April Rhoten Gets 18 Years For Plotting To Kill Her Father
By CASEY KNAUPP
April "Suzanne" Rhoten was found guilty Wednesday of plotting to kill her father and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The 18-year-old Tyler woman was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder by a jury in 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr.'s court after approximately 15 minutes of deliberation. She was sentenced after an hour and 15 minutes of deliberation. Ms. Rhoten faced probation or two to 20 years in prison. She will be eligible for parole after serving four and one-half years.
The murder plot allegedly planned by Ms. Rhoten and her boyfriend James Neal Perkins, 19, was discovered by Ms. Rhoten's older sister Amber Rhoten, who saw text messages that had been sent between the two discussing the plan.
The jurors listened to two recorded interviews between Ms. Rhoten and police, in which she confessed to wanting to kill her adopted father, Dennis Rhoten, because it was his fault he and her mother were divorced, and she claimed he wouldn't let her see or talk to her mother. She also claimed she was angry with him because he didn't want her to be with Perkins, although she said he never met the man, and he wouldn't let her live on her own.
Ms. Rhoten told police they planned to use a knife to cut her father's throat while he slept and said if Perkins wouldn't kill her dad, she thought she could do it herself.Police found notes in the woman's bedroom, including tips on how to commit the crime, get rid of the body and avoid capture. The teenager said she researched the information on a computer in the Robert E. Lee High School library.
Dennis Rhoten testified he was in shock and disbelief when he discovered the text message his daughter sent to Perkins asking when he planned to kill her dad. He said he now believes his daughter would have let Perkins kill him, and that he is scared of her.
Defense attorney Clifton Roberson did not call any witnesses during the trial.
During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Guy Conine said there was absolutely no doubt Ms. Rhoten was conspiring with Perkins to kill her father. He said it was tough for the father to have to deal with, that he didn't know what to do and he didn't turn her into police. After she was arrested, Rhoten cried as he tried to ask Ms. Rhoten about the threatening text message and she wouldn't answer him, Conine said.
"I ask that you set your emotions aside and look at the evidence that was presented to you," Roberson told the jurors. He said Ms. Rhoten sent text messages to Perkins, but there was no evidence Perkins responded to them or that he agreed with Ms. Rhoten to kill her father. Roberson said the prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and that the only verdict the jury could come back with was not guilty.
Assistant District Attorney Joe Murphy said the conspiracy did not have to be a good plan or be carried out for her to be guilty. He said it was OK for the jurors to be emotional.
"It's OK that your heart breaks for Dennis Rhoten, and it should," he said. "You take a little girl and raise her as your own, and she wants to kill you and you are afraid of her."
He said the only evidence Ms. Rhoten could not get around was her own words. In the recorded interviews with police, she said she had asked Perkins to help her kill her father and he agreed.
"That was about as cold and emotionless as you can see a human being," Murphy said, referring to the recorded interviews. "She's not mad; she's mean."
He said Ms. Rhoten told police it makes her happy to think about killing somebody and that she thinks it would "probably be really cool." Murphy said her actions and her words told the jury exactly what Ms. Rhoten wanted to do, and if her sister Amber wouldn't have found the threatening text message, her father would be dead.PUNISHMENT PHASE
The defense called Dr. Thomas Proctor, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Ms. Rhoten, to testify. He said he diagnosed the defendant as being mildly mentally retarded with an IQ of 60. He said her social, communication and reading and writing abilities are higher than he would expect from someone who was mentally retarded. Proctor said he also diagnosed her with a personality disorder.
He said Ms. Rhoten knows right from wrong and has the capacity to rationally understand the charges against her and the consequences.
During an interview in jail, she told Proctor about her desire to kill her father but said she no longer wanted to kill him. On one hand she loved him, but on the other hand, she hated him and she was still upset with him, she said.
Proctor said he saw records about Ms. Rhoten killing pets and that when someone fantasizes about killing someone, as Ms. Rhoten had, it's a concern that it might lead to action.
Dennis Rhoten testified that Ms. Rhoten's biological parents both had mental problems, and he had concerns they abused her before he adopted her at age 4. He said Ms. Rhoten was in special education classes in school.
When asked how the ordeal has affected him, Rhoten said "It's almost impossible to believe that she could actually think this."
Rhoten said she was seeing a counselor around the time of the offense, and she understood right from wrong.
The state called Dr. Billy Wayne Shelton, a psychologist, who testified people who are sent to prison and who have been diagnosed as mentally retarded are not placed with the general population in the prison system.
During closing arguments, Murphy said 20 years in prison is a just and appropriate sentence for Ms. Rhoten, who planned her father's murder, knew right from wrong and has violent tendencies. He asked the jury to not only protect society from Ms. Rhoten but to protect Ms. Rhoten from herself. In prison, she would be monitored and would not be able to cut herself or hurt other people.
He said it was ludicrous to say she committed the offense because of her parent's divorce or because she's mentally retarded. Murphy said it was caused by a woman who was mean, scary and had a personality disorder.
"The evidence in this case paints a picture of who she is and that should scare you to death," Murphy told the jurors. Everything she was doing was leading up to the murder of her father but thankfully, it was stopped, he added.
Roberson said there was a wide range of punishments, and although the state was asking for 20 years in prison, he said it was a "probation case." Roberson said Ms. Rhoten was a child of God who can correct the wrong things she's done and make things right.
He said Ms. Rhoten's father wanted her to get help, and Roberson pleaded with the jury to get her help outside of prison.
Murphy said the only evidence the jury heard about a place where she can truly get help is in the penitentiary. He said he was sure Ms. Rhoten wanted probation, but "what April Rhoten wants isn't always what's best."
Murphy said he wanted the jurors to think about what would have happened if she had not been caught.
Perkins, who also has been charged with the conspiracy, awaits trial.