October 3, 2017
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT BROWN
COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE SCOTT P. MYREN Judge
J. JACKLEY Attorney General
PATRICIA ARCHER Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South
Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee
WILLIAM D. GERDES JERALD M. McNEARY JR. Aberdeen, South
Dakota THOMAS J. COGLEY of Ronayne and Cogley, PC Aberdeen,
South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.
WILBUR, Retired Justice
In January 2015, Jessica Goebel died after being stabbed
twenty-three times. A jury found her ex-boyfriend John Eric
Hemminger guilty of first-degree murder. The court entered a
judgment of conviction and sentenced Hemminger to mandatory
life in prison. Hemminger appeals. He challenges the circuit
court's evidentiary rulings that he consented to the
seizure of his property from the hospital and that the
revocation of that consent did not require the return of his
property. Hemminger also challenges the seizure of his bloody
clothing from his friend's house. Additionally, Hemminger
claims that the circuit court abused its discretion when it
admitted twenty-six autopsy photos during the trial and when
it denied his motion for a new trial. Hemminger challenges
the sufficiency of the evidence to support the conviction. We
On January 7, 2015, at 2:02 a.m., Hemminger called 911 to
report that he had just been stabbed in the hand by Richard
Hanley and was on his way to the hospital. He said that he
had been at Goebel's home and that someone should go to
Goebel's home because Hanley could still be there. Hanley
and Goebel were in a relationship. Law enforcement officers
went to Goebel's home and found her lying on the kitchen
floor in a pool of blood, barely alive. The officers also
located two children-Hemminger and Goebel's daughters.
The officers searched the home but did not find Hanley. They
later learned that Hanley was at a hospital in Fort Yates,
North Dakota, being treated for an eye injury. Goebel
ultimately died of her injuries.
Sergeant Kory Pickrel met Hemminger at the hospital in
response to Hemminger's 911 call claiming that Hanley had
stabbed him. Hemminger explained to Sergeant Pickrel that he
had gone to Goebel's home around 11:00 p.m. to retrieve
his clothes. He and Goebel had recently ended their
relationship, but according to Hemminger, were on good terms.
Hemminger claimed that while he was at Goebel's home,
Hanley attacked him, pulled a knife, and threatened to kill
him. Hemminger said that he gouged Hanley's eye during
the attack and that Hanley took off running.
Hemminger did not tell Sergeant Pickrel that Goebel had
obtained a no-contact order against him or that the two had a
rocky, sometimes violent relationship. He claimed that he and
Goebel had been communicating all day via text messages and
phone calls. Hemminger repeatedly referred the officer to his
cell phone. Sergeant Pickrel asked if he could look at
Hemminger's phone. Hemminger replied, "Yes, go
ahead." Hemminger entered the passcode and handed the
phone to the officer. Later, Sergeant Pickrel asked Hemminger
if he could seize the phone. Sergeant Pickrel was aware that
Goebel had been found brutally stabbed. He, however, told
Hemminger he was not being looked into as a suspect.
Hemminger replied, "No problem." Hemminger again
provided the passcode.
At approximately 4:00 a.m., detectives Chris Gross and Arika
Dingman entered Hemminger's hospital room to interview
Hemminger. They were both aware that Goebel had been
violently assaulted. Detective Gross explained to Hemminger
that "before we ever talk to anybody [about] something
this serious, we always advise them of their rights. Do you
understand that, right?" Hemminger replied, "Yeah,
" and Detective Gross read Hemminger his
Miranda rights. Detective Gross later testified that
he read Hemminger his Miranda rights as a precaution
and because he routinely did so during investigations.
Hemminger agreed to speak and explained what had happened
that night, which explanation was similar to what he told
Detective Gross had concerns about Hemminger's timeline.
Prior to questioning Hemminger, Detective Gross had learned
that Goebel made a 911 call around 6:00 p.m. reporting that
Hemminger and another person were fighting inside her home.
