State v. Hall, Docket: Yor-18-277

Decision Date06 August 2019
Docket NumberDocket: Yor-18-277
Citation214 A.3d 19
Parties STATE of Maine v. Christopher Todd HALL
CourtMaine Supreme Court

David Paris, Esq. (orally), Bath, for appellant Christopher Todd Hall

Kathryn L. Slattery, District Attorney, and Kyle M. Myska, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Prosecutorial District 1, Alfred, for appellee State of Maine

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

SAUFLEY, C.J.

[¶1] The jury in this case was presented with evidence that Christopher Todd Hall, angry about the results of a court proceeding involving his children, lured the woman who had served as the guardian ad litem in that matter to a house—under false pretenses and disguised with a gray wig and a walker—where he attacked the woman with a cane that had a stun device in its handle, in an attempt to kidnap her. Hall now appeals from the judgment of conviction entered by the court (York County, Delahanty, J. ) after the jury found him guilty of aggravated assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 208(1)(B) (2018) ; assault (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 207(1)(A), 1252(4-A) (2018) ; and attempted kidnapping with the intent to hold for ransom or reward (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 152(1)(B), 301(1)(A)(1), 301(3) (2018).

[¶2] We are asked to construe several statutes to determine whether the court erred in its instructions to the jury and whether there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, every element of each of the crimes of which Hall was convicted. We affirm the judgment and remand only for further action by the State and the court to dismiss a fourth count on which the parties intended a dismissal after the court declared a mistrial.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶3] Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the jury could rationally have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt. See State v. Hansley , 2019 ME 35, ¶ 2, 203 A.3d 827. On the evening of October 8, 2015, Hall used a woman's voice when he repeatedly called a professional mediator to lure her to a house in Arundel under the pretext of hiring her to mediate a family dispute. Hall was upset with the mediator, who had, years earlier, served as guardian ad litem in a matter involving Hall's family. Hall had spoken to a friend about a plan to kidnap people involved in that matter using an electric shock device so that he could extort money from them and use the money to leave the country with his children and their mother.

[¶4] When the mediator arrived at the house in Arundel, Hall was disguised as an elderly man; he wore a wig and blazer and used a walker and cane. He stood behind his van, which was parked in the driveway, and he gestured for her to park next to the van. Hall had a friend in the van who, by that point, had moved to the driver's seat. When the mediator opened the door to her car and swung her legs out, Hall attacked her with a cane that had a stun device in its handle capable of delivering an electric charge measuring up to 2,000 volts. He placed the cane between her legs, activated it one or more times, and put it in contact with her legs multiple times as she screamed and kicked. Leaning into the car, he tried to cover her mouth to prevent her screaming, and she grabbed the wig off his head, kicking until he took the wig and fled. Hall got into the passenger side of his van at the end of the driveway, his friend having already driven it toward the road, and he fled the premises with his friend.

[¶5] In December 2015, Hall was charged by indictment with aggravated assault (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § 208(1)(B) ; assault (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 207(1)(A), 1252(4-A) ;1 and two counts of attempted kidnapping—one count for attempted kidnapping with the intent to hold for ransom or reward (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 152(1)(B), 301(1)(A)(1), 301(3), and one count for attempted kidnapping by secreting and holding the victim in a place where she was not likely to be found (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 152(1)(B), 301(1)(B)(2), 301(3) (2018).

[¶6] At Hall's jury trial in 2018, Hall chose to represent himself, but he had two attorneys acting as standby counsel. The mediator testified regarding the events at issue as well as her injuries and recovery, including the effect of the attack on her mental health. The State offered testimony from several witnesses, including a detective from the York County Sheriff's Office who testified about the stun cane device he had recovered using information provided by the person who had driven Hall's van on the night of the alleged crimes.2

[¶7] Hall presented the testimony of several witnesses and his own testimony denying that he intended to kidnap the victim but expounding about how she and others had "stolen" his children based on lies. He also testified that the voltage of the stun cane device was not deadly; that the back of his van had been full of items such that he could not have fit a person inside; that he had worn a gray wig and carried the cane but had also used a walker as "a barrier so that she could never say that [he] went into her space"; and that the victim had come at him with an open hand and tried to kick him, resulting in the marks on her legs.

