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Date: 07-12-2018

Case Style:

Dennie Thurman Howell Jr v. The State of Texas

Case Number: 09-16-00441-CR

Judge: CHARLES KREGER

Court: Court of Appeals Ninth District of Texas at Beaumont

Plaintiff's Attorney: Logan Pickett
Stephen C. Taylor

Defendant's Attorney: Winston Earle Cochran Jr.

Description: J.J. Rosabel, the complainant in this cause, was twelve years old at the time
of trial. Howell was J.J.’s neighbor and a friend of J.J.’s mother, T.H., who
occasionally cleaned Howell’s house. Howell had an open door policy, and J.J. and
T.H. came in and out of his home as they pleased. There were several occasions
where J.J. spent the night at Howell’s home at J.J.’s request.
The charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child arose out of multiple
alleged incidents wherein Howell performed oral sex on J.J. and vaginally raped her.
Additional allegations included Howell touching J.J.’s breasts and “private parts.”
A. Article 38.37 Hearing
Prior to trial, the court held a hearing outside the presence of the jury to
determine whether the extraneous offenses would be admitted pursuant to Texas
Code of Criminal Procedure article 38.37. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37
(West Supp. 2017). The court determined that three other alleged victims could
testify regarding Howell’s extraneous offenses against them.
During this hearing, defense counsel did not ask any questions of the three
witnesses who presented testimony of extraneous offenses allegedly committed
against them by Howell. Defense counsel lodged the following “objection” at the
conclusion of the hearing in response to the testimony of the two youngest witnesses:
4

Judge, I would point out that I believe the -- you know, relatively speaking to other matters that you’ve heard over the years, I think that the last two witnesses certainly are -- are -- the details are very thin, very thin, and I think the Court’s determination is whether this is reliable.

B. Trial Testimony Pertaining to J.J.
At trial, T.H. testified as an outcry witness. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann.
art. 38.072 (West Supp. 2017). T.H. indicated her daughter did not appear afraid of
Howell and even referred to him as her “adopted dad.”
J.J.’s friend at school alerted a teacher about the alleged abuse, and the
teachers called J.J. in to discuss it. On February 26, 2016, the school called T.H. to
tell her that J.J. had allegedly been touched by Howell. T.H. picked J.J. up from
school and took her to the police station to report it. T.H. then recounted for the jury
J.J.’s allegations of multiple incidents of sexual abuse by Howell against J.J.
At trial, J.J. testified that Howell raped her and that it happened more than
once. J.J. did not recall how old she was the first time it happened, but she was twelve
the last time it happened. J.J. also testified that Howell touched her “private part”
with his mouth, but she could not recall how old she was or how many times it
happened.
J.J. was examined by a sexual assault nurse examiner on March 2, 2016. The
nurse testified that J.J. identified Howell as her abuser and complained of oral,
5

digital, and penile penetration. The nurse also testified that J.J. reported that the
abuse had been going on for two or three years, and it happened too many times to
count. The nurse further testified regarding her finding an injury to J.J. during the
exam which was highly suspicious of healed trauma and was consistent with
evidence of penile penetration.
C. Testimony of Extraneous Offenses
Following the article 38.37 hearing outside of the presence of the jury, the
trial court determined the evidence presented at the hearing was adequate to support
a finding by the jury that the defendant committed separate offenses against three
other girls and that the three girls would be allowed to testify at trial. The two
youngest children were members of Howell’s family, Skylar, age eight, and Justice,
age six. The third witness, Audrey Gayle, was an unrelated friend of Howell’s
daughter and was fourteen at the time of trial. All three witnesses testified to
instances of alleged sexual abuse by Howell.
At trial, Skylar and Justice recounted abuse that occurred when they lived with
Howell. Skylar testified that Howell took her out of her bed at night and brought her
into his room. She also testified he touched her breasts with his hand. Skylar
indicated Howell did this more than once, but she did not know how many times.
6