Detective Gross continued to question Hemminger about his
timeline. Hemminger denied being at Goebel's home at or
around 6:00 p.m. and repeatedly referred to his cell phone as
support for his version of events. He provided the passcode
to his phone again and showed the officers how to determine
when calls were made as proof that he was not at Goebel's
home around 6:00 p.m.
Hemminger also agreed to let the officers take his clothing.
Detective Gross obtained a buccal swab for DNA testing. As
Detective Dingman was bagging Hemminger's coat, she saw a
knife handle in the pocket. The handle was bloody and had no
blade. Later, other officers found a knife blade with no
handle in the sink at Goebel's home. Detective Gross
arrested Hemminger at the hospital.
During the investigation, Detective Tom Tarnowski obtained a
search warrant to examine Hemminger's phone and extract
its data. The search uncovered many deleted messages
suggesting that Hemminger and Goebel had a contentious
relationship. The search also revealed messages indicating
that Hemminger was angry about Goebel's relationship with
Hanley. The day before the assault, January 5, Hemminger had
sent Goebel a message threatening to come to her house, kick
down the door, and kill the "dude with you now."
The investigation also revealed that around 6:00 p.m. on
January 6, the evening of the attack, Goebel made a series of
calls to 911 dispatch. She first reported that
"John" was fighting. She ended the call before
dispatch could gather more information. She called back and
claimed that Hemminger was not supposed to be at the address
and that he was fighting one of her friends. She again
abruptly ended the call. Goebel called again and claimed that
she could not identify the individuals fighting and that
Hemminger was not involved in the assault.
Officers later learned from Hanley that Hemminger had come to
Goebel's home around 6:00 p.m. while Hanley and Goebel
were upstairs in the bedroom. According to Hanley, Hemminger
pounded on the home's door, Goebel opened the door, and
Hemminger went upstairs looking for Hanley. The two fought,
and Hemminger punched Hanley in the eye. Hanley claimed that
he ran out of Goebel's home to his mother's house. He
also said that his mother took him to the hospital in Fort
Yates three hours away. He went to Fort Yates because he
received free health services there. According to Hanley, he
and his mother stayed at a hotel in Fort Yates until the next
day. Officers confirmed that Hanley received care for his eye
at the hospital in Fort Yates and stayed the night in a
After the fight between Hanley and Hemminger at Goebel's
home, Hemminger allegedly went to his friend John Roach's
home. Roach lived a short distance from Goebel, and he and
Hemminger worked construction together. According to
Roach's girlfriend, when Hemminger came to the home on
January 6, he was agitated. He told her about his altercation
with Hanley and claimed that Hemminger said that he had
"fucked him up and that he was going to fuck them both
When Detective Gross learned that Hemminger went to
Roach's home the evening of the attack and that he had
spent the previous night there, Detective Gross approached
Roach at work and asked for permission to search his home.
Roach consented. During the search, the officers opened a
black garbage bag located near the entrance. The bag
contained a bloody work coat and a dishrag. Roach identified
the coat as Hemminger's. The officers seized the bag and
took it to the police station for processing. They found
multiple bloody items connected to Hemminger: a work coat,
dishrag, boots, and clothing. Roach later claimed ownership
of the knife that had been found in Hemminger's coat
pocket at the hospital.
Ultimately, Hemminger was indicted for first-degree murder.
Prior to trial, Hemminger filed a motion to have the property
seized from him at the hospital returned or suppressed. He
argued that he never consented to the officers' seizure
of his cell phone, clothing, or DNA, and if he had consented,
he withdrew that consent three weeks later by written letter.
The court denied the motions. Hemminger also moved to
suppress the officers' warrantless seizure of the bloody
boots, a shirt, and a jacket from Roach's home. According
to Hemminger, the clothing belonged to him, and he had a
reasonable expectation of privacy in Roach's home. The
court denied the motion.
[¶14.] After a trial, the jury found Hemminger guilty of
first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of
life in prison. The circuit court entered a judgment of