St. Clair v. Com.

Decision Date20 October 2005
Docket NumberNo. 2001-SC-0209-MR.,2001-SC-0209-MR.
Citation174 S.W.3d 474
PartiesMichael D. ST. CLAIR, Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH of Kentucky, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court — District of Kentucky
Opinion of the Court by Chief Justice LAMBERT.
FACTS

Appellant, Michael D. St. Clair, was convicted of two counts of receiving stolen property over $100, criminal attempt to commit murder, second-degree arson, and capital kidnapping. He was sentenced to death for the kidnapping of Frank Brady, during which Brady was murdered. Appellant waived his right to jury sentencing on the non-capital charges, and agreed to a sentence of twenty years for attempted murder, twenty years for second-degree arson, and five years on each count of receiving stolen property over $100, for a total of fifty years. Appellant now appeals to this Court as a matter of right.1

This is not the first time this particular defendant is before this Court. In February of 1992, a Bullitt County Grand Jury indicted Appellant for the Capital Murder of Frank Brady. He was tried and convicted in August, and sentenced to death in September of 1998. This Court in a recent decision, St. Clair v. Commonwealth,2 (hereinafter "St. Clair I"), reversed and remanded for a new penalty phase hearing on Appellant's death sentence. Prior to trial in Hardin County, this Court rendered St. Clair v. Roark,3 (St. Clair II), in which St. Clair's petition for extraordinary relief to prevent his prosecution for capital kidnapping in Hardin County was denied. In large part a complete recitation of the facts is contained in St. Clair I and St. Clair II, and is relied upon to illustrate the facts relevant to this appeal.

According to the evidence, Appellant escaped from Oklahoma authorities in September of 1991 while awaiting final sentencing for two Oklahoma murder convictions. St. Clair and Dennis Gene Reese stole a pickup truck from a jail employee and fled from the jail in Durant, Oklahoma. The pickup truck eventually ran out of gas and Reese and St. Clair stole another pickup truck, a handgun, and some ammunition from the home of Vernon Stephens and headed for the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. St. Clair's wife at the time, Bylynn St. Clair4 ("Bylynn"), met with her husband and Reese in Texas, and provided them with money, clothing, and other items. Reese was arrested several months later in Las Vegas, Nevada, and confessed to his involvement in the Kentucky events detailed below.

According to Reese, after escaping from jail in Oklahoma, he and St. Clair traveled to Colorado where they kidnapped Timothy Keeling and stole Keeling's pickup truck. Keeling was later murdered in New Mexico. St. Clair and Reese proceeded to drive Keeling's truck to New Orleans, Louisiana, then through Arkansas and Tennessee before arriving at a rest stop in southern Hardin County, Kentucky. While in Hardin County, they decided to steal Frank Brady's late model pickup truck. They kidnapped Brady and drove him from Hardin County to Bullitt County where St. Clair shot and killed Brady. St. Clair and Reese then returned to Hardin County and set fire to Keeling's truck.

Witnesses to the arson gave the Kentucky State Police a description of the Brady truck seen near the location where Keeling's truck was on fire. Based on that description, Trooper Herbert Bennett stopped Reese and St. Clair while they were still driving Brady's truck through Hardin County. St. Clair fired two shots at Trooper Bennett, one of which penetrated the radiator of the police cruiser. A high-speed chase followed, but Reese and St. Clair escaped when Bennett's cruiser became disabled. Reese was arrested two weeks later in Las Vegas and waived extradition to Kentucky. St. Clair was arrested about two months later in Hugo, Oklahoma.

On December 20, 1991, St. Clair was indicted for two counts of receiving stolen property, criminal attempt to commit murder, and second-degree arson. On January 17, 1992, the Hardin County Grand Jury indicted St. Clair for capital kidnapping. On June 19, 1998, the Commonwealth filed its Notice of Intent to Seek Death Penalty. St. Clair was convicted in February of 2001 of the Capital Kidnapping of Frank Brady, and he was sentenced to death. Additional facts will be presented as necessary. St. Clair argues that his wife Bylynn was improperly allowed to testify to four privileged conversations, and that those conversations should have been excluded by his assertion of the marital privilege under KRE 504. When the statements were made, St. Clair and Bylynn were married.

I. Marital Privilege

The first contested statement given by Bylynn was that when she met St. Clair in Texas before St. Clair reached Kentucky, she hugged him and felt something hard on his belt. Over St. Clair's objection, she testified that when she asked if he had a gun, she testified that he, St. Clair, told her he took a gun off that old man whose house he had broken into (the home of Vernon Stephens in Oklahoma).

Bylynn's second statement concerned her meeting St. Clair in Oklahoma at Frost's Farm in December of 1991, the night before he was arrested. It was there that St. Clair stated to Bylynn that St. Clair and Reese had to leave their belongings and that they burned a truck. St. Clair told Bylynn that he returned to Oklahoma by riding with truck drivers. St. Clair objected and moved for a mistrial on the grounds that this latter statement had not been included in the Commonwealth's notice, and that it was privileged under the marital privilege.

Bylynn's third statement at trial concerned a telephone conversation between her and St. Clair. She testified that St. Clair called her from Louisiana and that Reese was in the bathroom while he was calling. The Commonwealth then elicited that St. Clair told Bylynn that he had to leave some of his things behind in the truck, and that he said something about being in Louisiana. St. Clair objected on the grounds that he was not provided notice of the Commonwealth's intention to introduce evidence relating to his travel to Louisiana, and that it was not an unexpected answer since the Commonwealth asked her if St. Clair had ever said anything about being in Louisiana. The Commonwealth responded that this testimony was not new information since Bylynn had testified to it at the Bullitt County trial.

