State v. Buchli, WD 62178.

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Citation152 S.W.3d 289
Docket NumberNo. WD 62178.,WD 62178.
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Richard I. BUCHLI, II, Appellant.
Decision Date28 September 2004
152 S.W.3d 289
STATE of Missouri, Respondent,
Richard I. BUCHLI, II, Appellant.
No. WD 62178.
Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District.
September 28, 2004.
Motion for Rehearing and/or Transfer to Supreme Court Denied November 23, 2004.
Application for Transfer Denied January 25, 2005.

[152 S.W.3d 295]

Michael L. Belancio, Kansas City, for appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Deborah Daniels and Leslie E. McNamara, Office of Attorney General, Jefferson City, for Respondent.


A jury found that Richard I. Buchli II beat Richard Armitage to death in their law partnership office on May 5, 2000, in downtown Kansas City. The jury convicted Buchli of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Buchli appeals on a number of grounds, including a challenge of the sufficiency of the state's evidence. We affirm the circuit court's judgment.

A legal assistant in the law office, Shannon Miller, apparently was the first to find Armitage after he was beaten. He was unconscious, lying on his office's floor in a pool of blood. She had decided to investigate when she heard unusual growling and gurgling emanating from Armitage's office. When she saw Armitage, she yelled for Buchli, who was in his office. Buchli took a few steps into Armitage's office and told her to telephone 911. While Miller was talking on the telephone to emergency personnel, Buchli pulled Armitage from behind his desk and dragged him across the floor. Buchli testified that he moved Armitage so he could assess his injuries and to make room to perform CPR, if needed. A brief time later, emergency personnel arrived and began administering aid to Armitage. When Buchli quit administering aid to Armitage, he had blood on his hands.

The emergency personnel transported Armitage to Truman Medical Center where he died two days later. Physicians concluded that the cause of death was nine or more blows to his head by a blunt object.

In investigating the incident, police determined that, at about 1:46 P.M. on the day of the incident, Armitage had received a long distance telephone call from a client with whom he had talked until 2:01 P.M. Miller had left for lunch a few minutes earlier. Buchli was in his office when she left. At about 2 P.M., an employee in an office on the floor directly below Armitage's and Buchli's offices heard two loud noises that occurred close together. The employee thought that the noises sounded like file cabinets tipping over.

Buchli left the building at approximately 2:06 P.M.,1 got into his car in the building's

152 S.W.3d 296

parking garage, and drove it away. He returned to the parking garage at approximately 2:30 P.M.2 Buchli was smoking a cigarette on the building loading dock when Miller returned from lunch, and they walked together to the office. The office's front door was locked. Miller unlocked the door, and she and Buchli went to their desks. Miller found Armitage beaten in his office a few minutes later.

Blood experts analyzed the clothes that Buchli was wearing on the day of the beating and found impact blood spatters on them. An impact spatter can result from an object's hitting blood with force. Experts concluded from DNA testing that the blood on Buchli's clothes was Armitage's blood. The state's experts concluded that at least two events produced the bloodstains on Buchli's clothes and that they were consistent with Buchli's being in close proximity to the victim when the spatter was produced and with Buchli's being the attacker.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Buchli contends that the state failed to produce sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict that, beyond a reasonable doubt, he was the person who caused Armitage's death. In considering Buchli's point, we must consider the evidence most favorable to the state to be true, and we must disregard evidence to the contrary. State v. Gilbert, 103 S.W.3d 743, 749 (Mo. banc 2003). We do not re-weigh the evidence or determine witnesses' credibility. Rousan v. State, 48 S.W.3d 576, 595 (Mo. banc 2001). We are obligated to reject the challenge if we conclude that the state presented enough evidence to permit a juror to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was guilty. Gilbert, 103 S.W.3d at 749.

A person commits murder in the first degree if he "knowingly causes the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter." Section 565.020.1, RSMo 2000. Hence, the state's burden was to establish that Buchli caused Armitage's death by striking him, that Buchli was aware that his conduct was practically certain to cause Armitage's death, and that Buchli acted with deliberation.

