Ryan v. State, No. 98-279.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
Writing for the CourtKALOKATHIS.
Citation988 P.2d 46
PartiesRoy Dale RYAN, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
Decision Date08 October 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98-279.

988 P.2d 46

Roy Dale RYAN, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff)

No. 98-279.

Supreme Court of Wyoming.

October 8, 1999.


988 P.2d 49
Representing Appellant: Sylvia Lee Hackl, State Public Defender; Donna D. Domonkos, Assistant Public Defender; and Michael
988 P.2d 50
Dinnerstein, Assistant Public Defender. Argument by Mr. Dinnerstein

Representing Appellee: Gay Woodhouse, Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Karen A. Byrne, Special Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Byrne.

Before LEHMAN, C.J., and THOMAS, MACY, and GOLDEN, JJ.; and KALOKATHIS, D.J.

KALOKATHIS, District Judge.

Convicted of murdering his wife, Appellant alleges numerous errors deprived him of his right to a fair trial. While we find that Appellant was impermissibly profiled by expert testimony, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. As none of Appellant's other contentions are meritorious, we affirm.

I. ISSUES

Appellant, Roy Dale Ryan (Ryan), presents eight issues for our review:

I. Did the trial court deprive Appellant of his constitutional right to a fair trial when it told the prospective jurors that appellant was there because he murdered his wife?
II. Did the trial court deprive Appellant of his constitutional right to a fair trial by refusing to grant a mistrial after a juror shared with her fellow jurors the fact that she had been threatened and her car damaged?
III. Did the trial court deprive Appellant of his constitutional right to a fair trial when it permitted a witness who was only five years old at the time of the incident to testify even though she did not have the mental capacity at the time of the occurrence to receive an accurate impression of it and did not have memory sufficient to retain independent recollection of the occurrence?
IV. Did the trial court deprive Appellant of his constitutional right to a fair trial when it refused to bar testimony suggesting that batterers have a propensity to kill those whom they have abused?
V. Did the trial court deprive Appellant of his due process right to a fair trial by refusing to bar evidence that the prosecution had obtained with a warrant from a court that did not have jurisdiction over Appellant's case and in a manner in which the defense had been denied the opportunity to be heard?
VI. Did the court deprive Appellant of his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him by permitting a witness to testify remotely under circumstances in which the jury, the court, counsel, and appellant could not observe the witness' demeanor and the witness could not see the accused?
VII. Was Appellant deprived of his due process right to a fair trial when a security officer demanded to know whether the jury was close to a verdict?
VIII. Is the sentence that the court imposed upon Appellant for second degree murder illegal because it is definite rather than indeterminate?

Appellee, State of Wyoming (the State), more succinctly rephrases the issues as:

I. Did a single comment by the trial court create reversible error?
II. Was there jury tampering, and if so, did it constitute reversible error?
III. Was the child witness who was present at the scene of the murder competent to testify?
IV. Did the testimony of an expert witness create plain error?
V. Did the trial court properly admit evidence obtained from a legally sufficient search warrant?
VI. Was Appellant allowed to confront witnesses against him?
VII. Was Appellant deprived of a fair trial when a security officer made a casual comment to a juror during a smoke break?
988 P.2d 51
VIII. Was Appellant's life sentence illegal because it was a definite rather than indeterminate sentence?

II. FACTS

On December 11, 1996, the Green River Police Department received a call from a man asking for assistance and an ambulance. The caller stayed on the line only for a matter of seconds, but the dispatcher was able to trace the call to an address in the Shelter Valley Trailer Court. Green River Police Officers Cezanne Brennan and Stan Brannum were the first to arrive at the scene.

The officers approached the trailer and knocked on the outside of the residence. The front door was slightly ajar, and after the officers knocked, a small black dog pushed the door open far enough that the officers could see into the trailer. They saw a man, later identified as Ryan, lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen. They entered the residence, approached Ryan, and ascertained that he had been shot in the chest. Officer Brennan asked Ryan, "Who shot you?" and Ryan responded, "I did."

