944 P.2d 805 (Nev. 1997), 25683, Chambers v. State

Docket Nº25683.
Citation944 P.2d 805, 113 Nev. 974
Party NameRoger Morris CHAMBERS, Appellant, v. The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.
Case DateAugust 28, 1997
CourtSupreme Court of Nevada

Page 805

944 P.2d 805 (Nev. 1997)

113 Nev. 974

Roger Morris CHAMBERS, Appellant,

v.

The STATE of Nevada, Respondent.

No. 25683.

Supreme Court of Nevada.

August 28, 1997.

Page 806

[113 Nev. 975] Michael Specchio, Public Defender, and John Reese Petty, Chief Appellate Deputy Public Defender, Washoe County, for Appellant.

Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General, Carson City; Richard A. Gammick, District Attorney, and Terrence P. McCarthy, Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Respondent.

OPINION

SHEARING, Chief Judge:

Appellant Roger Morris Chambers was convicted of the murder of Henry Chacon. In addition to convicting Chambers, the jury determined that the State had proven two aggravating circumstances and that the aggravating circumstances were not outweighed by mitigating circumstances. Chambers was sentenced to death.

Chambers now appeals, claiming that the district court erred in failing to suppress his confession to police, that Nevada's "reasonable doubt" instruction is unconstitutional, that the district court failed to properly admonish the jury, and that the death penalty is excessive in this case. We disagree with Chambers' contentions that the district court erred at trial, and we affirm the conviction. However, we vacate the sentence of death

Page 807

and impose a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

FACTS

On September 28, 1993, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Chambers entered the emergency area of Washoe Medical Center in Reno. He approached Michelle Lee Moore, a triage assistant in the emergency room, and asked to see a Dr. Rasul. When asked why he was there, Chambers stated: "There's a dead body in the room." He then stated that he did not mean to do it.

Mary Jane Driskill, a security officer at Washoe Medical Center, was called to the triage desk, where Chambers was waiting. Because he appeared to be unsteady on his feet, he was taken to a psychiatric room in the emergency department. Driskill patted down Chambers, but no weapons were found. As he was being patted down, Chambers talked about stabbing someone. Driskill thought Chambers was intoxicated, as he was unsteady and his eyes were bloodshot. Driskill saw an open wound on Chambers' left arm. Chambers said that he was defending himself when he had been stabbed.

Helen Mooney, a registered nurse in the emergency department of Washoe Medical Center, testified that she checked Chambers into the hospital. He told her he had come to the hospital seeking a psychiatric evaluation. Because Mooney smelled alcohol on Chambers' breath and noted that his speech was rapid and a little disjointed, she became concerned about the level of Chambers' blood alcohol. Mooney asked Chambers [113 Nev. 978] "alert and oriented" questions. Chambers knew who and where he was but thought that the year was 1984 instead of 1993. Mooney administered a breathalyzer test, which showed a blood alcohol level of 0.27 percent.

At about 9:50 a.m., Reno Police Officer Tom Reid was dispatched to Washoe Medical Center. Upon arrival, he met with Mooney. Mooney told Reid that Chambers had asked to see Dr. Rasul and stated that there was a dead body and he did not mean to do it. Officer Reid went to speak with Chambers. When Reid walked into Chambers' room, he could smell alcohol. Chambers initiated a dialogue with Officer Reid when Reid's fellow officers, Officer Adam Wygnanski and Reserve Officer Paul Sevscik, entered the room. Chambers said that he had killed someone, that the victim was in the bathtub, and that there was blood everywhere. At first Chambers could not remember the name of the victim but later recalled that it was "Hank" (Chacon). Chambers said that he had stabbed "Hank" multiple times.

Officer Reid testified that Chambers told him that he had caught a bus in San Francisco and that Chacon got on the bus when it stopped in Sacramento. While on the bus, Chambers and Chacon drank some alcohol and inhaled some cocaine. They ended up at Circus Circus in Reno, where they rented one room to share. Chambers told Officer Reid that they went to the room together, but that he went back downstairs and played poker. When he returned to the room he found Chacon smoking heroin. Chambers said he got mad at seeing this, and that Chacon stabbed him with a knife. Officer Sevscik testified that Chambers told him that the knife Chacon used to stab him was part of a set of knives which were found in the room at Circus Circus. Chambers, a cook by trade, owned the knives and used them in his profession. Chambers told Officer Reid that he got the knife away from Chacon and stabbed him back. Chambers repeatedly told the officers that he had stabbed Chacon in self-defense.

