Knapper v. State

Citation473 P.3d 1053
Decision Date20 August 2020
Docket NumberCase No. F-2017-223
Parties James Edward KNAPPER, Appellant v. STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma


¶1 Appellant, James Edward Knapper, was tried and convicted at a jury trial in Tulsa County District Court, Case No. CF-2015-3957, of Count 1: Murder in the First Degree, in violation of 21 O.S.Supp.2012, § 701.7(A) ; Count 2: Assault and Battery With a Deadly Weapon, in violation of 21 O.S.2011, § 652 ; and Count 3: Gang-Related Offense, in violation of 21 O.S.2011, § 856.3. The jury recommended sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole on Count 1; fifty-five years imprisonment on Count 2; and five years imprisonment on Count 3. The Honorable William D. LaFortune, District Judge, presided at trial and sentenced Appellant in accordance with the jury's verdicts. Judge LaFortune gave credit for time served and ordered all three sentences to run consecutively.1 Appellant now appeals.


¶2 In 2015, Jerome Bledsoe was a member of a street gang called the Squeeze Team and a former member of the rival Hoover Crips. The Hoover Crips had marked him for death for leaving their gang. On June 23, 2015, a group of Crips unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Bledsoe while he was getting gas at a north Tulsa QuikTrip. The shooters unintentionally shot another person during this attack.

¶3 On July 17, 2015, Bledsoe and his girlfriend, Deouijanea Terry, were driving around north Tulsa. Around 3:45 p.m., Bledsoe stopped at an intersection and a gray Chevy Astro van drove up next to them. The van's sliding passenger door opened2 and the occupants on the passenger side of the van opened fire, wounding Bledsoe and killing Ms. Terry. Bledsoe later told police that Appellant, a then fourteen-year-old member of the Hoover Crips, was one of the shooters who opened fire. Bledsoe also identified Appellant at trial as a participant in the QuikTrip shooting the month before.

¶4 Appellant and his accomplices later bragged about the shootings to Roshawn Banks, telling Banks they had done some shooting and thought someone had been killed. Appellant also remarked that a ".40 barked harder than a nine." When Appellant learned he was wanted for questioning, he fled Tulsa for Wichita, Kansas, where he was later arrested.

¶5 After the shooting, police recovered a stolen van matching the description of the van used in the July 17th shooting. Latent fingerprints recovered from the window of the van's passenger side sliding door matched Appellant's known fingerprints. Police also recovered a .40 caliber shell casing and two 9mm shell casings from inside the van. The .40 caliber shell casing was recovered from the floor, near the edge of the van's sliding passenger door, behind the front passenger seat. A police ballistics examiner determined the .40 caliber shell casings recovered both from the roadway at the crime scene and from inside the van were fired from the same weapon.

¶6 The State also recovered numerous Snapchat videos of Appellant searching the OSCN online docket and saying that someone was talking to the police. Other Snapchat videos recovered by authorities showed Appellant praising incarcerated gang members and flashing gang signs. Some Snapchat videos too showed Appellant partying while on the run in Wichita.

¶7 Appellant took the witness stand and flatly denied his guilt of the charges, claiming he was not present and took no part in the shootings. Appellant claimed investigators were attempting to frame him by planting his fingerprints to connect him to the van used in the murder. Appellant also denied being a member of a gang.

¶8 Additional facts will be discussed below as necessary.


¶9 Proposition I. Appellant first complains that trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for not attempting to have Appellant certified as a Youthful Offender. To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the defendant must show both that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). As summarized by the Supreme Court:

To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." 466 U.S. at 688 . A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a "strong presumption" that counsel's representation was within the "wide range" of reasonable professional assistance. Id., at 689 . The challenger's burden is to show "that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Id., at 687 .
With respect to prejudice, a challenger must demonstrate "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id., at 694 . It is not enough "to show that the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the proceeding." Id., at 693 . Counsel's errors must be "so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable." Id., at 687 .

Harrington v. Richter , 562 U.S. 86, 104, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011) (quoting Strickland , supra ).

¶10 Appellant fails to show that trial counsel was ineffective. Oklahoma law provides that:

Any person thirteen (13) or fourteen (14) years of age who is charged with murder in the first degree shall be held accountable for the act as if the person were an adult; provided, the person may be certified as a youthful offender ... as provided by this section[.]

10A O.S.2011, § 2-5-205(A). Appellant was fourteen years old when he and his accomplices opened fire on Deouijanea Terry and Jerome Bledsoe. He was presumed to be an adult under Oklahoma law when the charged offenses were committed. Consistent with this understanding, the State charged Appellant as an adult in this case.

¶11 At a reverse certification hearing, it is the defendant's burden to overcome this presumption and prove he or she should be certified as a youthful offender. C.L.F. v. State , 1999 OK CR 12, ¶ 4, 989 P.2d 945, 946. In order to demonstrate youthful offender status, the district court must consider a statutorily-delineated list of seven factors with the greatest weight being given to the first three factors:

1. Whether the alleged offense was committed in an aggressive, violent, premeditated or willful manner;
2. Whether the offense was against persons, and, if personal injury resulted, the degree of personal injury;
3. The record and past history of the accused person, including previous contacts with law enforcement agencies and juvenile or criminal courts, prior periods of probation and commitments to juvenile institutions;
4. The sophistication and maturity of the accused person and the capability of distinguishing right from wrong as determined by consideration of the person's psychological evaluation, home, environmental situation, emotional attitude and pattern of living;
5. The prospects for adequate protection of the public if the accused person is processed through the youthful offender system or the juvenile system;
6. The reasonable likelihood of rehabilitation of the accused person if such person is found to have committed the alleged offense, by the use of procedures and facilities currently available to the juvenile court; and
7. Whether the offense occurred while the accused person was escaping or on escape status from an institution for youthful offenders or delinquent children.

10A O.S.2011, § 2-5-205(E)(1-7).

¶12 Appellant offers no argument on appeal addressing these factors, let alone discussing how defense counsel could reasonably craft an argument utilizing these factors to overcome the presumption that he was an adult when he and his accomplices opened fire on Bledsoe and Terry in broad daylight at a busy north Tulsa intersection. The record shows, inter alia , that these were exceptionally violent and aggressive crimes; that the drive-by shooting resulting in the murder was gang-motivated; that Appellant had participated in a previous drive-by shooting aimed at killing Bledsoe the month before at a QuikTrip; and that Appellant had prior contacts with law enforcement as a juvenile for weapons offenses including felony discharge of a firearm into a dwelling. Appellant's own mother acknowledged during her sentencing phase testimony that Appellant could not make it longer than two or three months at a time as a juvenile before getting back into trouble with authorities. The first three factors of the statutory analysis counsel strongly in favor of adult status in the present case for Appellant. Nothing in the record on appeal suggests the balance of factors prescribed in § 2-5-205(E) offset the first three factors to overcome the presumption that Appellant should have been charged as an adult.

¶13 Instead of addressing the factors relevant to this proposition, Appellant focuses largely on trial counsel's performance during closing argument at trial—an issue separately raised and addressed in Proposition IX, infra . This is wholly insufficient, however, to overcome the strong presumption that counsel's representation was within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance concerning his decision not to seek youthful offender status for Appellant. Nor does Appellant demonstrate Strickland prejudice with this claim. Appellant's claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to certify Appellant as a youthful offender is, at best, speculative and conclusory. This is wholly inadequate to demonstrate ineffective assistance under the two-pronged Strickland standard. See Fulgham v. State , 2016 OK CR 30, ¶ 18, 400 P.3d 775, 780-81. Proposition I is denied.

¶14 Proposition II....

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