[¶8] The court's jury instructions included statutory definitions of two terms at issue here. The definition of "bodily injury" was provided because that term is part of the definitions of assault and aggravated assault. See 17-A M.R.S. § 2(5) (2018) ; see also id. § 207(1)(A) ("A person is guilty of assault if ... [t]he person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury or offensive physical contact to another person." (emphasis added)); id. § 208(1)(B) ("A person is guilty of aggravated assault if that person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes ... [b]odily injury to another with use of a dangerous weapon." (emphasis added)).

[¶9] The definition of "serious bodily injury" was also provided because the aggravated assault statute employs the term "use of a dangerous weapon," which is defined as "use of a firearm or other weapon, device, instrument, material or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which, in the manner it is used or threatened to be used is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury ." 17-A M.R.S. § 2(9)(A), (23) (2018) (emphasis added); see also id. § 208(1)(B) ("A person is guilty of aggravated assault if that person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes ... [b]odily injury to another with use of a dangerous weapon ." (emphasis added)).

[¶10] At the end of the court's instructions to the jury, Hall requested an additional instruction concerning the definition of "serious bodily injury." Id. § 2(23). Specifically, he asked the court to instruct the jury that the definition of "serious bodily injury," which includes "bodily injury ... which causes ... extended convalescence necessary for recovery of physical health," id. (emphasis added), precludes extended convalescence necessary for recovery of mental or emotional health. The court denied the request, concluding that its instruction had been complete and consistent with the statute.

[¶11] During deliberations, the jury sent a note asking for further definition of "serious bodily injury," including as to the meaning of "extended convalescence necessary for the recovery of physical health," and for instruction as to whether the use of any weapon would warrant a conviction of aggravated assault. Id. The court repeated the pertinent statutory definitions and informed the jury that it should rely on common sense in determining whether the conduct at issue met those definitions. It also instructed the jury, based on our interpretation of "extended convalescence" in State v. Bowman , 611 A.2d 560, 562 (Me. 1992), that, although no specific duration was provided in statute, convalescence meant "a gradual return to health after an injury or illness, or a period of time that is required ... to regain your health." Hall objected to this instruction before and after it was delivered and argued that physical health should have been distinguished from mental or emotional health. The court overruled his objections.

[¶12] Later, the jury reported that it was having difficulty reaching a verdict on the fourth count, namely, attempted kidnapping with the intent to secret and hold the victim in a place where she was not likely to be found, but it had reached verdicts on the first three counts. The State and Hall agreed that the jury could deliver its verdicts on the first three counts and then the court would, if the jury found Hall guilty of the attempted kidnapping charge alleged in Count 3, declare a mistrial on Count 4. The jury found Hall guilty of Counts 1, 2, and 3 (aggravated assault, assault, and attempted kidnapping), and the court declared a mistrial on Count 4.

[¶13] After a sentencing hearing, the court sentenced Hall to ten years' incarceration for aggravated assault, with a concurrent five-year term for the assault conviction, and it sentenced Hall to a consecutive ten-year term for the attempted kidnapping conviction. The court also ordered Hall to pay multiple Victims' Compensation Fund payments totaling $105.

[¶14] Although the State did not confirm the dismissal of Count 4, it appears to have been the intent of all involved that Count 4 be dismissed after the mistrial was declared. Thus, we regard the lack of a formal dismissal as an oversight that can be corrected on remand, and we treat the judgment entered by the court as a final judgment ready for our review.

II. DISCUSSION

[¶15] Hall argues that (A) the evidence does not support the convictions and (B) the court's jury instructions were inadequate. We consider each argument in turn.

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence to Support the Convictions

[¶16] "When reviewing a judgment for sufficiency of the evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State to determine whether the fact-finder could rationally have found...

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