State v. Lawson
|09 May 2023
|STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent, v. ERIC LAWSON, Appellant.
|Missouri Court of Appeals
Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1222-CR02611-01 Honorable Michael W. Noble
Eric Lawson (Appellant) appeals from the judgment convicting him of three counts of murder in the first degree, one count of assault in the first degree, one count of arson in the first degree resulting in death, five associated counts of armed criminal action, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree. Appellant was sentenced to serve consecutive sentences of life without parole for each offense of first-degree murder, life for the offenses of first-degree assault and first-degree arson resulting in death, 30 years for each of the associated offenses of armed criminal action and seven years for each offense of endangering the welfare of a child. For the following reasons, we affirm.
Appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. We therefore only briefly summarize the evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict.
Appellant was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree arson resulting in death, five associated counts of armed criminal action (ACA), and two counts of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child stemming from the deaths of his former girlfriend, Breiana Ray, her mother, Gwendolyn Ray,and his and Breiana's ten-month-old son, A.L., in addition to injuries to Breiana's three-year-old daughter, M.R.
On the evening of May 5, 2012, Gwendolyn's home was set on fire. First responders were dispatched to the home shortly after 10:00 P.M. Upon entering the home, firefighters found M.R walking around; she lost consciousness while firefighters rescued her from the home, but was resuscitated by paramedics and taken to the hospital. Firefighters discovered A.L unconscious next to Breiana, who was dead with an apparent gunshot wound to her head. Gwendolyn was also found dead with an apparent gunshot wound to the head. Firefighters attempted to resuscitate A.L. and he was taken to the hospital, where he died after doctors were unable to resuscitate him. Fire investigators determined that two fires had been intentionally set in the home: one in the living room on the first level of the apartment and one in a bedroom on the second level of the apartment. The cause of both Breiana's and Gwendolyn's deaths were gunshot wounds to the head, and the cause of A.L.'s death was determined to be smoke inhalation. Appellant was arrested later that night because a witness placed him as the last individual at the scene of the crimes shortly prior to their commission. After initially denying his involvement, Appellant confessed to the crimes the following morning. Ballistics evidence recovered from the crime scene and one victim was later matched to Appellant's firearm.
The State sought the death penalty for the first-degree-murder charges, which were severed from the remaining nine charges for trial. A jury trial was held in April and May 2021, at which Appellant was found guilty of the three counts of first-degree murder. The jury rejected the death penalty and returned a verdict recommending sentences of life without parole. The trial court found Appellant guilty of the remaining nine counts after a bench trial, and sentenced Appellant to consecutive sentences of life without parole for each offense of first-degree murder, life for the offenses of first-degree assault and first-degree arson resulting in death, 30 years for each of the associated ACA offenses, and seven years for each offense of endangering the welfare of a child. This appeal follows.
We include further facts as necessary in our discussion of each of Appellant's points on appeal.
In his seven points on appeal, Appellant presents various challenges to his jury trial of the three murder offenses. In Point I Appellant argues his jury panel should have been quashed because he made a prima facie showing that the pool from which his jury was drawn failed to represent a fair cross-section of the community. In Point II, Appellant challenges the denial of his motion to suppress and the admission at trial of his incriminating statements to law enforcement officers based on a claim that the waiver of his rights was invalid and his statements were coerced. In Point III, Appellant asserts his incriminating statements should have been suppressed because they were the product of an illegal arrest without probable cause. In Point IV, Appellant contends the trial court erred in limiting defense counsel's cross-examination of the lead investigating officer. In Point V, Appellant disputes the admissibility of a video of an attempted Child Advocacy Center interview with the surviving victim of the fire. In Point VI, Appellant claims error in the admission of testimony from physicians who treated the two child victims, one of whom survived the fire. And lastly, in Point VII, Appellant challenges the failure to issue his requested alibi instruction.
For the reasons discussed below, we conclude that none of Appellant's points on appeal are meritorious.
Fair Cross-Section (Point I)
In his first point, Appellant argues the trial court erred in failing to quash his jury panel because he made a prima facie showing that the pool from which his jury was drawn failed to represent a fair cross-section of the community. We conclude the trial court did not err in failing to quash the jury panel because Appellant did not meet his burden of making this prima facie showing.
As part of the right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and the Missouri Constitution, criminal defendants have a right to have a jury panel drawn from a fair cross- section of the community. State v. Reed, 502 S.W.3d 79, 87 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016) (citing State v. Anderson, 79 S.W.3d 420, 430 (Mo. banc 2002)); see Berghuis v. Smith, 559 U.S. 314, 319 (2010) (citing Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 528 (1975)). This right guarantees the opportunity for a representative jury and, as such, requires only that "the jury wheels, pools of names, panels, or venires from which juries are drawn must not systematically exclude distinctive groups in the community and thereby fail to be reasonably representative thereof." Taylor, 419 U.S. at 538. A defendant establishes a prima facie violation of this fair-cross-section requirement by showing the three Duren factors:
(1) that the group alleged to be excluded is a "distinctive" group within the community, (2) that the representation of this group in venires from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community, and (3) that this under-representation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury selection process.
Reed, 502 S.W.3d at 87 (quoting Anderson, 79 S.W.3d at 430); accord Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357, 364 (1979). Once a prima facie showing has been made, the burden shifts to the State to show the jury-selection process nonetheless serves to advance a "significant state interest" and is appropriately tailored to do so. Duren, 439 U.S. at 367-68, 370.
We provide de novo review of constitutional challenges such as whether a defendant has sufficiently presented prima facie evidence of a violation of the fair-cross-section requirement. See U.S. v. Reed, 972 F.3d 946, 953 (8th Cir. 2020).
There is no dispute that African Americans, the group alleged to be excluded here, are a "distinctive group within the community" sufficient to meet the first Duren prong of a prima facie violation of the fair-cross-section requirement. See id.; State v. Davis, 646 S.W.2d 871, 875 (Mo. App. W.D. 1982). The parties dispute the second and third prongs of the Duren test.
We do not address the second Duren prong because Appellant has failed to establish the third prong of a prima facie violation of the fair-cross-section requirement: that any unfair and unreasonable underrepresentation resulted from the jury-selection system. See Duren, 439 U.S. at 364. Underrepresentation of a distinct group is systematic when it is "inherent in the particular jury-selection process utilized." Id. at 366. To meet this third prong, the defendant must identify a specific practice of the jury-selection system and must demonstrate a causal link between the challenged practice and the underrepresentation. See id. "Under the test established by Duren, disproportionate exclusion of a distinctive group ... need not be intentional to be unconstitutional, but it must be systematic." Randolph v. People of the State of Cal., 380 F.3d 1133, 1141 (9th Cir. 2004).
On appeal, Appellant identifies one cause of the alleged underrepresentation of African American prospective jurors in St. Louis City's jury selection process, which Appellant argues is systematic: the practices and procedures in relation to undeliverable juror questionnaires.Appellant's claim relies on a data analysis completed by Professor Matt Vogel, a professor of sociology specializing in quantitative criminology, which was reduced to a report covering juror data in St. Louis City from August 2013 to November 2015 (the Vogel Report). Based on the data in this report Appellant asserts that, although the juror questionnaires were mailed at random, questionnaires were deemed "undeliverable" in majority-African American neighborhoods at higher rates than in majority-White neighborhoods. The Vogel Report concluded that...
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