State v. Dunster
|Supreme Court of Nebraska
|262 Neb. 329,631 N.W.2d 879
|03 August 2001
|STATE of Nebraska, Appellee, v. David L. DUNSTER, Appellant.
James R. Mowbray and Jerry L. Soucie, Lincoln, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, for appellant.
Don Stenberg, Attorney General, and J. Kirk Brown, Lincoln, for appellee.
David L. Dunster, proceeding pro se, pled guilty to the first degree murder of Larry R. Witt and to the use of a weapon to commit a felony. The trial court sentenced Dunster to death for Witt's murder and to not less than nor more than 20 years' imprisonment for use of a weapon. Pursuant to Neb.Rev.Stat. § 29-2525 (Reissue 1995), Dunster's automatic appeal was then docketed with this court.
Sometime in the early morning hours of May 10, 1997, Dunster strangled his cellmate, Witt, with an electrical cord. Witt's body was discovered later that day.
On July 2, 1997, the district court appointed the Lancaster County public defender's office to represent Dunster. Attorney Michael Gooch from that office then appeared on Dunster's behalf. On November 18, 1998, an arraignment was conducted in the district court. Dunster stood mute at the arraignment, and the court entered pleas of not guilty.
On June 8, 1999, the trial judge received a letter dated June 6, 1999, from Dunster. In this letter, Dunster pointed out that the State's list of potential trial witnesses included Lancaster County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Gehr. Gehr's mother was employed as the office manager for the public defender's office. Dunster expressed concern that because of this relationship, Gooch might not vigorously cross-examine Gehr at trial, and that confidential information regarding Dunster's case might have been shared between Gehr and his mother. Dunster requested that the public defender's office be disqualified as his counsel.
In this letter, Dunster also expressed dissatisfaction with the handling of his case by the public defender's office. Dunster claimed the public defender's office was investigating the existence of mitigating factors which could be presented in the event of a sentencing hearing. Dunster asserted that he did not want to present any mitigating evidence at sentencing and that investigating mitigating evidence was contrary to Dunster's instructions to the public defender's office.
On June 17, 1999, the court held a hearing on the issues raised by Dunster's letter. The prosecution, Dunster, and Gooch were present. At the court's request, Dennis Keefe, the elected Lancaster County public defender, testified regarding the confidentiality procedures at the public defender's office. In response to the court's questions, Keefe testified:
The prosecution also called Gehr. Gehr testified that he had been employed by the Lancaster County sheriff's office for approximately 9 years, during which time his mother had been employed as the office manager for the public defender's office. Gehr testified that the extent of his involvement in Dunster's case was limited to his being present at Witt's autopsy and writing a supplemental report on the autopsy. Regarding the possible conflict of interest, Gehr testified as follows:
After Gehr's testimony, Dunster reiterated his concern that he had "no assurance" that Gehr and his mother might not exchange information about the case. The court took the issue under advisement.
The court then considered the other issue in Dunster's letter, wherein Dunster stated, The court stated to Dunster, "[Y]our feeling is that they're not following your directions, therefore you want them discharged." Dunster responded, "Exactly."
The court then began discussing this issue with Gooch. During this discussion, Dunster interjected, saying:
The court then told Dunster that it would appoint another attorney to talk with him about the ramifications of discharging the public defender's office and representing himself. Dunster responded,
The court then appointed the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy (NCPA) to advise Dunster on the ramifications of discharging the public defender's office and representing himself. The hearing was continued to allow Dunster time to consult with the NCPA.
The hearing resumed on July 2, 1999. The prosecution, Gooch, Dunster, and counsel from the NCPA were present. During the hearing, Dunster stated he had been advised by the NCPA regarding his desire to discharge the public defender's office and to proceed pro se. Dunster then requested to withdraw "without prejudice" the issues raised in the June 8 letter. The court granted this request, and the public defender's office continued to represent Dunster.
On July 12, 1999, a pretrial hearing commenced regarding 33 motions Gooch had filed on Dunster's behalf. At the start of the hearing, Gooch informed the court that he would shortly be leaving the public defender's office and would not be available when Dunster's case came to trial. Dunster then requested that the NCPA immediately be appointed as his counsel. The court denied Dunster's request and determined that Dunster's case would be reassigned to a different public defender after the conclusion of the present hearing. Dunster responded, "It's a merry-go-round with attorneys ... I don't get along with the Public Defender's Office." The court then reminded Dunster that the issue was not whether Dunster liked the public defender's office, but whether "the attorney can afford you effective counsel."
Various witnesses were then called to testify with respect to the 33 pretrial motions. The last witness called on July 12, 1999, was Investigator Kevin Knorr, who testified on behalf of the State regarding his investigation of Witt's murder. The hearing was then continued until July 13.
When the hearing resumed on the morning of July 13, 1999, the prosecutor disclosed to the court that after Knorr had finished his testimony on July 12, the prosecutor overheard Dunster say to Knorr, "`If I could get out of these mother-fucking cuffs, I would break your mother-fucking neck.'" The prosecutor was concerned about the reoccurrence of such an outburst, the jury's security, and the possible need to shackle Dunster during trial.
After the prosecutor related this information to the court, the following exchange took place:
After the court denied Gooch's motion to withdraw, Dunster presented the court with two motions, both prepared by Dunster. The first, a typed motion, requested that the public defender's office be discharged and that Dunster be allowed to proceed pro se. The second, a handwritten motion, requested the court to allow Dunster to withdraw his not guilty pleas and plead guilty to first degree murder and use of a weapon to commit a felony. The court spent the rest of the morning and a portion of the afternoon advising and questioning Dunster regarding his motions. The court questioned Dunster concerning his reasons for discharging ...
To continue readingRequest your trial
State v. Trail
...Neb. 1, 745 N.W.2d 229 (2008).166 State v. Hessler, supra note 124.167 State v. Mata, supra note 165.168 See id.169 State v. Dunster , 262 Neb. 329, 631 N.W.2d 879 (2001).170 State v. Schroeder, supra note 12.171 Id.172 See, id. ; State v. Dunster, supra note 169.173 State v. Dunster, supra......
State v. Mata
......96, 655 N.W.2d 25 (2003) . . In reviewing a sentence of death on appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court conducts a de novo review of the record to determine whether the aggravating and mitigating circumstances support the imposition of the death penalty. State v. Dunster, 262 Neb. 329, 631 N.W.2d 879 (2001), cert. denied 535 U.S. 908, 122 S.Ct. 1210, 152 L.Ed.2d 147 (2002). . At oral argument before this court, the State argued there is a conflict in our cases regarding the appropriate standard of review of a determination whether an individual ......
State v. Gales
.......  In the context of criminal proceedings, due process generally requires the defendant be given notice and an adequate opportunity to defend himself or herself. State v. Dunster", 262 Neb. 329, 631 N.W.2d 879 (2001) . The record shows that in this case, Gales received notice and an opportunity to be heard on the proportionality of his sentences. Consequently, the record provides Gales with no basis to challenge the constitutional adequacy of the statutory scheme. . \xC2"......
State Of Neb. v. Sandoval
......Marchese, 245 Neb. 975, 977, 515 N.W.2d 670, 672 (1994). A conflict of interest must 788 N.W.2d 206 be actual rather than speculative or hypothetical before a conviction can be overturned on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel. See State v. Dunster, 262 Neb. 329, 631 N.W.2d 879 (2001). (i ) Acquaintance With Victims Sandoval first claims conflict because his attorney conducted business at the bank involved in the crime and therefore knew two of the victims from his bank transactions. Moore disclosed this acquaintance and ......