Corson v. State, No. 88-26

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtBefore CARDINE, C.J., THOMAS, URBIGKIT and MACY, JJ., and BROWN; CARDINE; URBIGKIT; URBIGKIT
Citation766 P.2d 1155
PartiesBill CORSON, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Decision Date27 December 1988
Docket NumberNo. 88-26

Page 1155

766 P.2d 1155
Bill CORSON, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
No. 88-26.
Supreme Court of Wyoming.
Dec. 27, 1988.

Page 1156

Leonard Munker, State Public Defender, Steve Weerts, Senior Asst. Public Defender, Michael Cornia (argued), Student Intern, Gerald M. Gallivan, Director, Wyoming Defender Aid Program, and Kathleen B. Simon, Student Intern, for appellant.

Joseph B. Meyer, Atty. Gen., John R. Renneisen, Deputy Atty. Gen. Karen A. Byrne, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Michele J. Neves (argued), Legal Intern, for appellee.

Before CARDINE, C.J., THOMAS, URBIGKIT and MACY, JJ., and BROWN, J., Retired. *

CARDINE, Chief Justice.

This appeal is from appellant's burglary conviction by a seventh judicial district court jury. The only issue presented for our determination, as stated by appellant, is as follows:

"Did the prosecution fail to present sufficient evidence to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?"

We affirm.

On February 5, 1986, between 12:15 a.m. and approximately 7:00 a.m., the Hideaway Bar in Mills, Wyoming was burglarized. Taken in the burglary were 334 quarters from a video machine, 20 packages of Marlboro cigarettes, 20 packs of Marlboro Lights, 10 packs of Winstons, 10 packs of Merit cigarettes, money and a coin box from a cigarette machine. The employee who closed the bar testified that after locking the front door of the bar from the inside, he left through the back door. The employee stated that although it had been snowing heavily earlier, the snowfall had subsided as he was leaving the bar.

At approximately 7:00 a.m. that morning, the bar owner, Mr. Dale Sterner, entered the Hideaway Bar through the back door. He did not recall seeing any footprints near the back door. Once inside the bar he noticed that the front door was ajar. Upon further examination, he determined that there had been a break-in and notified the Mills police department.

Officer Dan Schirlinger of the Mills police department responded to the burglary call. He noted two sets of footprints in the heavy wet snow near the front door. One set of footprints appeared to be made by a soft-soled shoe, and the other set by a cowboy boot with pointed toes. While the footprints led away from the bar, there was apparently no evidence of prints leading to the front door. The officer followed the footprints from the Hideaway Bar to the front door of appellant's trailer. There were no footprints coming away from the front door of the trailer, and there were no footprints at the trailer's back door.

A back-up officer from the Natrona County sheriff's department was summoned, and the two officers made contact with appellant, who invited the officers inside. Appellant, his wife and children appeared to have just gotten out of bed.

Page 1157

Officer Schirlinger told appellant that he was investigating a burglary that had occurred at the Hideaway Bar. The back-up deputy noticed a pair of wet, flat-soled shoes in front of the stove and pointed them out to Officer Schirlinger. Appellant told Officer Schirlinger that those shoes were owned by Phillip Tageant who had been staying with appellant. Initially, appellant told the officer that Tageant had left the night before at 6:00 p.m., but later produced Tageant from a back room. While preparing to go to the Mills police department with the officers, appellant brought out what he claimed to be his only pair of cowboy boots, which were square toed. The officer detected no sign of wetness on appellant's boots.

Approximately five hours later, the Mills police department conducted a search at appellant's residence. As a result of this search, officers seized a rusty tire iron, a pry bar, a screwdriver wrapped in a pair of gloves and a flashlight. None of the stolen items were recovered in the search, although appellant, Tageant, and Mrs. Corson all had freshly opened packs of Marlboro cigarettes. Appellant and Tageant were arrested for burglary on February 6, 1986. On March 3, 1986, a criminal complaint was filed charging appellant with one count of burglary in violation of § 6-3-301(a), (b), W.S.1977. Pursuant to a motion by the State, on March 24, 1986, the court consolidated for trial appellant's case with the case of Phillip Tageant. Both men were convicted by a jury on June 3, 1986.

Appellant contends that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to support a conviction and that the trial court erred in refusing to grant appellant's motion for a judgment of acquittal. In addressing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, a reviewing court must examine all the evidence in a light most favorable to the State to determine if there is sufficient evidence to uphold the verdict. Dangel v. State, Wyo., 724 P.2d 1145, 1148 (1986), citing Broom v. State, Wyo., 695 P.2d 640 (1985). This court does not act as a jury for purposes of deciding criminal guilt or innocence, but will review the record to determine whether it contains sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. Wells v. State, Wyo., 613 P.2d 201, 202 (1980). In Capshaw v. State, Wyo., 737 P.2d 740, 744-45 (1987), we explained:

" 'It is not our function to weigh the evidence for a determination as to whether or not it is sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We have consistently held that even though it is possible to draw other inferences from the evidence presented, it is the responsibility of the jury to resolve conflicts in the evidence.' " (Quoting Broom v. State, 695 P.2d at 642.)

In the present case, drawing all inferences and resolving all evidentiary conflicts in favor of the State, we must affirm appellant's conviction.

