unless also independently corroborated by other evidence tending to connect the accused to the offense committed. TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art 38.14. In order to review the sufficiency of the corroborating evidence, "we exclude the accomplice testimony from our consideration and determine whether there is any independent evidence that tends to connect the defendant with the commission of the offense." Hernandez v. State, 454 S.W.3d 643, 647 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2014, pet. ref'd) (citing Malone v. State, 253 S.W.3d 253, 257 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008)). However, "it is not appropriate for appellate courts to independently construe the non-accomplice evidence." Smith v. State, 332 S.W.3d 425, 442 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011). Instead, we view corroborating evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict. Brown v. State, 270 S.W.3d 564, 567 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). "[W]hen there are conflicting views of the evidence—one that tends to connect the accused to the offense and one that does not—we will defer to the factfinder's resolution of the evidence." Smith, 332 S.W.3d at 442.
Corroborating evidence need not directly connect the defendant to the crime, and standing alone, it need not be sufficient to establish guilt. Cathey v. State, 992 S.W.2d 460, 462 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). The evidence need only link the accused to the offense in some way such that a rational trier of fact could conclude that the evidence tended to connect the accused to the offense. Simmons v. State, 282 S.W.3d 504, 508 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009). Corroborating evidence may be direct or circumstantial, so long as rational jurors could have found that it sufficiently tended to connect the accused to the crime. Smith, 332 S.W.3d at 442.
Burleson contends that the non-accomplice evidence is insufficient to link him to the commission of the offense. In particular, he argues that the State failed to establish that he was driving Snively's car that night. The State responds that the accomplice testimony is corroborated by the cumulative weight of several pieces of evidence: (1) eyewitness testimony describing the assailant's visible features; (2) evidence linking the getaway car to Burleson; (3) evidence of Burleson's post-offense behavior; and (4) the accomplice witness's out-of-court statements.
Here, there was some non-accomplice evidence that the physical description of the shooter matched Burleson. Sanchez identified the masked man as the shooter, and Roberto testified that the masked man was a thin, 5'9", black male with longer hair. The State introduced evidence that Burleson is a 5'8", black male weighing 146 pounds and that he wore his hair longer in July 2013. See Beathard v. State, 767 S.W.2d 423, 430 (Tex. Crim. App. 1989) (holding non-accomplice testimony that generally tends to prove truth of an accomplice's version of events is corroborative, even if it concerns a mere detail, as opposed to a substantive link between defendant and commission of offense); Utomi v. State, 243 S.W.3d 75, 80 n.4 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. ref'd) (same).
The State then presented other non-accomplice testimony connecting Burleson to the car that was linked to the offense. Sergeant Miller testified that he identified the getaway car as a white Pontiac G6 based on the images in the surveillance videos. And Snively testified that Burleson had access to her white Pontiac G6 at the time of the event. She also testified that she had a zebra steering wheel cover and pink car seat that would have been in her car in July 2013, corroborating Webb's description of the interior of the car used in the offense. See Cooks v. State, 844 S.W.2d 697, 708 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992) (en banc) (holding that evidence linking appellant to car used during offense tended to connect him with related capital murder).
The State also presented evidence that Burleson behaved suspiciously following the offense. Specifically, Sergeant Miller testified that Burleson downplayed his relationships with Snively and Davis and denied ever using Snively's car. Miller also testified that $9,000-$10,000 was stolen from the house and that Burleson, who was unemployed, made a $2,400 purchase in the hours following the murders. See Cockrum v. State, 758 S.W.2d 577, 582 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988) (holding that possession of large amount of money tended to connect unemployed defendant to theft of large amount of cash and evidence of his demeanor following offense further corroborated accomplice witness's testimony); Killough v. State, 718 S.W.2d 708, 711 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986) (en banc) (noting that suspicious statements and conduct by accused can be considered in determining whether accomplice testimony is sufficiently corroborated); Hill v. State, 832 S.W.2d 724, 726 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1992, no pet.). ("Suspicious and furtive behavior has been held sufficient to corroborate accomplice-witness testimony."). Viewing the non-accomplice corroborating evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, as we must, we conclude that the cumulative weight of the evidence sufficiently connected Burleson to Martinez and Leobardo's murders.
We overrule Burleson's sole issue.
We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Justice Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Bland, and Huddle. Do not publish. TEX. R. APP. P. 47.2(b).