Justice testified that Howell touched her private with his mouth more than seven
times, but she could not recall the first or last time that it occurred.
Audrey testified that Howell touched her inappropriately with his hands.
Audrey could not recall how old she was the first time Howell touched her, but the
first incident occurred more than a year before trial. She recounted multiple instances
of inappropriate touching that occurred at Howell’s deer lease, at his home, and in
his swimming pool. At trial, she described an incident where she was spending the
night with Howell’s daughter, and she woke up to find Howell’s penis inside of her.
These incidents occurred over a number of weeks. The last incident involved Howell
touching her breast, which occurred weeks after the vaginal penetration. After the
last instance of abuse, Audrey told Howell’s daughter and Howell’s ex-wife, who
immediately called Audrey’s mother.
Prior to trial, Howell elected to have the jury assess punishment. The jury
convicted Howell and assessed punishment at thirty-five years. This appeal ensued.
II. Preservation of Error
In issues one and two, Howell complains that the admission of evidence of
extraneous offenses violated his rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United
States Constitution and under article I, section 10 of the Texas Constitution, as well
as other statutes and rules. In support of these issues, Howell asserts four arguments
7

in his brief. First, he argues that the admission of the extraneous offenses violated
constitutional protections and that allowing them amounted to “firing shotgun blasts
of different accusations, blended together throughout a trial.” Second, Howell
contends article 38.37 facially only applies to extraneous acts committed against the
child who is the victim of the alleged offense, in this case J.J. Third, Howell argues
section 21.02 of the Penal Code does not contemplate allowing admission of
extraneous offenses. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 21.02. Finally, Howell asserts
allowing evidence of extraneous offenses violated Texas Rules of Evidence 401,
402, 403, and 404(b). See Tex. R. Evid. 401–404.
Generally, the State cannot submit evidence of prior bad acts, wrongs, or other
acts to show that the defendant acted in accordance therewith or had a tendency to
commit the crime. Tex. R. Evid. 404(b). However, there are exceptions to the general
rule, and they are applicable to this case. In a trial of the sexual assault of a child,
there are special circumstances that “‘outweigh normal concerns associated with
evidence of extraneous acts.’” Alvarez v. State, 491 S.W.3d 362, 367 (Tex. App.—
Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, pet. ref’d) (quoting Jenkins v. State, 993 S.W.2d 133, 136
(Tex. App.—Tyler 1999, pet. ref’d)). Indeed, article 38.37 of the Texas Code of
Criminal Procedure specifically allows for the introduction of a criminal defendant’s
extraneous offenses in such a case. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37. The
8

statute was enacted to “authorize the admission of extraneous offense evidence
committed by the defendant against the minor complainant named in the
indictment.” Bezerra v. State, 485 S.W.3d 133, 138 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2016, pet.
ref’d); Tex. Code of Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37, § 1(b). Subsequently, the statute
was amended and section 2(b) was added, stating
Notwithstanding Rules 404 and 405, Texas Rules of Evidence, and subject to Section 2-a, evidence that the defendant has committed a separate offense described by Subsection (a)(1) or (2) may be admitted in the trial of an alleged offense described by Subsection (a)(1) or (2) for any bearing the evidence has on relevant matters, including the character of the defendant and acts performed in conformity with the character of the defendant.

Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37, § 2(b). The amendment allows for the
admission of evidence of extraneous offenses committed by the defendant against
individuals other than the victim. Aguillen v. State, 534 S.W.3d 701, 711 (Tex.
App.—Texarkana 2017, no pet.).
A. Alleged Constitutional Violations
Article 38.37 has been determined to be constitutional. See Harris v. State,
475 S.W.3d 395, 403 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, pet. ref’d). In
determining the statute’s constitutionality, the Houston court pointed to the
procedural safeguards built into the statute prior to the admission of evidence of
extraneous offenses. See id. at 402 (citing Tex. Code. Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37, §
9