Bylynn's fourth statement is that St. Clair told her that he was in Louisiana, and that he had told her he had been in Oklahoma for a few weeks before he saw her in December at a friend's house in Durant County, Oklahoma. She stated that he had told her that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) had searched the place, but that he was hiding under some hay and they never saw him. The Commonwealth then asked Bylynn how long St. Clair had told her he had been in Oklahoma and the date of the conversation when he did so. She responded that it was December 17, 1991, the day before his arrest. This testimony was elicited to contradict Reese's anticipated testimony that St. Clair had arrived at his farm on October 1, 1991.

St. Clair objected to the testimony, and the trial court overruled the objection on the grounds that the Commonwealth could cross-examine Bylynn about any subject to which she had previously testified. St. Clair now argues that the introduction of this testimony violated due process, his right to a fair trial and that Bylynn's testimony was admitted in violation of the marital privilege. St. Clair also argues that at the time of trial, KRS 421.210(1) was applicable and allowed one spouse to prohibit the other from testifying to communications made during their marriage, which are confidential in nature.5 Finally, St. Clair argues that Bylynn's statements that incriminated St. Clair were also inadmissible since they violated RCr 7.24(1).

The Commonwealth contends that the marital privilege does not apply in this case for two reasons. First, the Commonwealth argues that Bylynn and St. Clair were involved in joint criminal activity under KRE 504(c)(1). It posits that no privilege is applicable since the communications testified to occurred during St. Clair's escape from the Bryan County Jail in Oklahoma and that Bylynn provided him with items which he later used to kidnap and kill Brady. Second, the Commonwealth argues that these communications were not confidential because they were made in the presence of Reese.

KRE 504 contains a spousal testimonial privilege, KRE 504(a), a confidential marital communications privilege, KRE 504(b), and exceptions to those privileges in KRE 504(c). Both privileges are designed to protect and enhance the marital relationship at the expense of otherwise useful evidence.6 KRE 504(c)(1) codifies preexisting law, KRS 421.210(1).7 KRE 504 provides:

(a) Spousal testimony. The spouse of a party has a privilege to refuse to testify against the party as to events occurring after the date of their marriage. A party has a privilege to prevent his or her spouse from testifying against the party as to events occurring after the date of their marriage.

(b) Marital communications. An individual has a privilege to refuse to testify and to prevent another from testifying to any confidential communication made by the individual to his or her spouse during their marriage. The privilege may be asserted only by the individual holding the privilege or by the holder's guardian, conservator, or personal representative. A communication is confidential if it is made privately by an individual to his or her spouse and is not intended for disclosure to any other person.

(c) Exceptions. There is no privilege under this rule:

(1) In any criminal proceeding in...

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15 cases
  • St. Clair v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Kentucky
    • 21 Agosto 2014
    ...his death sentence in another case was reversed for similar evidence, albeit concerning different conversations. See St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 174 S.W.3d 474, 481 (Ky.2005). St. Clair claims this issue was preserved by his pro se post-trial motion to set aside his conviction and for a new ......
  • St. Clair v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Kentucky
    • 19 Febrero 2015
    ...prior appeals. See St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 140 S.W.3d 510, 524–25 (Ky.2004)(St. Clair Bullitt I ); St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 174 S.W.3d 474, 477 (Ky.2005) (St. Clair Hardin ). Nevertheless, because this appeal stems from a retrial of the entire kidnapping case, a brief summary of those ......
  • Hall v. Commonwealth, 2012–SC–000423–MR
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Kentucky
    • 20 Agosto 2015
    ...other person.” Id. We have previously required there to have been a “positive expectation of confidentiality.” E.g., St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 174 S.W.3d 474, 479 (Ky.2005).Based on a thorough review of the record, particularly Charlotte's testimony laid out above, we cannot conclude that ......
  • Whittle v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Kentucky
    • 22 Septiembre 2011
    ...Because Appellant's felony convictions are being reversed, his claim about sentencing need not be addressed. Cf. St. Clair v. Commonwealth, 174 S.W.3d 474, 485 (Ky.2005).III. Conclusion For the reasons stated herein, Appellant's convictions for trafficking in cocaine and tampering with phys......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 books & journal articles
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2018 Contents
    • 31 Julio 2018
    ...be made at a time the declarant’s condition, subjectively or objectively, justiies an expectation of death. St. Clair v. Commonwealth , 174 S.W.3d 474 (Ky. 2005). To admit a dying declaration, the party must show that (1) the declarant is unavailable as a witness; (2) the declaration was ma......
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2014 Contents
    • 31 Julio 2014
    ...be made at a time the declarant’s condition, subjectively or objectively, justifies an expectation of death. St. Clair v. Commonwealth , 174 S.W.3d 474 (Ky. 2005). To admit a dying declaration, the party must show that (1) the declarant is unavailable as a witness; (2) the declaration was m......
  • Witness
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Trial Objections
    • 5 Mayo 2022
    ...access to relevant and often critical information, these privileges are to be strictly construed . KENTUCKY St. Clair v. Commonwealth , 174 S.W.3d 474, 480 (Ky. 2005). The statement that defendant had burned a truck, which was made between him and his wife while he was running from the auth......
  • Hearsay
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Trial Evidence Foundations - 2015 Contents
    • 31 Julio 2015
    ...be made at a time the declarant’s condition, subjectively or objectively, justifies an expectation of death. St. Clair v. Commonwealth , 174 S.W.3d 474 (Ky. 2005). To admit a dying declaration, the party must show that (1) the declarant is unavailable as a witness; (2) the declaration was m......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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