In attacking the sufficiency of the state's evidence, Buchli first asserts that the time between when Armitage's telephone conversation ended and when Buchli walked out of the building to his car was not sufficient for him to have been the assailant. He argues:

If Mr. Buchli [were] the assailant, the only way he could have committed the assault would have been to do so immediately after the telephone call ended. Under that scenario, Mr. Buchli had only four to nine minutes to beat his law partner nine times, ensure that there was no blood on his clothing, secrete the murder weapon in his briefcase (as argued by the state) without getting blood inside the briefcase ..., compose himself well enough to ride down [from the thirteenth floor] on the elevator, where he might meet other tenants of the building, casually walk through the

152 S.W.3d 297

parking lot to his Jeep, and then drive away without arousing suspicion.

There was no evidence to indicate how fast the elevators in the ... [b]uilding operate, but it is probable that no matter what time he left his office, Mr. Buchli spent at least a few minutes waiting for an elevator to arrive. This wait reduces that nine minute window of opportunity even further. Additionally, if Mr. Buchli had committed such a brutal attack on Mr. Armitage only minutes earlier, it would make sense that he would look at least somewhat flustered or in a hurry as he made his way to his car. Yet [a building employee] did not notice anything unusual about Mr. Buchli's appearance when he walked to his car[.] [The employee] did not even claim that Mr. Buchli drove out of the parking lot at a higher speed than normal. All of the evidence bearing on timing in this case indicates that there was no way Mr. Buchli could have committed the assault on Mr. Armitage within the four to nine minute window.

Buchli's argument has merit only if his getting to his car in four to nine minutes after beating Armitage was truly impossible. Buchli's own argument contradicts his assertion that "there was no way" for him to have beaten Armitage and still make it to his car within four to nine minutes without arousing suspicion. To the contrary, Buchli's own argument, by setting out the variables that had to fall into place for him to accomplish the feat, describes how it was possible. Even assuming that the feat would have been difficult, the jury had a reasonable basis for concluding that this is precisely what happened. That Buchli could have gotten to his car in four to nine minutes after the beating was not impossible, so, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict — as we are obligated to do — we cannot concur with Buchli that "there was no way" for him to have been Armitage's attacker. From the state's evidence, the jury had a sufficient basis for inferring that the attack of Armitage occurred while Buchli was in the building.

Moreover, Buchli told police three times that he left the building at 1:50 P.M. The surveillance videotape established that he did not leave the building until 2:05:52 P.M. "`Exculpatory statements, when proven false, evidence a consciousness of guilt[.]' "State v. Clay, 975 S.W.2d 121, 140 (Mo. banc 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1085, 119 S.Ct. 834, 142 L.Ed.2d 690 (1999) (citation omitted). "Guilt may be inferred when an accused attempts to deceive the police, as in making a false exculpatory statement." State v. Hibbert, 14 S.W.3d 249, 253 (Mo.App.2000).

The jury also had substantial evidence from which it could conclude reasonably that Buchli had Armitage's blood on his clothes and shoes and that this was consistent with Buchli's being the attacker. Buchli, however, attacks this evidence by contending that the jury could not rely on it because the state's experts did not give opinions based on a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.

The rules regarding expert testimony are the same in criminal cases as they are in civil cases. State v. Maxie, 513 S.W.2d 338, 344 (Mo.1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 930, 95 S.Ct. 1132, 43 L.Ed.2d 402. The state's experts based their conclusions on their training and experience in the field of blood analysis. An expert's not speaking the precise phrase, "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty," does not render his or her testimony inadmissible if the expert's testimony establishes that his or her opinion was based on reasonable certainty and not on speculation. Bynote v. National Super Markets, Inc., 891 S.W.2d 117, 125 (Mo. banc 1995).

152 S.W.3d 298

Buchli asserts, however, that "`[w]hen a party relies on expert testimony to provide evidence as to causation when there are two or more possible causes, that testimony must be given to a reasonable degree of certainty.'" Abbott v. Haga, 77 S.W.3d 728, 732 (Mo.App.2002) (citation omitted). But the Abbott court concluded only that an expert's using "equivocal language" would render his or her opinion inadmissible. Id. at 733.

Buchli contends that the experts' testimonies established at least two possible causes for the blood spatter on his clothing. The state's experts concluded that the bloodstain evidence was consistent with Buchli's being the attacker, and Buchli's experts concluded that the evidence was inconsistent with Buchli's being the attacker but was...

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