2-a(1), (2)). Before such evidence is introduced, the trial court must conduct a
hearing outside the presence of the jury and determine the evidence likely to be
admitted will be adequate to support a finding by the jury that the defendant
committed the extraneous offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. During the hearing,
defense counsel has the right to cross-examine the witnesses and challenge any
testimony. Id. Furthermore, the State must provide defendant with notice at least
thirty days prior to trial of its intent to introduce extraneous offenses. Id.; see also
Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37, § 3. Extraneous offense evidence offered
under article 38.37, section 2 must also meet the balancing test under Rule 403 if the
defendant lodges a timely Rule 403 objection before it is admitted. See Bezerra, 485
S.W.3d at 140.
We now turn to Howell’s two specific complaints on appeal. We must first
address whether Howell’s complaints were properly preserved for appellate review.
Preservation of error is systemic and must be reviewed by a court of appeals, even
when the issue is not raised by the parties. Bekendam v. State, 441 S.W.3d 295, 299
(Tex. Crim. App. 2014). To preserve a complaint for appeal, a party must make a
timely, specific objection to the alleged error and obtain a ruling. Tex. R. App. P.
33.1(a); Pena v. State, 285 S.W.3d 459, 463–64 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009). A party
must “‘let the trial judge know what he wants, why he thinks he is entitled to it, and
10

to do so clearly enough for the judge to understand him at a time when the judge is
in the proper position to do something about it.’” Pena, 285 S.W.3d at 464 (quoting
Lankston v. State, 827 S.W.2d 907, 909 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992)). Moreover, whether
a party’s complaint is preserved is contingent upon whether the complaint on appeal
comports with the complaint made at trial. Id.
Potential constitutional violations are not immune from waiver if the party
does not object at trial. Briggs v. State, 789 S.W.2d 918, 924 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990).
Facial constitutional challenges to statutes and as-applied constitutional challenges
must be preserved in the trial court and cannot be raised for the first time on appeal.
Karenev v. State, 281 S.W.3d 428, 434 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009) (facial constitutional
challenge); Curry v. State, 910 S.W.2d. 490, 496 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995) (as-applied
constitutional challenge). The complaining party must identify the provision of the
constitution the statute violates. Lovill v. State, 319 S.W.3d 687, 692–93 (Tex. Crim.
App. 2009). The exception to the requirement that an accused must raise a
constitutional challenge at trial is when a statute has already been held void. Smith
v. State, 463 S.W.3d 890, 895–96 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).5
5 Our system has recognized three distinct types of rules pertaining to rights of criminal defendants: (1) absolute requirements and prohibitions which includes the right to be free from enforcements of a statute that has been declared void or unconstitutional; (2) rights of litigants which must be implemented by the system unless expressly waived; and (3) rights of litigants which are to be implemented
11

Because article 38.37 has been held constitutional, Howell was required to
raise timely constitutional objections with the trial court. See Harris, 475 S.W.3d at
403; Smith, 463 S.W.3d at 895. At the article 38.37 hearing, defense counsel did not
cross-examine any witnesses regarding the alleged extraneous offenses. At the
conclusion of the hearing, defense counsel stated,
Judge, I would point out that I believe the -- you know, relatively speaking to other matters that you’ve heard over the years, I think that the last two witnesses certainly are -- are -- the details are very thin, very thin, and I think the Court’s determination is whether this is reliable.

This was the only “objection” made by defense counsel during the hearing.
The foregoing statement by defense counsel fails to apprise the trial court of
any constitutional complaints and thus, is insufficient to preserve any constitutional
complaint. When Audrey, Skylar, and Justice testified in front of the jury regarding
the alleged assaults Howell committed against them, the only objections made by
defense counsel were “speculation,” “leading,” and “asked and answered.”
upon request. Marin v. State, 851 S.W.2d 275, 278–81 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993), overruled on other grounds by Cain v. State, 947 S.W.2d 262, 264 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997)). A “category one” right is absolute and is so fundamental it cannot be forfeited or waived. Smith v. State, 463 S.W.3d 890, 896 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Unlike here, Smith dealt with a facially unconstitutional statute and therefore implicated a “category one” right not subject to waiver. See id. at 896–97.
12