Officer Brannum then conducted a protective sweep of the trailer. He found a young boy and a five-year-old girl apparently asleep in one bedroom. Officer Brannum then proceeded into the back bedroom and found an infant in a crib and Keri Ryan (Keri), Ryan's wife, lying on the bed in a pool of blood with a .22 magnum two-shot Derringer under her hand. Brannum determined that Keri was dead. He returned to the kitchen and handcuffed Ryan.

Within seconds of the officers' arrival at the scene, EMT's arrived and began treating Ryan's wound. Ryan attempted to thwart their efforts and stated that he did not want to be treated. As he lost more blood, however, his efforts became less effective. Ryan was transported to the hospital, and Officer Brennan accompanied him to collect his clothing and other possible evidence.

As Ryan's treatment continued, he again became combative and asked not to be treated. In the emergency room an unidentified individual asked Ryan, "What happened?" and Ryan responded, "It was an accident." Officer Brennan then asked Ryan, "Who had the gun," and he responded, "We both did." Ryan was taken to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he subsequently fell into a coma for several weeks. When he awoke, he claimed to have no memory of the incident, although he did present a nurse with a note which read, "How did I miss," next to a picture of a heart.

Further investigation revealed that Keri had been shot once in the neck. The bullet lodged in her spinal cord, causing instantaneous paralysis and death. The blood patterns in the back bedroom led investigators to conclude that Keri's body had been moved after she had been shot, and the gun had been placed under her hand by someone else. Moreover, judging from the position of Keri's body at the time she was shot, it was likely that she was lying down or only partially sitting up on the bed at the time she was shot. The evidence indicated that Keri was not involved in a struggle prior to her death, and the location of the wound indicated that she had not committed suicide.

The Derringer found under Keri's hand contained two spent Federal brand cartridges. Ryan's mother admitted that the gun belonged to her and produced a partially empty box of Federal brand cartridges from her home. The gun was ordinarily kept in a gun cabinet, which was broken and did not lock, in Ryan's parents' home. Both Ryan and Keri had equal access to the gun, as both visited Ryan's parents' home frequently. Investigators found that Ryan and Keri each had gunshot residue on their hands on the night of the shootings.

Ryan and Keri had a turbulent marriage punctuated by Ryan's physical abuse of his wife, which he admitted at trial. An exhaustive list of friends, neighbors, and coworkers testified to Ryan's physical, mental, and emotional abuse of Keri throughout the course of their marriage. The State produced witnesses who testified to several incidents where Ryan punched and kicked Keri in fits of rage. Additionally, the State produced witnesses who stated that Ryan controlled and isolated Keri. Ryan would not allow Keri to go anywhere without his permission, and

988 P.2d 52
he demanded to know where she was and who she was with at all times. According to Keri's coworkers, Ryan called her at work ten times or more during her shifts to check up on her. There was testimony that Ryan had attempted to commit suicide in Keri's presence on one occasion. There was testimony that Ryan emotionally abused Keri through constant criticism. There was extensive testimony about Ryan's excessive jealousy. He often accused Keri of having extramarital affairs with the customers she spoke with at work, and on more than one occasion he assaulted men who spoke with Keri

Keri left Ryan in early November of 1996 and had a family violence protection order issued against Ryan on November 5, 1996. That order was subsequently dismissed at Keri's request. During the separation period, Keri expressed her desire to return to school; she began dating another man and suggested that Ryan begin dating other women. For his part, Ryan did not handle the separation well. He became depressed and had noticeable weight loss.

Ryan was charged with first degree murder in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-101(a).1 After lengthy deliberations, the jury convicted Ryan of the lesser included offense of murder in the second degree, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-104.2 Ryan received a life sentence, and this timely appeal followed.

