Siler v. State

Citation115 P.3d 14,2005 WY 73
Decision Date08 July 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-169.,03-169.
PartiesRobert Leroy SILER, Appellant (Defendant), v. The STATE of Wyoming, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wyoming

Representing Appellant: Kenneth M. Koski, Public Defender; Donna D. Domonkos, Appellate Counsel; and Tina N. Kerin, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel.

Representing Appellee: Patrick J. Crank, Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General; and Terry L. Armitage, Special Assistant Attorney General.

Before HILL, C.J., and GOLDEN, KITE, and VOIGT, JJ., and BROOKS, D.J.

VOIGT, Justice.

[¶ 1] In April 2003, a Sweetwater County jury found Robert Leroy Siler (the appellant) guilty of first-degree murder, a felony, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-101(a) (LexisNexis 2003). On appeal, the appellant claims that his trial attorneys were ineffective at an evidentiary hearing on the appellant's suppression motion and for conceding the appellant's guilt at trial, that the district court failed properly to instruct the jury on the substantive elements of first-degree murder, and that the district court abused its discretion in denying the appellant's pretrial request for substitute counsel. We affirm.


1. Whether the appellant's trial counsel was ineffective at an evidentiary hearing on the appellant's suppression motion?

2. Whether the appellant's trial counsel conceded his guilt during voir dire, opening statement, and/or closing argument?

3. Whether the district court failed properly to instruct the jury on the elements of first-degree premeditated murder?

4. Whether the district court abused its discretion in denying the appellant's pretrial request for substitute counsel?


[¶ 2] The instant case essentially revolves around the interactions among three people on August 16 and 17, 2002: the appellant, Craig Cunningham (Cunningham), and Cheryl Ward (the victim).1 Cunningham and the appellant had been acquaintances since 1999. The appellant and the victim had been involved in a rather tumultuous long-term romantic relationship. Cunningham knew of the appellant's romantic relationship with the victim, but Cunningham, too, became romantically involved with the victim in June 2002. Cunningham's relationship with the victim continued, "off and on," until August 13, 2002. As of August 13, 2002, the victim had apparently returned to the appellant's residence.

[¶ 3] Sometime after 4:30 p.m. on August 16, 2002, Cunningham went out to cash his unemployment check and buy some beer. He saw the appellant drinking at a local bar along the way, and Cunningham returned to his residence at about 8:30 p.m. Cunningham drank "a few more beers" and the appellant arrived at Cunningham's residence between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. The appellant confronted Cunningham about his relationship with the victim, and Cunningham admitted that he and the victim had been "having sex." The two argued back and forth for a period of time, and each man apparently expressed his love for the victim. Cunningham testified that at some point, the appellant displayed a bone-handled knife with a five- or six-inch blade, put the knife in the back of his truck, and returned with a "couple of beers." The appellant had calmed down, according to Cunningham, and they each drank a beer.2

[¶ 4] Cunningham testified that the appellant decided to confront the victim about her relationship with Cunningham, so the appellant drove Cunningham to the appellant's residence. The victim was in the bathroom fixing her hair, and Cunningham overheard the appellant inform the victim that he had discovered the victim's affair with Cunningham. According to Cunningham, the victim denied the affair and the appellant told her that Cunningham was present in the appellant's residence and if she did not believe the appellant, she could ask Cunningham. The appellant and the victim proceeded to argue for about five minutes and the appellant declared that he was "through" with the victim.

[¶ 5] The appellant and Cunningham left the appellant's residence between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. The appellant drove Cunningham to a local bar, where, according to Cunningham, they had one or two drinks.3 The appellant then drove Cunningham to the Rage bar. About an hour later, they left the Rage bar because the appellant "had his head down on the bar and this bartender wanted me [Cunningham] to get him out of there." Cunningham woke the appellant up and testified that the appellant was able to exit the bar and get into his vehicle under his own power. The appellant stated that he was "in no shape to drive" and neither, admittedly, was Cunningham.4 Nevertheless, Cunningham took the wheel of the appellant's vehicle and experienced some difficulty in starting the vehicle. The appellant was able to tell Cunningham how properly to start the vehicle.

