Buckles v. State, 4028

Citation500 P.2d 518
Decision Date17 August 1972
Docket NumberNo. 4028,4028
PartiesWalter BUCKLES, Appellant (Defendant below), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

J. F. Mahoney, Casper, for appellant.

Clarence A. Brimmer, Atty. Gen., and Richard A. Stacy, Asst. Atty. Gen., Cheyenne, for appellee.

Before McINTYRE, C. J., and PARKER, McEWAN, and GUTHRIE, JJ.

Mr. Justice GUTHRIE delivered the opinion of the court.

Defendant, Walter Buckles, was charged and convicted of first degree murder by a jury in the District Court of Natrona County. From that conviction he appeals.

Defendant urges as grounds for reversal the following: That the verdict was not sustained by adequate evidence and was contrary to law. In support of this first assignment he contends that the evidence was not sufficient to prove premeditated malice and that the State failed to sustain its burden to prove the sanity of defendant. Defendant also alleges there was error committed in instructing the jury both by instructions given and the refusal of a proffered instruction. He further urges seven other grounds for reversal, all dealing with evidentiary rulings and in one instance the reception of certain pictures as exhibits.

The defendant and his wife met Crowder, the deceased, during the afternoon of March 14, 1970, at a place called Hank's Bar. They were strangers prior to the time of this meeting. During their conversation it was agreed that they would go to Crowder's home to see his horses. After spending some time there they left the Crowder place, Mrs. Buckles leaving with Crowder in his pickup and defendant alone in his car. They became separated and defendant proceeded to the Oregon Trail Bar, parking his car in front so his wife might see it.

Some time later, at approximately 8 p. m., Mrs. Buckles came to the Oregon Trail Bar where defendant was playing pool. She told defendant and various other persons in the bar that she had been raped by deceased. Defendant continued playing pool and his wife had some drinks. Around 10 p. m. defendant and his wife left the bar and went to the home of deceased, stopping en route and arriving some time later. Upon Crowder's return around midnight he was shot by defendant with a .30-06 sporting rifle and death ensued almost immediately.

At 12:51 a. m. defendant and his wife appeared at the Casper Police Station where officer Thomas was on duty. Mrs. Buckles, who came in first, was crying. About a minute later Buckles came into the office carrying a rifle which he slammed on the desk. Thomas knew both Mr. and Mrs. Buckles and was on a first-name basis with defendant. Thomas inquired what was going on and defendant responded, 'I killed that dirty sonofabitch that raped Margie.' He said it happened out of town and that he could not give the exact location. The sheriff's office was called. Thomas then advised defendant he did not have to talk to him about it, and that if he did Thomas would have to testify in court. He told defendant where the phone was and that he could use it to call anybody he chose, or if he wanted to get an attorney. Defendant then told Thomas they had been friends for a long time and that he knew Thomas would not 'screw him around.' Thomas also called Lt. Brandon and shortly thereafter Brandon and deputies Hartman and Adamson of the sheriff's office arrived. During the conversation had with Thomas defendant told him Margie had been raped and that he went looking for the man who did it and had shot him with the gun he brought in to Thomas.

Deputies Hartman and Adamson took defendant to the scene of the killing where defendant indicated the spot from which he fired the shot, the location of his automobile, and several other details. On the way to the scene defendant volunteered without questioning that his wife had been raped, and that he 'shot the s. o. b., and what would you do in a case like that.'

After their return from the Crowder place officers Lewis and Thomas took a statement from defendant which was taped. The tape and a transcription thereof were admitted in evidence. This statement recites generally the facts above outlined but differs and adds to these facts in the following respects: That his wife had not chosen to say anything in front of the men at the bar and that she called him over and told him that she had been raped. That he quit in the middle of his game of pool and went to get deceased to 'bring him in.' That he should have called the sheriff's department. That they went by the two bars on the way out but neither deceased nor his pickup was there. That they then went to deceased's place, which they had a hard time finding. That deceased was not there when they got there. In defendant's own words the following occurred:

'* * * and I just pulled up there, around behind where I showed you from where I shot him tonight, Butch, You know. And his pickup was gone, I just pulled up and he pulled out around me, he came in and pulled out around me up there and he got out of there and he slammed his door and I told him, 'Hey'. I got out of my car, I didn't have no gun or anything in my hand. I said, 'Hey, friend, you are going to town with me'. He said, 'I will take care of you right now', and he started back for his car and I reached. Well, I figured the guy has a gun, and I reached in the back seat and I grabbed the gun and I threw a shell in it and I just shot at him. I mean, I didn't mean to kill him, because it has a scope sight on it and I just threw a shell in there and I shot at him. Maybe shake him up and maybe get him away from his pickup.'

