229 F.3d 1312 (10th Cir. 2000), 99-3215, US v. Youts

Docket Nº:99-3215
Citation:229 F.3d 1312
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ABNER YOUTS, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:October 17, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

Page 1312

229 F.3d 1312 (10th Cir. 2000)



ABNER YOUTS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 99-3215

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

October 17, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. (D.C. No. CR-98-10130-01-WEB)

Page 1313

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1314

Steven K. Gradert, Assistant Federal Public Defender (David J. Phillips, Federal Public Defender, with him on the brief), Wichita, Kansas, for Defendant-Appellant.

Nancy Landis Caplinger, Assistant United States Attorney (Jackie N. Williams,

Page 1315

United States Attorney, with her on the brief), Topeka, Kansas, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before SEYMOUR, Chief Judge, HENRY and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

SEYMOUR, Chief Judge.

Abner Youts appeals from an adverse jury verdict. As the parties' oral arguments showed, the events leading up to his criminal conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1992 for wrecking a train are unusual and give rise to a number of interesting parallels in modern folk music. We begin with the facts.


"He made that freight train boogie, as he rolled down the line."1

In the early morning hours of January 10, 1994, after an evening of misadventure, Abner Youts and Richard Nesbitt needed a ride home. The pair set out on foot and ended up at the Union Pacific Railyard in Wichita, Kansas, where they boarded two idling locomotives that were connected together. After playing with the controls, they figured out how to move the trains back and forth. Mr. Youts remarked to Mr. Nesbitt that, as a boy, he had always loved trains and wanted to be an engineer.2 Mr. Youts then decided to drive the train home.

Upon arriving at a point on the tracks approximately half a block from his house, Mr. Youts stopped the train, let Mr. Nesbitt off, and decided to send the train back through town. He put the train into reverse at full throttle and disembarked. The train got as far as a curve in the tracks in downtown Wichita. The normal speed for this curve is ten miles per hour. The driverless train took it at fifty-six miles per hour and derailed.3 One locomotive car ended up lying in the street and the other landed on its side in the dirt next to the tracks. Although no one was hurt, the derailment caused Union Pacific and the City of Wichita a total of $234,145 in damage and clean-up costs.

As a result of anonymous tips to the Wichita Crimestoppers hotline, investigating authorities learned Mr. Nesbitt and Mr. Youts may have been involved in the offense. Eventually, Mr. Nesbitt gave a confession that detailed their activities on the evening in question and the two men were each indicted on one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1992, the federal train wreck statute. Mr. Nesbitt pled guilty and agreed to testify against Mr. Youts. The case against Mr. Youts was tried before a jury, which found him guilty. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison and ordered to pay $234,145 in restitution.

This appeal followed. Mr. Youts raises three claims: first, he contends the statute required a showing of specific intent to wreck the train, and the evidence of his specific intent was insufficient to support the jury's determination of guilt; second, he asserts that evidence of his other crimes was improperly admitted; and third, he argues that the district court mishandled an allegation of juror misconduct.

Page 1316

For the reasons discussed below, we deny each of these claims.


A. Sufficiency of the Evidence Intent

Although we review a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence de novo, we do so while viewing the evidence and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. Haslip, 160 F.3d 649, 653 (10th Cir.1998). We will reverse "'only if no rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" Id. at 652 (quoting United States v. Wacker, 72 F.3d 1453, 1462-63 (10th Cir. 1995)). We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. See United States v. King, 979 F.2d 801, 802 (10th Cir.1992).

The federal train wreck statute punishes anyone who "willfully derails, disables, or wrecks any train, engine, motor unit, or car used, operated, or employed in interstate or foreign commerce by any railroad." 18 U.S.C. § 1992 (emphasis added). Mr. Youts contends the statute should be read to require proof of a specific intent to disable, derail, or wreck the train. He argues there was no evidence he actually wanted the train to wreck. Rather, he maintains the evidence indicated that he took the train on impulse and that he meant to return it to the station when he was finished.

Section 1992 requires a showing of "willfulness." The term "willful" is frequently used in criminal statutes, but it has a less than clear statutory and common law history. See Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Criminal Law § 3.4(b), at 213-14 & n.7 (2d ed. 1986). In response to the ambiguity of such common law terms, the Model Penal Code delineated four categories of culpable mens rea, corresponding to actions taken purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently. Model Penal Code § 2.02(2)(a)-(d). The Model Penal Code parallels many judicial decisions in declaring that knowing conduct is sufficient to establish willfulness. See id. § 2.02(8) ("A requirement that an offense be committed wilfully is satisfied if a person acts knowingly with respect to the material elements of the offense . . ."); see also United States v. M.W., 890 F.2d 239, 241 (10th Cir. 1989) (holding that, for purposes of federal arson statute, "'willfully and maliciously' includes acts done with the knowledge that burning of a building is the practically certain result"); United States v. Barber, 594 F.2d 1242, 1244 (9th Cir. 1979)...

To continue reading