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Mathis v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

December 31, 2019

Billy Wade Mathis, Appellant,
v.
State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Bay County. Michael C. Overstreet, Judge.

          Luke Newman of Luke Newman, P.A., Tallahassee, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Virginia Chester Harris, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          Osterhaus, Judge

         Billy Wade Mathis was charged and convicted of sexual battery on a person less than twelve years of age and two counts of lewd or lascivious molestation. On appeal, Mathis argues, among other things, that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of his suicide attempt. We affirm.

         I.

         In late 2016, the father of a teenage girl notified law enforcement of his daughter's allegations of being molested by Mathis as a young girl. Mathis was a former boyfriend of the victim's mother, who lived with the victim and her mother between 2005 and 2010. Before the State filed charges against Mathis, law enforcement received a call about an attempted suicide. When a deputy sheriff responded, she discovered Mathis sitting in the driver's seat of his truck having difficulty breathing. Mathis had ligature marks around his neck and had tried to hang himself. The deputy found two belts lying in the passenger seat of Mathis's truck and a rope with a noose hanging from a tree outside of the truck.

         Prior to his trial, Mathis moved to exclude testimony about his suicide attempt. He argued that it didn't demonstrate his consciousness of guilt or his wish to evade prosecution because he hadn't been arrested or threatened with prosecution yet when the attempt occurred. The State countered that the suicide attempt evidence demonstrated Mathis's consciousness of guilt because it occurred right after he was confronted by the victim about his sexual crimes. A day or two earlier, Mathis had received an e-message from the victim accusing him of molesting her and asking him for answers about why he would do that. The trial court denied Mathis's motion concluding that under the circumstances his suicide attempt showed a consciousness of guilt.

         At trial, both the victim and her mother testified regarding Mathis's illegal conduct. The victim testified that she remembered Mathis coming into her room multiple nights a week when she was young, taking her clothes off, and touching and licking her in inappropriate places. She waited about six years to report his conduct to her family. Then, according to the victim's testimony, a day or two after revealing his crimes to her family, she messaged Mathis to tell him that she remembered what he had done. And she asked him why he had done it. Mathis didn't respond. According to the victim, her father notified law enforcement after he learned of her allegations against Mathis.

         The victim's mother also testified at trial. Mathis was her ex-boyfriend with whom she and the victim had lived for about five years. The victim's mother recalled Mathis's practice of getting up and leaving the bedroom at night after they had gone to bed together. She wouldn't typically get up with him. But one night she remembered leaving the bedroom to find Mathis in the victim's room on his knees beside her bed with his hands and head under her covers. It was dark, and the victim's mother asked what was going on. She got no answers from Mathis or her daughter and his actions remained a secret. Not until 2016 did the victim's mother finally learn what Mathis had done to the victim.

         The other witness at trial addressed Mathis's suicide attempt. On January 3, 2017, a day or two after he had received the message from the victim accusing him of sex crimes (and after the victim's father had notified law enforcement), a Bay County Sheriff's Deputy responded to a call about a possible attempted suicide. Upon arrival, the deputy encountered Mathis sitting in the driver's seat of a pick-up truck. He was having difficulty breathing and had ligature marks around his neck. There were two belts lying in the passenger seat of the truck and a rope with a noose hanging from a nearby tree.

         A jury ultimately found Mathis guilty as charged and sentenced ...


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