While Howell argues the admission of extraneous offenses violated his
constitutional rights, nowhere in the record is an objection urged on any
constitutional ground. Because Howell’s objections at trial fail to comport with his
complaints of constitutional error on appeal, he failed to preserve these issues for
our review. See Tex. R. App. P. 33.1(a); Pena, 285 S.W.3d at 464. We overrule
issues one and two.
B. Article 38.37 and Admissibility of Extraneous Offenses, Texas Rules of Evidence 404, 405, and Penal Code Section 21.02

While not framed as separate issues, Howell cites Aguillen v. State and Texas
Rules of Evidence 404 and 405 for the proposition that extraneous offenses should
not have been admitted in this case against him. See 534 S.W.3d at 701; Tex. R.
Evid. 404, 405; Tex. Code. Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37. He further contends the
statute applies only to extraneous acts committed against the child who is the victim
of the alleged offense. These arguments lack merit. As noted above, article 38.37
was amended to specifically allow evidence of extraneous offenses against other
victims in cases involving sexual crimes against children. See Aguillen, 534 S.W.3d
at 711. While the court in Aguillen concluded the evidence regarding extraneous
offenses in that case should not have been admitted, the extraneous offenses there
bore little similarity to the charged crime. Id. at 712. Aguillen was on trial for sexual
assault of a child, but the extraneous offenses involved allegations of physical abuse
13

and not sexual abuse. Id. at 712. The Texarkana Court noted that “an extraneous
offense committed by an accused against a third party must have some similarity to
the charged offense; that is, it must at least involve sexual misconduct of some sort.”
Id. at 711. That is unlike the scenario before us. Each of the extraneous offenses
Howell was accused of committing involved sexual assaults against young girls, and
the allegations were similar to the offense charged in the indictment.
With respect to Howell’s assertion the extraneous offenses were not
admissible pursuant to Texas Rules of Evidence 404 and 405, article 38.37 expressly
states such evidence may be admitted “[n]otwithstanding Rules 404 and 405[.]” Tex.
Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.37, § 2(b); see also Vajda v. State, No. 09-16-00371
CR, No. 09-16-00372-CR, No. 09-16-00378-CR, 2017 WL 6062469, at *4 (Tex.
App.—Beaumont Dec. 6, 2017, pet. ref’d) (mem. op., not designated for publication)
(concluding trial court did not err and Rule 404 did not preclude admission of
extraneous offense evidence of the possession of child pornography in trial of sexual
assault of a child). We also note that Howell failed to make a Rule 404 or 405
objection at trial.
Finally, Howell argues that section 21.02 of the Texas Penal Code does not
contemplate a “shotgun” approach, with evidence of multiple victims when the State
elects to include only one victim in the indictment. Article 38.37 expressly allows
14

for the admission of extraneous offenses in trials for charges of continuous sexual
abuse of a young child or children under section 21.02. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann.
art. 38.37, § 2(a)(1)(B) (emphasis added). The plain language of article 38.37 allows
this type of evidence to be introduced even though the bad acts included multiple
victims who were not the subject of the indictment. See id.
C. Texas Rules of Evidence 401, 402, and 403
Although not presented as a distinct issue, Howell further asserts that the
evidence of extraneous offenses should not have been admitted as such evidence was
irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. See Tex. R. Evid. 401–403. Generally, all
relevant evidence is admissible. Tex. R. Evid. 402. Relevant evidence is evidence
that tends to make a fact more or less probable or is of consequence in determining
the action. Tex. R. Evid. 401. An exception to the general rule that relevant evidence
is admissible is if a trial court concludes its probative value is substantially
outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion of the issues. Tex. R.
Evid. 403. There were no objections made at trial to the extraneous offense testimony
of Audrey, Skylar, or Justice on the basis of relevance, unfair prejudice, or confusion
of the issues. Therefore, Howell has failed to preserve these complaints for appeal.
See Tex. R. Evid. 33.1(a).

Outcome: Because Howell’s issues on appeal do not comport with his objections at trial,
we conclude he failed to preserve them for appellate review. See Tex. R. App. P.
33.1(a). The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

AFFIRMED.

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