III. DISCUSSION

A. EVIDENTIARY CLAIMS OF ERROR

The decisions of the district court concerning the admission of witness testimony and the admission of evidence procured from a second search of the trailer are reviewed under the same standard of review. We recently summarized the considerations relevant to review of evidentiary rulings in Solis v. State, 981 P.2d 34 (Wyo.1999):

Evidentiary rulings are within the sound discretion of the trial court and include determinations of the adequacy of foundation and relevancy, competency, materiality, and remoteness of evidence. Punches v. State, 944 P.2d 1131, 1136-37 (Wyo. 1997). This court will generally accede to the trial court's determination of the admissibility of evidence unless that court clearly abused its discretion. Brown v. State, 944
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42 practice notes
  • Griggs v. State, No. S–14–0200.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 2, 2016
    ...testimony." We noted that concerns about the witness's credibility could properly be tested on cross examination. See also Ryan v. State, 988 P.2d 46, 58 (Wyo.1999)("That [the child witness's] memory proved fallible on one point does not demonstrate the absence of an independent recollectio......
  • United States v. Wells, Nos. 14-30146
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 19, 2017
    ...unanimously agree that the prosecution may not offer such evidence in its case-in-chief as substantive evidence of guilt." Ryan v. State , 988 P.2d 46, 55 (Wyo. 1999) (collecting cases). Ryan recognized that these cases generally articulate three evidentiary bases for excluding evidence ten......
  • United States v. Wells, Nos. 14-30146
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 19, 2017
    ...unanimously agree that the prosecution may not offer such evidence in its case-in-chief as substantive evidence of guilt." Ryan v. State, 988 P.2d 46, 55 (Wyo. 1999) (collecting cases). Ryan recognized that these cases generally articulate three evidentiary bases for excluding evidence tend......
  • Dean v. State, No. S-08-0017.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 10, 2008
    ...WY 100, ¶¶ 21-23, 96 P.3d 1016, 1025 (Wyo.2004); Skinner v. State, 2001 WY 102, ¶¶ 17-20, 33 P.3d 758, 764-65 (Wyo.2001); Ryan v. State, 988 P.2d 46, 64-66 (dissenting opinions) (Wyo.1999); Trujillo v. State, 953 P.2d 1182, 1186-87 (Wyo.1998); and Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-1-203 (LexisNexis 2007)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
42 cases
  • Griggs v. State, No. S–14–0200.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • February 2, 2016
    ...testimony." We noted that concerns about the witness's credibility could properly be tested on cross examination. See also Ryan v. State, 988 P.2d 46, 58 (Wyo.1999)("That [the child witness's] memory proved fallible on one point does not demonstrate the absence of an independent recollectio......
  • United States v. Wells, Nos. 14-30146
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 19, 2017
    ...unanimously agree that the prosecution may not offer such evidence in its case-in-chief as substantive evidence of guilt." Ryan v. State , 988 P.2d 46, 55 (Wyo. 1999) (collecting cases). Ryan recognized that these cases generally articulate three evidentiary bases for excluding evidence ten......
  • United States v. Wells, Nos. 14-30146
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 19, 2017
    ...unanimously agree that the prosecution may not offer such evidence in its case-in-chief as substantive evidence of guilt." Ryan v. State, 988 P.2d 46, 55 (Wyo. 1999) (collecting cases). Ryan recognized that these cases generally articulate three evidentiary bases for excluding evidence tend......
  • Dean v. State, No. S-08-0017.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • October 10, 2008
    ...WY 100, ¶¶ 21-23, 96 P.3d 1016, 1025 (Wyo.2004); Skinner v. State, 2001 WY 102, ¶¶ 17-20, 33 P.3d 758, 764-65 (Wyo.2001); Ryan v. State, 988 P.2d 46, 64-66 (dissenting opinions) (Wyo.1999); Trujillo v. State, 953 P.2d 1182, 1186-87 (Wyo.1998); and Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-1-203 (LexisNexis 2007)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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