People v. Walker

Decision Date26 October 2020
Docket NumberNo. 343844,343844
PartiesPEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. DALLAS DAVID WALKER, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)

If this opinion indicates that it is "FOR PUBLICATION," it is subject to revision until final publication in the Michigan Appeals Reports.

FOR PUBLICATION

Grand Traverse Circuit Court

LC No. 17-012823-FC

Advance Sheets Version

Before: STEPHENS, P.J., and SERVITTO and RONAYNE KRAUSE, JJ.

RONAYNE KRAUSE, J.

Defendant, who was charged with open murder,1 MCL 767.71, appeals as of right his jury convictions of second-degree murder, MCL 750.317, and concealing or tampering with evidence, MCL 750.483a(5)(a). The trial court sentenced defendant to 25 to 50 years in prison for the murder conviction and 11 months in jail for the tampering with evidence conviction, to be served concurrently. We affirm.

I. FACTS

Defendant was convicted of killing the victim, defendant's next-door neighbor, in the victim's home and then concealing or tampering with evidence related to the killing. There is no dispute that defendant killed the victim; rather, at issue in this case are the circumstances of the killing. The prosecution's theory was that defendant assaulted and killed the victim because defendant was angry that the victim's friendship and alcohol consumption with defendant's father had caused significant tension in defendant's parents' marriage. Defendant's theory of defense was that, after a night of drinking, the victim sexually assaulted him, causing defendant to react by striking the victim in the head in self-defense.

The prosecution presented evidence that the victim often socialized with defendant's father and that the two frequently consumed alcohol together. The victim was disabled from workingbecause of a series of strokes, and witnesses described him as weak and slow. Defendant testified on his own behalf that the victim invited defendant over in the early morning. Defendant accepted the invitation, and after watching television for some time, the victim physically attacked defendant, held defendant down, attempted to pull defendant's pants and underwear off, and threatened to get a knife. Defendant testified that he punched the victim once, whereupon the victim fell to the floor, and defendant then "instinct[ively]" punched the victim two or three more times. Expert medical testimony established that the victim died from blunt-force injuries, including at least eight definitive areas of blunt-force trauma to his head.

After assaulting the victim, defendant returned to his home, changed clothes, and took a shower. Later that morning, the police found a garbage bag near the front door of defendant's home that contained a pair of shorts that appeared to have been stained with blood. In another garbage bag in defendant's bedroom the police found a sock that appeared to have been stained with blood and a sandal that matched another sandal that was found inside the victim's home. The blood on defendant's clothing matched the victim's DNA. As noted, the trial court's instructions to the jury included instructions on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter.

II. SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

We review a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence de novo. People v Harverson, 291 Mich App 171, 175-177; 804 NW2d 757 (2010). We must review the "evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecutor to determine whether any trier of fact could" have found each element of the charged crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Reese, 491 Mich 127, 139; 815 NW2d 85 (2012) (quotation marks and citation omitted). "Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences arising therefrom may constitute proof of the elements of [a] crime," People v Bennett, 290 Mich App 465, 472; 802 NW2d 627 (2010), and "it does not matter that the evidence gives rise to multiple inferences or that an inference gives rise to further inferences," People v Hardiman, 466 Mich 417, 428; 646 NW2d 158 (2002). "[A] reviewing court is required to draw all reasonable inferences and make credibility choices in support of the jury verdict." People v Nowack, 462 Mich 392, 400; 614 NW2d 78 (2000).

A. PREMEDITATED FIRST-DEGREE MURDER

Defendant first argues that he is entitled to a new trial because there was insufficient evidence to submit the charge of first-degree premeditated murder to the jury. Defendant further argues that even though the jury convicted him of only second-degree murder, the erroneous submission of the greater charge was not harmless because it likely caused the jury to compromise on a verdict of second-degree murder. We disagree.

First-degree premeditated murder is defined as "[m]urder perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, or any other willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing." MCL 750.316(1)(a). Defendant argues that there was insufficient evidence that he committed a deliberate and premeditated killing to submit the first-degree murder charge to the jury. We disagree.