The statement further continued that after the shot he threw his gun to the ground and ran over to Crowder and discovered he was dead. When he learned this he went immediately to the police station. He stated he had not meant to shoot Crowder but intended to shoot above him. He further recites his wife's conversation of deceased's threats at the time of the rape.

The thrust of defendant's argument is that under the holdings in Eagan v. State, 58 Wyo. 167, 128 P.2d 215, 226, and State v. Helton, 73 Wyo. 92, 276 P.2d 434, 443, the accused's statement is not sufficient evidence to establish premeditation and malice. He argues that the extra-judicial statement considered in its entirety fails to show premeditated malice and that Martinez v. State, 80 Wyo. 325, 342 P.2d 227, 231, applies.

It is conceded that it is the burden of the State to prove premeditated malice beyond a reasonable doubt to sustain a conviction of first degree murder. Deliberation and premeditation as the basis for a conviction of murder may be inferred from the facts and circumstances surrounding the killing. State v. Campbell, 146 Mont. 251, 405 P.2d 978, 982, 22 A.L.R.3d 824; State v. Cates, 97 Mont. 173, 33 P.2d 578, 586; State v. Montoya, 72 N.M. 178, 381 P.2d 963, 964; State v. McGahuey, 230 Or. 643, 371 P.2d 669, 670. We have heretofore held in State v. Riggle, 76 Wyo. 1, 298 P.2d 349, 360, rehearing denied 300 P.2d 567, certiorari denied 352 U.S. 981, 77 S.Ct. 384, 1 L.Ed.2d 366, that it is for the jury to weigh this evidence. It is the jury's province to weigh and allocate the weight to be given to all evidence, direct or circumstantial. State v. Lindsay, 77 Wyo. 410, 317 P.2d 506, 512; 41 C.J.S. Homicide § 340, p. 105.

Defendant's reliance upon the above-mentioned Eagan, Helton, and Martinez cases is misplaced. The factual situations in all these cases make them inapplicable here. In Eagan this court reduced a conviction of second degree murder to manslaughter. Defendant therein defended on the theory that the killing was accidental and unintentional. Defendant cites therefrom the rule that if an accused is the sole witness to the incident his testimony cannot be arbitrarily rejected but this is qualified in a manner which distinguishes it from this case. The court makes this rule's application dependent on the sole witness not being impeached and that his testimony is not improbable and not inconsistent with the other facts and circumstances shown. In Eagan there was considerable other evidence supportive of the testimony of that defendant. The different facts shown in this case bring this modification of the rule into play because the statement of defendant is impeached in several particulars and is inconsistent with proven facts. Eagan involves the question of malice and the sufficiency of evidence to show that element. The court, 128 P.2d at 225, applied the rule asserted by defendant that when the statement or evidence of the defendant is relied upon to establish the element of malice, which is not the case here, the mitigating exculpatory statements must be considered if proof of the element lies in the statement. The logical converse thereof arrives at a rationale unfavorable to this defendant. The strength of the evidence negativing malice shown in the Eagan case has no counterpart here.

The Helton case, supra, involved a defendant charged with first degree murder wherein a conviction was had upon second degree murder and was reduced to manslaughter by this court. That opinion is significant in that it notes the prosecution's failure to impeach the credibility of defendant and that the State relied upon defendant's testimony to establish a necessary element of its charge. Defendant asserts Helton modifies Eagan. With this we do not agree. Both are completely consistent. It was concluded there was no evidence to determine the act was done maliciously. In Helton, 276 P.2d at 443, the court comments that though motive is not necessary its absence has considerable influence in determining the degree of guilt. Strong motive is present here.

In the Martinez case, supra, conviction was had for first degree murder and the court reduced it to second degree based on the State's failure to show premeditated malice. This opinion, 342 P.2d at 231, notes that the sole basis for a first degree conviction was defendant's...

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