710 F.2d 528 (9th Cir. 1983), 81-1582, United States v. Talbert

Docket Nº:81-1582.
Citation:710 F.2d 528
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Daniel Jackson TALBERT, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:July 12, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 528

710 F.2d 528 (9th Cir. 1983)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Daniel Jackson TALBERT, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 81-1582.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 12, 1983

Argued and Submitted May 3, 1982.

Julia Barash, Asst. U.S. Atty., Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

Richard D. Burda, Los Angeles, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Page 529

Before ELY, SCHROEDER, and NORRIS, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

Talbert appeals from his conviction of first degree murder after a jury trial. Talbert's principal claim on appeal is that the evidence produced against him at trial was insufficient to sustain his conviction. Because we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict of guilt, the conviction must be affirmed.

FACTS

A. Background

On August 4, 1980, the body of Paul Nornes was discovered in an abandoned bowling alley on the grounds of the Brentwood Veterans Administration Psychiatric Hospital in Los Angeles, California. The coroner determined that Nornes had died from severe head injuries apparently inflicted during a beating. On April 21, 1981, Talbert was indicted for the murder of Nornes on a government reservation in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1111 (1964). 1 After a five-day trial followed by five days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The district court denied both Talbert's motion for judgment of acquittal made after conclusion of the government's case, and his renewed motion for judgment of acquittal made after return of the verdict. On September 14, 1981, Talbert was sentenced to life imprisonment.

B. Relationship of Nornes and Talbert

Nornes and Talbert were patients at the Brentwood psychiatric facility during overlapping time periods in 1980. Nornes was discharged from the facility on July 17, 1980, Talbert on July 16, 1980. 2 After his discharge, Nornes continued to reside on the hospital grounds without official consent. Sometime before his death, Nornes took up residence in a bowling ball storage room located inside the abandoned bowling alley building. After his discharge, Talbert continued to regularly frequent the patients' gathering places on hospital grounds.

Nornes supported himself by selling marijuana to the psychiatric patients who resided at the hospital. Talbert was among those known to have dealings with Nornes. While Nornes made no secret of his marijuana transactions and was generally known to have money and marijuana with him, he was secretive about where he lived. Talbert had helped Nornes carry a mattress to the storage room and was therefore one of the few who knew that Nornes lived in the abandoned bowling alley.

One witness testified that he overheard appellant and Nornes plan a "ripoff" of a "marijuana plantation" in the San Bernardino mountains. Another witness testified that he heard appellant say, apparently as a joke, that he would not mind "bumping Nornes on the head to get his marijuana."

One week before Nornes' death, several witnesses observed his taking $650 from his money belt and giving it to Talbert; Talbert was to use the money to make a marijuana purchase for Nornes. On Friday, August 1, Talbert was seen on the grounds looking for Nornes. He told two witnesses that he was looking for Nornes to pay back the money he had stolen from him (presumably the $650). Talbert reportedly said, "I am going to pay him back as soon as I get my hands on him."

C. The Murder Scenario

Nornes' body was discovered in the bowling ball room by a hospital employee at

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approximately 3:00 p.m. on Monday, August 4th. Nornes was found face down on the floor, his feet and legs resting on a mattress, his body clad only in a tee shirt. Nornes' money belt lay open and empty on the mattress. A bowling pin stood on the floor three feet from the body. Expert testimony revealed that the pin was the kind of instrument that caused Nornes' fatal head injuries. Blood stains found on the pin were identified as being of the same type as Nornes' blood. Further, Talbert's right thumbprint was discovered on the neck of the bowling pin, positioned so as to have enabled him to grip the pin by its throat and turn it upside down as a club. No other bowling pins were found in the storage room, although similar pins were discovered seventy-five feet away in the adjacent bowling alley portion of the building.

The coroner testified that Nornes died sometime during the twenty-four hour period beginning at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 3rd, and ending at 6:30 a.m. on Monday, August 4th. Talbert offered alibi evidence that he was out of town during part of this time. Rebuttal evidence established that Talbert's timetable left approximately two to four hours unaccounted for on the day of August 3rd during which Talbert was probably in the Los Angeles area and could have come to the Brentwood vicinity. The evidence also showed that Talbert was concerned about money.

ANALYSIS

A defendant is entitled to a judgment of acquittal if the evidence produced against him is insufficient to sustain a conviction. Fed.R.Crim.P. 29(a). We review the evidence produced against Talbert in the light most favorable to the government to determine whether substantial relevant evidence was produced from which the jury could reasonably have found Talbert guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2788-89, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); United States v. Miller, 688 F.2d 652, 663 (9th Cir.1982). Circumstantial evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction, and the government's evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence. Miller, supra, 688 F.2d at 663, citing United States v. Federico, 658 F.2d 1337, 1343 (9th Cir.1981).

The appellant argues that the circumstantial evidence produced against him does not permit a rational inference of guilt. He seeks to characterize this case as one in which the only evidence supporting the jury's verdict is the thumbprint on the murder weapon.

The defendant's thumbprint on what was almost certainly the murder weapon is, of course, highly incriminating. This court has held that fingerprint evidence, if sufficiently probative, may by itself support a conviction. See United States v. Crenshaw, 698 F.2d 1060, 1064 (9th Cir.1983); United States v. Scott, 452 F.2d 660, 662 (9th...

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