Based on Chambers' statements at the hospital, Officer Wygnanski went to Circus Circus, where he met with a security chief and other hotel personnel. They located the room registered in Chambers' name, and with the use of the security chief's master card key, they entered the room. Officer Wygnanski went to the bathroom and saw a man's body slumped in the bathtub and blood everywhere. He left the room and secured the scene. After obtaining a search warrant, Officer Wygnanski re-entered the room with forensics personnel.

Reno Police Detective Joseph Depczynski was also present at the crime scene. He located a black canvas bag with several pockets holding knives and other kitchen utensils next to the sink on the counter in the bathroom.

Page 808

Also next to the sink he found [113 Nev. 979] two crossed black-handled knives. There was some sooty deposit on the crossed knife blades suggesting that they were used to smoke heroin. Additionally, there was a hollow tube that appeared to be paraphernalia used to inhale or sniff drugs.

On the same morning, Reno Police Detective Steve Reed also met with Chambers. Chambers told Detective Reed that Chacon was smoking heroin on his knives and they got into a fight. Around 11:30 a.m., Detective Reed took Chambers into custody and transported him to the Reno Police Department. After placing Chambers in an interview room, the detective made arrangements for a drug recognition expert (DRE) officer to evaluate him.

Detective Reed began questioning Chambers at approximately 12:30 p.m. that day. Prior to questioning him, Detective Reed read Chambers his Miranda rights. Chambers waived his rights. Following that, a DRE officer, Detective John Catalano, came in and examined Chambers. Detective Catalano checked Chambers' eyes and found that Chambers was incapable of crossing his eyes to follow an object. He also found Chambers' sluggish reaction to light to be unusual. Detective Catalano testified that Chambers' speech appeared slow and deliberate. Chambers' pulse was above normal, his blood pressure was high, and his throat was red and irritated, which would be consistent with inhaling either methamphetamine or crack cocaine. During the examination, Chambers told Detective Catalano that he had smoked some heroin and had consumed about five ounces of vodka and a beer chaser at approximately 8:00 that morning. Detective Catalano noted that, though Chambers' eyes looked like he had been drinking, Chambers did not seem to be that intoxicated.

Based on the examination, Detective Catalano concluded that Chambers was under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant. Despite Chambers' assertion, Detective Catalano could find nothing to support Chambers' admission that he had smoked heroin. At the conclusion of the test Detective Reed and Detective Catalano spoke briefly, then Detective Reed, along with another detective, began questioning Chambers. Chambers was questioned for approximately four hours. During this time, he was provided with cigarettes, water, and coffee, and was offered food, which he rejected. The police department made a videotape and an audiotape of this interview. The district court and the jury viewed relevant portions of the videotape at trial.

After questioning, Chambers was formally booked into the Washoe County jail by Reno Police Department Detective Phillip Jenkins. Detective Jenkins testified that at approximately 3:45 that afternoon he obtained a urine sample from Chambers. At about 4:20 p.m., an officer drew blood from Chambers. At [113 Nev. 980] approximately 4:50 p.m. an officer drew more blood, and did so again at 5:20 p.m. Chambers' blood alcohol level was 0.27 percent right after questioning, and four hours later it was 0.19 percent and descending. Chambers' urine was found to contain amphetamine, methamphetamine, a trace of morphine, and marijuana metabolite. There were no narcotics found in Chambers' blood.

Dr. Ellen Clark, a specialist in anatomical, clinical, and forensic pathology, reviewed the autopsy protocol and diagrams of injuries relating to Chacon's death prepared by her partner Dr. Laubscher. At trial, Dr. Clark testified that Chacon had suffered blunt force injuries and had seventeen stab wounds on his body. Although most of the stab wounds were superficial, she concluded that two were significant: one in the front chest that cut through a portion of the rib, passed through the lung and the sack covering the heart, and one in the back that also passed into the chest and into a lung lobe causing bleeding and the collapse of the lung. The autopsy also indicated that Chacon had ingested heroin or morphine, within two to three hours of his death.

