State v. Kettler

Decision Date23 May 2014
Docket NumberNo. 103,272.,103,272.
Citation299 Kan. 448,325 P.3d 1075
PartiesSTATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Drake Andrew KETTLER, Jr., Appellant.
CourtKansas Supreme Court


Syllabus By The Court

1. When a claim is made under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), the failure to strike a nonminority juror with similar characteristics as a stricken prospective minority juror is circumstantial, although not conclusive, evidence of purposeful discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges. Conversely, evidence that a party struck minority and nonminority venire panel members for the same reason can be evidence that one opposing the strike has failed to carry his or her burden of demonstrating purposeful discrimination.

2. When a claim is made under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), the possibility that a prospective juror might know one of the State's witnesses is generally viewed as a nondiscriminatory purpose for exercising a peremptory challenge.

3. When sufficiency of the evidence is challenged in a criminal case, the standard of review is whether, after reviewing all the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the appellate court is convinced a rational factfinder could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Appellate courts do not reweigh evidence, resolve evidentiary conflicts, or make witness credibility determinations.

4. Premeditation, deliberation, and intent may be inferred from the established circumstances of a case, provided the inferences are reasonable. Factors that give rise to an inference of premeditation include: (1) the nature of the weapon used; (2) the lack of provocation; (3) the defendant's conduct before and after the killing; (4) any threats and/or declarations of the defendant before and during the occurrence; and (5) the dealing of lethal blows after the deceased was felled and rendered helpless. The analysis of what inference can be reasonably drawn is not driven by the number of factors present in a particular case because in some cases one factor alone may be compelling evidence of premeditation. Use of a deadly weapon by itself, however, is insufficient to establish premeditation.

5. When a conspiracy is alleged, the existence of an agreement to commit the charged crime is one of the elements the State must prove. The existence of an agreement does not need to be proved directly, however. It is enough if the parties tacitly come to an understanding in regard to the unlawful purpose, and this may be inferred from sufficiently significant circumstances.

6. A prosecutor's statement that premeditation can occur in half a second is contrary to established caselaw and is prosecutorial misconduct.

Nancy Ogle, of Ogle Law Office, L.L.C., of Wichita, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

Jodi E. Litfin, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Chadwick J. Taylor, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with her on the brief for appellee.

The opinion of the court was delivered by LUCKERT, J.:

Drake Andrew Kettler, Jr., appeals his convictions for the premeditated first-degree murder of James Earl Dyer, Jr.; conspiracy to commit first-degree murder; and criminal possession of a firearm. Kettler raises four issues: (1) The State's exercise of peremptory challenges to strike African–Americans from the jury panel violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986); (2) there was insufficient evidence of premeditation on the part of Kettler to support his conviction for premeditated first-degree murder; (3) there was insufficient evidence of an agreement between Kettler and his codefendants to support his conviction for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder; and (4) the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument by misstating the legal definition of “premeditation” and thereby deprived Kettler of a fair trial.

While we agree with Kettler that the prosecutor misstated the legal definition of premeditation, we conclude this misstatement did not deprive Kettler of a fair trial. We do not find merit in any of his other arguments, and we affirm.

Facts and Procedural Background

Dyer died from gunshot wounds he suffered on August 10, 2007, in Topeka. Kettler and three other individuals—Corky A. Williams; Kelvin Phillips, Jr.; and Antonio Armstrong—were charged with and convicted of crimes related to the death. All four defendants appealed, and their individual appeals were argued the same day. For these related opinions, see State v. Williams, 299 Kan. 509, 324 P.3d 1078, 2014 WL 2155357 (No. 103,785, this date decided); State v. Phillips, 299 Kan. 479, 325 P.3d 1095, 2014 WL 2155352 (No. 103,399, this day decided); and State v. Armstrong, 299 Kan. 405, 324 P.3d 1052, 2014 WL 2155272 (No. 103,120, this day decided).