[¶ 6] Cunningham drove the appellant back to the appellant's residence. He estimated that they left the Rage bar at 12:00 a.m. or 12:30 a.m., but testified that it could have been later.5 At the appellant's residence, the appellant offered to let Cunningham stay the night and to take Cunningham home in the morning. The appellant retrieved a blanket so that Cunningham could sleep on the couch; Cunningham drank another beer or two and went to sleep on one couch and the appellant went to sleep on a separate couch.

[¶ 7] Meanwhile, the victim had called her friend JoAnn Richards (who had been drinking beer since noon that day) several times from the appellant's residence to see if Richards would pick her up, but Richards did not do so. The appellant also called Richards at 2:00 a.m.6 He asked whether Richards had picked up the victim and stated that he was with Cunningham, had been drinking beer, and was returning home. Richards testified that, based on her prior interactions with the appellant, the appellant did not sound as if he was intoxicated. The victim ultimately walked to Richards' residence, arrived shortly after 2:00 a.m., and consumed alcohol. The victim left with some acquaintances between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. The acquaintances attempted to drop the victim off at two different residences but no one was home, so the victim directed them to take her to the appellant's residence.

[¶ 8] Cunningham testified that he was awakened at about 5:00 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. by the victim "straddling" him on the couch and kissing him. Although he had been drinking "[q]uite a bit" the previous evening, Cunningham stated that he was not intoxicated, but was "[h]ung over." The appellant woke up about the same time and, upon observing Cunningham and the victim, asked "Just what the f* * * is going on?" The victim, according to Cunningham, told the appellant to "f* * * himself." The appellant was angry, walked back and forth in a "rampage," and told the victim to leave; the victim did not leave. The appellant yelled at the victim for two or three more minutes. Cunningham got up, put on his boots and sat in a chair next to the dining room table while the appellant and the victim continued to argue. At some point, the victim sat in a separate chair and joined Cunningham at the dining room table. The next thing Cunningham saw was the appellant enter the residence through the front door (presumably after retrieving the knife from the back of his truck) and, without saying anything, walk (in a "normal walk") straight towards the victim. The appellant "reached over with his left hand, grabbed her ..., bent her back a little bit in the chair" and stabbed her overhand "right square in the chest." Cunningham asked the appellant "what the f* * * he just did" and the appellant, according to Cunningham, responded "I just killed this f* * * * * * b* * * * " and "If you don't believe me, check her pulse." The appellant then offered Cunningham a ride home, and Cunningham said "I'm out of here" and left the appellant's residence. Cunningham called 911 from another house in the area within four to five minutes of the stabbing. The record reflects that 911 received the call at 5:55 a.m.

[¶ 9] Officer Jason Love responded to the 911 call and discovered the victim's body between two vehicles in the appellant's driveway. He observed marks at the scene indicating that someone dragged the victim's body from the appellant's residence to the driveway. Officer Love spoke with Cunningham at about 6:20 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. and saw no signs that Cunningham was intoxicated at the time. The victim was pronounced dead at the hospital at 6:48 a.m.

[¶ 10] At 6:10 a.m. or 6:15 a.m. that morning, the appellant phoned his friend Mark Lacquement and requested a ride. Lacquement encountered the appellant at about 6:45 a.m. or 6:50 a.m., at which time the appellant stated that he "might be going down this time" and believed the victim had been "stabbed or killed." The appellant ended up back at Lacquement's garage and according to Lacquement, the appellant did not exhibit any signs of intoxication. JoAnn Richards similarly received a telephone call from the appellant at about 7:00 a.m. The appellant twice stated that "he had killed" the victim. According to Richards, the appellant was calm and exhibited no obvious signs that he was intoxicated. The appellant called Richards again between 7:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. When Richards asked the appellant how he had killed the victim, he said that he had "stabbed" the victim "in the heart." The appellant also called his father sometime prior to 9:00 a.m., and stated that the victim was dead and that he "killed her."

[¶ 11] Law enforcement officers found the appellant hiding under a car in Lacquement's garage and arrested the appellant. The appellant smelled of alcohol and stated that he had been drinking the previous evening, and officers observed dried blood on the appellant's hands. A knife with blood on it was subsequently discovered...

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    ...if the defendant of his own free and deliberate choice, and not because of intimidation, coercion or deception, makes it." Siler v. State , 2005 WY 73, ¶ 24, 115 P.3d 14, 25-26 (Wyo. 2005) (quoting Lara v. State, 2001 WY 53, ¶ 9, 25 P.3d 507, 510 (Wyo. 2001) ). This is because the Fifth and......
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