Appellant's attack focuses on the evidence of bootprints and burglary tools, which provided the most damaging links between appellant and the crime. The undisputed weaknesses in the bootprint evidence were: (1) no measurements were taken of the prints; (2) the prints appeared to be made from pointed-toe boots rather than the square-toe boots which appellant owned; (3) the investigating officers did not notice any wetness on appellant's boots, although they noticed that Tageant's shoes showed signs of wetness; and (4) the investigating officers did not recognize any prints leading toward the burglary site, but only away from it. In light of this evidence, the jury could have drawn inferences which created reasonable doubt that the bootprints were left by appellant. Other evidence, however, provided a reasonable basis for the jury to conclude that the bootprints were indeed those of appellant. (1) Although no measurements were taken, the investigating officer who viewed the comparative sizes of the boots and the prints testified that the prints were consistent with appellant's boots. (2) Even though the bootprints were pointed-toed and appellant's boots were square-toed, the investigating officer testified that a person's gait could explain the disparity. The defense did not discredit this theory, and

Page 1158

we will not conduct our own factual investigation to determine its accuracy. (3) The absence of any sign of wetness on appellant's boots, in contrast to Tageant's shoes, could easily be attributed to differences in composition or finish. The boots and shoes were introduced as exhibits, and the jury was free to draw such inferences. (4) Finally, the absence of tracks leading to the bar could be the result of significant snowfall while appellant and Tageant were inside the bar. Although the bartender testified that the snowfall was subsiding when he left the bar, he could not say whether the snowfall intensified later that night. In resolving all of these conflicts in the evidence, the jury was required to weigh the evidence and draw inferences from it. Resolving all evidentiary conflicts in favor of the State, as we must, we conclude that the record permitted a reasonable inference that the bootprints represented appellant's tracks.

With respect to the burglary tools, an expert from the State crime lab testified that paint found on the pry bar was physically and chemically consistent with the paint on the doorjamb at the burglary site, and metallic flakes on the tire iron were physically similar to the metal of the door's locking mechanism. Thus, the jury could have reasonably concluded that the tools were used in the break-in. Although no fingerprints were identified on the tools, they were found in a cabinet under appellant's kitchen sink, easily within his access. This evidence clearly added strength to the State's case against appellant.

In our opinion affirming the conviction of appellant's codefendant, we made the following assessment of the sufficiency of the evidence:

"The jury had evidence before it of two sets of footprints leading from the bar to the trailer--one of flat-soled shoes and one of cowboy boots. There were no other footprints. On the morning after the burglary, [Tageant's] soggy, flat-soled shoes were discovered in the trailer. Corson owned only a pair of cowboy boots. Both Corson and [Tageant] were present in the trailer the morning after the burglary * * *. Tools suitable for use in such a burglary were found in the trailer in a place accessible to both of the men. The paint chips on the tools were chemically similar to the paint chips taken from the bar.

"On the basis of this evidence, the jury could have found that the tools were used in the burglary, that the footprints were those of [Tageant] and Corson, that Corson attempted to cover up the...

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6 practice notes
  • Saldana v. State, No. 90-24
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 28, 1993
    ...would, or even could, have come to the same result the jury actually did. See Munson v. State, 770 P.2d 1093 (Wyo.1989); Corson v. State, 766 P.2d 1155 (Wyo.1988); Wells v. State, 613 P.2d 201 (Wyo.1980). We do not serve as a second jury involved in assessing factual matters that apply to t......
  • Davis v. State, S-16-0291
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • April 13, 2018
    ...carries with it the highest evidentiary burden. Watts v. State , 2016 WY 40, ¶ 14, 370 P.3d 104, 108-09 (Wyo. 2016) ; Corson v. State , 766 P.2d 1155, 1162 (Wyo. 1988). Application of these standards varies largely with the nature of the case and the issues therein. Proof by a preponderance......
  • Young v. State, No. 91-154
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 26, 1993
    ...result as the jury did. Saldana v. State, 846 P.2d 604 (Wyo.1993) (citing Munson v. State, 770 P.2d 1093 (Wyo.1989); Corson v. State, 766 P.2d 1155 (Wyo.1988); Wells v. State, 613 P.2d 201 (Wyo.1980)). After considering this record in the light of this standard, there is no question that th......
  • Prime v. State, No. 86-203
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 6, 1989
    ...the disapproval I have for this tactic of engendered prejudice by procedure. I would repeat, as recently stated in Corson v. State, 766 P.2d 1155 (Wyo.1988) by a historical quotation from a great American jurist, Judge Jerome "A keen observer has said that 'next to perjury, prejudice is the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Saldana v. State, No. 90-24
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 28, 1993
    ...would, or even could, have come to the same result the jury actually did. See Munson v. State, 770 P.2d 1093 (Wyo.1989); Corson v. State, 766 P.2d 1155 (Wyo.1988); Wells v. State, 613 P.2d 201 (Wyo.1980). We do not serve as a second jury involved in assessing factual matters that apply to t......
  • Davis v. State, S-16-0291
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • April 13, 2018
    ...carries with it the highest evidentiary burden. Watts v. State , 2016 WY 40, ¶ 14, 370 P.3d 104, 108-09 (Wyo. 2016) ; Corson v. State , 766 P.2d 1155, 1162 (Wyo. 1988). Application of these standards varies largely with the nature of the case and the issues therein. Proof by a preponderance......
  • Young v. State, No. 91-154
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • March 26, 1993
    ...result as the jury did. Saldana v. State, 846 P.2d 604 (Wyo.1993) (citing Munson v. State, 770 P.2d 1093 (Wyo.1989); Corson v. State, 766 P.2d 1155 (Wyo.1988); Wells v. State, 613 P.2d 201 (Wyo.1980)). After considering this record in the light of this standard, there is no question that th......
  • Prime v. State, No. 86-203
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • January 6, 1989
    ...the disapproval I have for this tactic of engendered prejudice by procedure. I would repeat, as recently stated in Corson v. State, 766 P.2d 1155 (Wyo.1988) by a historical quotation from a great American jurist, Judge Jerome "A keen observer has said that 'next to perjury, prejudice is the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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