The appeals of Williams, Kettler, and Phillips, who were tried jointly, raise many of the same issues. Consequently, our opinions in these cases are largely repetitive. We have followed this format for the ease of reading only one opinion; the reader will not need to refer to multiple opinions. For the benefit of anyone who wishes to read all three opinions, we offer as a guide that Williams asserted the most issues. Kettler and Phillips repeated some of those issues, making either identical or substantially similar arguments. Phillips does, however, present an issue not raised by Kettler or Williams—his first issue, which relates to the procedure for declaring a mistrial. Also, although Williams, Kettler, and Phillips all raise issues regarding the sufficiency of the evidence and the prosecutor's misstatement of the definition of “premeditation” during the closing argument, there is some variance in the analysis because of each individual's role in the shooting of Dyer. The decision in Armstrong's appeal does not have the same level of overlap, and some factual details differ because of the variance in the evidence in his separate trial.

Procedural History

The charges against the four defendants were not identical. Kettler, like Phillips and Williams, was charged with premeditated first-degree murder, in violation of K.S.A. 21–3401(a); conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, in violation of K.S.A. 21–3302 and K.S.A. 21–3401; and criminal possession of a firearm, in violation of K.S.A. 21–4204(a)(4)(A). Armstrong was also charged with premeditated first-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm.

Armstrong's case took a different procedural track when, before any of the defendants' preliminary hearings, he decided to cooperate with the State in exchange for a favorable plea agreement. Initially, in Armstrong's first contact with investigating law enforcement officers, he denied any knowledge of or involvement in the shooting. Later, in his attempt to obtain the plea agreement, he gave a sworn deposition-style statement to the district attorney in which he incriminated himself and implicated the three other defendants in the premeditated killing of Dyer. Based on this statement and as part of Armstrong's plea arrangement, the State called Armstrong as a witness at a joint preliminary hearing related to the charges against Williams, Kettler, and Phillips. Armstrong reiterated the truthfulness of his sworn statement and testified that he had joined with Williams, Kettler, and Phillips in a plan to find and shoot Dyer.

Before Williams, Kettler, and Phillips were brought to trial, Armstrong changed his mind about cooperating with the State and recanted his statements and testimony, even though he lost his plea deal. In a notarized affidavit drafted by Armstrong, he stated that his former defense counsel coerced him into making his prior statements implicating his friends.

Subsequently, Armstrong's case was joined with the cases of Williams, Kettler, and Phillips for the purposes of a jury trial. The resulting joint trial ended with a hung jury. After the first trial, the trial court severed Armstrong's case from the others, and his second trial took place before the three other codefendants again went to trial. Armstrong testified at his second trial, providing yet another version of how Dyer was shot. Armstrong was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm, the only charges brought against him.

The State then called Armstrong to testify at the joint second trial of Williams, Kettler, and Phillips. Armstrong testified that both his sworn statement and his preliminary hearing testimony against the other defendants were untrue. Armstrong explained that he had incriminated his friends because he was led to believe that “my homeboys, my brothers, was testifying on me, which I found out later was a lie.” He also told the jury that he had just reiterated a story the prosecutor had fed him. Armstrong's explanation was refuted by Armstrong's attorney, who testified that Armstrong was not told what to say in his sworn statement.

Although Armstrong was called as a witness for the State at the trial of Williams, Kettler, and Phillips, he was declared a hostile witness. During his testimony, Armstrong wore a mask to prevent him from spitting on the law enforcement officers who transported him to the courtroom or on those in the courtroom. He often cursed, and he usually either refused to answer questions or was evasive and claimed he could not remember details. Eventually, on redirect examination, Armstrong became so belligerent and uncooperative with the prosecutor that he was removed from the courtroom.

As this history suggests, the jury was presented with multiple versions of the events that led to Dyer's death. In addition to Armstrong's various renditions of what happened, both Williams and Phillips testified at their second trial and offered slightly different...

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