At common law, a killing constituted murder if it was done with malice aforethought. See People v Mesik (On Reconsideration), 285 Mich App 535, 545-546; 775 NW2d 857 (2009). Common-law murder evolved into statutory second-degree murder. See People v Hansen, 368Mich 344, 350-351; 118 NW2d 422 (1962). First-degree premeditated murder is only distinguished from second-degree murder by the element of premeditation. People v Carter, 395 Mich 434, 437-438; 236 NW2d 500 (1975). Premeditation is not statutorily defined and cannot be evaluated in "a rigid and mechanical" manner. People v Oros, 502 Mich 229, 240-241; 917 NW2d 559 (2018); see also People v Tilley, 405 Mich 38, 44-46; 273 NW2d 471 (1979). Premeditation cannot be found where a defendant acts "on a sudden impulse." Tilley, 405 Mich at 44-45 (quotation marks and citation omitted). The brutality and violence of a killing does not, by itself, show premeditation. People v Hoffmeister, 394 Mich 155, 159-160; 229 NW2d 305 (1975). However, premeditation may be established by circumstantial evidence tending to show that a defendant had an opportunity to think about, evaluate, or take a "second look" at their actions. Oros, 502 Mich at 242-244. The opportunity must be adequate, but it need not be long. Id. at 243. "Premeditation may be established through evidence of the following factors: (1) the prior relationship of the parties; (2) the defendant's actions before the killing; (3) the circumstances of the killing itself; and (4) the defendant's conduct after the homicide." People v Anderson, 209 Mich App 527, 537; 531 NW2d 780 (1995).

Although the jury chose not to find that defendant acted with premeditation or deliberation, there was sufficient evidence for the trial court to submit the charge of first-degree premeditated murder to the jury. The prosecutor presented substantial evidence that the victim's prior strokes had rendered him frail and slow. This evidence contradicted defendant's testimony that the victim was physically able to commit a prolonged attack on defendant before defendant was able to defend himself and punch the victim. Defendant sustained no injury during the alleged struggle. In contrast, according to the medical examiner, the victim had apparent defensive wounds on his arms and hands in addition to multiple injuries to his face and head. Defendant admitted that he struck the victim, claiming that he hit the victim after the victim allegedly tried to pull defendant's pants down and assault him. Defendant stated that after he punched the victim once in the face, the victim fell back, hit a table, and then fell face down onto the floor. However, the medical examiner's testimony did not support defendant's claim that the trauma to the victim's eyes came from a blow to the victim's nose or that falling face-first would have caused all of the victim's injuries. Defendant also admitted that he punched the victim two or three more times as the victim lay prone. Defendant stated that the later blows were "instinctual," but defendant's version of the killing does not explain why the victim would have defensive wounds or why defendant had bruising on his elbows as well as his fists.

Taken together and viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence and defendant's testimony supported a finding that defendant either (1) decided to beat the victim to death, or (2) had the opportunity to take a "second look" while he continued to beat the victim as the victim lay unconscious on the floor. Defendant's claim that he was provoked and sexually assaulted is contradicted by the evidence of the victim's general frailty, that the victim had never acted sexually or physically aggressive with anyone before, that the victim had never previously expressed a sexual interest in men and in fact had expressed homophobia, the medical examiner's testimony, and the absence of signs of a struggle.2

Moreover, the jury could have believed parts of defendant's account, but still found that his testimony and the extent of the victim's injuries supported a finding that defendant knocked the victim out after the first punch, causing the victim to fall face down on the floor, rendering him helpless. See People v Howard, 50 Mich 239, 242-243; 15 NW 101 (1883). Thus, the jury was not obligated to accept defendant's testimony, but rather was only precluded from speculating. People v Bailey, 451 Mich 657, 673-675, 681-682; 549 NW2d 325 (1996). The jury also could have found that the victim was no longer within defendant's immediate reach after falling to the floor, which would have afforded defendant with an opportunity to take a "second look" before continuing to strike the then-helpless victim. Therefore, viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence was sufficient to support submitting the charge of first-degree premeditated murder to the jury. Because the trial court did not err in...

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