Hearington conviction upheld

Published 10:50 pm Monday, August 16, 2004

By Staff
ST. JOSEPH - On Aug. 10, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Kevin Scott Hearington for the first-degree felony murder of Eric Baich of Buchanan, and for possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.
Hearington's sentences of life without parole for the felony murder conviction and a consecutive two-year term for the felony firearm were also affirmed.
The Court of Appeals vacated his conviction for second-degree murder on double jeopardy grounds.
Evidence at trial showed that, on Sept. 16, 1998, Hearington shot Baich three times in the head with a .22 caliber gun, placed his body in the trunk of Baich's car, drove to the South Bend, Ind., area, and parked the car in the lot of the Portage Road Meijer store.
The body was discovered two days later.
In affirming Hearington's first-degree murder conviction, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's finding that a court officer's communication with one of the jurors, heard by two other jurors, did not require a new trial.
At some point before final instructions and deliberations, the juror had asked the court officer whether Hearington could be retired if the jury concluded the murder did not occur in Michigan. The court officer responded that he believed double jeopardy would prevent a retrial, but he was not sure.
After trial, when the trial court and parties learned of the details of the communication, the jurors were questioned about the effect the court officer's response had on their deliberations and verdict. Most jurors did not hear the response, all of the jurors testified that they deliberated and reached their verdicts based on the evidence presented at trial. They all indicated the court officer's improper response had no effect on their decision in any manner.
The Court of Appeals concluded that Hearington had failed to establish a real and substantial possibility that the court officer's communication with the jurors had affected the verdicts.
The Court of Appeals also rejected Hearington's unpreserved argument that disruptive comments by another juror and his dismissal by the trial court during trial created a real and substantial possibility of affecting the verdict.
The Court found sufficient evidence to prove Hearington's guilt of Baich's murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's admission of evidence of the breaking and entering of a home a few weeks before the murder and Hearington's possession of the .22 caliber gun stolen during that breaking and entering.