PD-0108-20 & PD-0109-20 07/01/2020
1. “Does the corpus delicti rule require evidence totally independent of a defendant’s extrajudicial confession showing that the ‘essential nature’ of the charged crime was committed by someone?”
2. “Can independent evidence as to time, motive, opportunity, state of mind of the defendant, and/or contextual background information satisfy the corpus delicti rule in an indecency with child charge when there is zero evidence of sexual contact?”
3. “Is the evidence legally sufficient to support convictions for indecency with a child when the independent evidence does not tend to establish sexual contact?”
4. “Did the Ninth Court of Appeals improperly circumvent The Court of Criminal Appeals 2015 ruling on corpus delicti doctrine in Miller v. State, 457 S.W.3d 919 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015) which expressly declined to use a trustworthiness standard regarding the legal sufficiency of confessions?”
Shumway separately confessed to his church bishop and then-wife that he sexually abused K.J., a one-and-a-half-year-old girl who stayed at his house over a weekend. The bishop’s and wife’s testimony established Shumway’s guilt of indecency with a child. K.J. was too young to relay any facts, and the belated medical exam did not reveal any physical injury.
On appeal, Shumway claimed that the evidence was insufficient because, under the corpus delicti rule, a defendant’s extra-judicial confession is insufficient in the absence of other, independent evidence. The court of appeals concluded that there was evidence (outside the confessions) showing that the crimes occurred. Shumway’s ex-wife testified that K.J. stayed with them, that Shumway was in the house with K.J. while she was outside, that K.J. wore only a diaper one day because her shorts were too small, that Shumway fasted during the weekend and was withdrawn, and that Shumway met with the bishop the following month. Additionally, the bishop explained his status as a spiritual advisor and stated Shumway came to see him about a month after the offenses. Finally, K.J.’s parents confirmed her weekend stay with the Shumways and stated that they all attended the same church.
Shumway contends that the court of appeals gutted the corpus delicti rule. He points out that the corpus delicti of indecency is the sexual touching of a child with the intent to arouse or gratify. The evidence relied on by the lower court, however, is devoid of any sexual contact by anyone with criminal intent. The independent evidence only shows contextual background as to time, place, and opportunity. This evidence does not make it more probable than not that the crimes occurred. Therefore, its decision conflicts with Miller v. State, which rejected the invitation to remove the rule’s corroboration requirement in favor of a trustworthiness standard. 457 S.W.3d 919 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).