At trial, Chambers was found guilty of first-degree murder. Chambers was sentenced to death based on two aggravating factors: (1) Chambers, who at the time of the trial was thirty-eight years old, had been convicted of two counts of robbery when he was nineteen years old, felonies involving the

Page 809

use or threat of violence, and (2) the murder of Chacon involved torture.

This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

Admission of Chambers' confession to police

Prior to trial, Chambers filed a motion to...

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45 practice notes
  • 464 P.3d 1013 (Nev. 2020), 72325, Belcher v. State
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • June 4, 2020
    ...was rash or impulsive or the result of uncontrollable or delusional impulses. Cf. Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 984-85, 944 P.2d 805, 811-12 (1997) (death sentence excessive where defendant was drunk at the time of the murder, there was no advance planning, and there ......
  • The new southpaws: the turning of the Nevada Supreme Court's criminal decisions.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 66 Nbr. 3, March 2003
    • March 22, 2003
    ...(Nev. 1998) (Springer, J., concurring); Calambro v. State, 952 P.2d 946, 951 (Nev. 1998) (Springer, J., concurring); Chambers v. State, 944 P.2d 805 (Nev. 1997); Sandy v. Fifth Judicial Dist. Ct., 935 P.2d 1148, 1152 (Nev. 1997) (Springer, J., dissenting); Todd v. State, 931 P.2d 721, 726 (......
  • Keck v. State, 040921 NVSC, 79815
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • April 9, 2021
    ...instruction does not undermine the presumption of innocence or lessen the burden of proof); Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 982-83, 944 P.2d 805, 810 (1997) (upholding the reasonable doubt instruction provided in NRS 175.211). Therefore, we conclude that the distri......
  • Sheffey v. State, 020821 NVCA, 80071-COA
    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • February 8, 2021
    ...demonstrate the statutorily-mandated reasonable doubt instruction was improperly given. See NRS 175.211; Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 982-83, 944 P.2d 805, 810 (1997). He also failed to demonstrate the equal-and-exact-justice instruction was erroneously given. S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • 464 P.3d 1013 (Nev. 2020), 72325, Belcher v. State
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • June 4, 2020
    ...was rash or impulsive or the result of uncontrollable or delusional impulses. Cf. Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 984-85, 944 P.2d 805, 811-12 (1997) (death sentence excessive where defendant was drunk at the time of the murder, there was no advance planning, and there ......
  • Keck v. State, 040921 NVSC, 79815
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court of Nevada
    • April 9, 2021
    ...instruction does not undermine the presumption of innocence or lessen the burden of proof); Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 982-83, 944 P.2d 805, 810 (1997) (upholding the reasonable doubt instruction provided in NRS 175.211). Therefore, we conclude that the distri......
  • Sheffey v. State, 020821 NVCA, 80071-COA
    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • February 8, 2021
    ...demonstrate the statutorily-mandated reasonable doubt instruction was improperly given. See NRS 175.211; Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 982-83, 944 P.2d 805, 810 (1997). He also failed to demonstrate the equal-and-exact-justice instruction was erroneously given. S......
  • State v. Derrico, 072616 NVCA, 68546
    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals of Nevada
    • July 26, 2016
    ...that Derrico's statements were anything less than a product of rational intellect and free will. See Chambers v. State, 113 Nev. 974, 981, 944 P.2d 805, 809 (1997) ("In order to be voluntary, a confession must be the product of a rational intellect and a free w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The new southpaws: the turning of the Nevada Supreme Court's criminal decisions.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 66 Nbr. 3, March 2003
    • March 22, 2003
    ...(Nev. 1998) (Springer, J., concurring); Calambro v. State, 952 P.2d 946, 951 (Nev. 1998) (Springer, J., concurring); Chambers v. State, 944 P.2d 805 (Nev. 1997); Sandy v. Fifth Judicial Dist. Ct., 935 P.2d 1148, 1152 (Nev. 1997) (Springer, J., dissenting); Todd v. State, 931 P.2d 721, 726 (......