State v. Lyden, 042320 UTCA, 20180426-CA

Docket Nº:20180426-CA
Party Name:State of Utah, Appellee, v. Eliesa Vea Matthew Lyden, Appellant.
Attorney:Herschel Bullen, Attorney for Appellant Sean D. Reyes and John J. Nielsen, Attorneys for Appellee
Judge Panel:Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Kate Appleby concurred.
Case Date:April 23, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Utah

2020 UT App 66

State of Utah, Appellee,


Eliesa Vea Matthew Lyden, Appellant.

No. 20180426-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

April 23, 2020

Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Mark S. Kouris No. 171908256

Herschel Bullen, Attorney for Appellant

Sean D. Reyes and John J. Nielsen, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Kate Appleby concurred.


¶1 One evening around midnight, loud noises woke Victim. The noises seemed to emanate from the main floor of his home, so he went to investigate. As he entered his garage, Victim was quickly set upon by two individuals, one with a baseball bat, the other with brass knuckles. The evidence at trial indicated that Eliesa Vea Matthew Lyden was the assailant wielding the brass knuckles and that the attack was vengefully intended for Victim's son (Son) due to Son's involvement in a previous drug robbery. The jury convicted Lyden of aggravated burglary and aggravated assault. Lyden appeals, claiming that the evidence was insufficient to prove his identity and that serious bodily injury befell Victim. He also claims that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct. We reject these arguments and affirm Lyden's convictions.


¶2 A few days before Victim was attacked, Son and a friend robbed a drug dealer, Andrew Renteria, at gunpoint. Renteria and a friend, Tupou Finau, were upset about the robbery and wanted revenge, so Finau called her cousin Lyden for help. Lyden in turn recruited Sau Vi. The group met to plan. Through the grapevine, they discovered the address of Victim and Son's house and that Son's bedroom was in the basement.

¶3 Lyden, Vi, and Renteria set off to exact revenge. They arrived at the house around midnight and kicked in the door, which woke up Victim. Victim got out of bed and went downstairs to see what was going on. He thought it might just be Son, so he wasn't very worried. But when Victim made it to the living room, he saw Lyden and Vi heading to the basement, heard someone say, "oh, shit," and then saw the two head to the garage. Renteria was already in the basement and later escaped through a basement window. He was not involved in the attack on Victim.

¶4 Thinking that Lyden and Vi were Son's friends, Victim went to talk them. But when Victim entered the garage, Vi swung a wooden baseball bat at Victim's head. Lyden then joined in, repeatedly punching Victim with brass knuckles. Victim fell to the ground and tried to protect his head from an onslaught of blows from the baseball bat and brass knuckles. After landing numerous hits and breaking the baseball bat over Victim's head, the two fled.

The Investigation and Trial

¶5 Victim sustained numerous injuries from the incident. At the hospital, police officers photographed a gash over his eye; another gash on the top, right side of his head; a severely swollen left arm; and large welts on both arms. For months after the attack, Victim suffered from cognitive problems, lightheadedness, dizziness, and impaired hearing and vision. Almost one year later, he still experienced headaches, short-term memory loss, and tendon damage that prevented him from lifting certain weights, popping wrists, and numbness and aching in his fingers.

¶6 Throughout the State's investigation and prosecution of Lyden, various witnesses identified Lyden as one of the assailants. In a pre-trial photo lineup, Victim identified Lyden as someone who "resemble[d] the offender in [the] case but [he was] not positive." At trial, Finau, Renteria, and Lyden's sister all testified about Lyden's involvement. Finau testified that Lyden left with Renteria and Vi to go to Victim's house that night. She also testified that Lyden admitted his involvement in the night's events to her and that he related details of the events: he, Renteria, and Vi went in the house; they were going downstairs; Victim came downstairs, which caused Lyden and Vi to scamper to the garage; and they beat Victim with brass knuckles and a baseball bat. She also testified that, when she went to Lyden's house, Lyden admitted to throwing away his clothing because "[i]t was evidence" and "had blood on it."

¶7 Renteria's testimony as to the events of that night was consistent with the other testimonies and the police investigation. He said that the three of them went to Victim's house and forced the door open. He confirmed that Lyden had brass knuckles. Renteria finally testified that he jumped out of the basement window and ran when he heard someone yell, "oh, shit," upstairs.

¶8 Lyden's sister testified that, after the attack, Lyden sent her Facebook messages with videos of himself washing blood off of clothing, as well as a link to a news article about the attack. She identified the hand in the videos as Lyden's from his heart-shaped hand tattoo. She also testified that Lyden called her and told her that everything went wrong and that he hit someone.

¶9 The State also introduced evidence related to home security footage from a neighbor's camera. The video showed Vi's car pull up and stop at Victim's house, two or three people exit the car and walk toward Victim's house, and one to two people return to the car. Another neighbor testified that he saw three people standing by Victim's house, heard some loud noises, and then saw two people running away from the house that evening.

¶10 After the State's case-in-chief, Lyden moved for a directed verdict, asserting that there was insufficient evidence of his identity and serious bodily injury to Victim. The district court denied the motion. During the State's rebuttal closing argument, the prosecutor said, "Attorneys have only so much we can do, based off of the evidence that we have . . . . So, this is no reflection on these two good attorneys, but their argument and their theory is not good." Lyden objected, saying, "I think this is getting to the level of prosecutorial misconduct with respect to commenting on the defense theory." The court overruled the objection. The prosecutor resumed, later stating, "These are two good attorneys. But what their client has given them is not good evidence." No objection was lodged at this point. The prosecutor later on said, "Again, this is no reflection upon the good attorneys that have been here today, but we all have the evidence that we have or the lack thereof. . . . Follow the evidence." Again, no objection was made. The jury found Lyden guilty of aggravated burglary and aggravated assault. Lyden appeals.


¶11 Lyden raises two issues on appeal. First, he contends that the evidence was insufficient as to his identity on both convictions and as to serious bodily injury on the aggravated assault conviction. "We will not reverse a jury verdict if we conclude that some evidence exists from which a reasonable jury could find that the elements of the crime had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Maestas, 2012 UT 46, ¶ 177, 299 P.3d 892 (cleaned up). Thus, "we may reverse a verdict only when the evidence, so viewed, is sufficiently inconclusive or inherently improbable that reasonable minds must have entertained a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime of which he or she was convicted." State v. Graves, 2019 UT App 72, ¶ 17, 442 P.3d 1228 (cleaned up).

¶12 Second, Lyden contends that the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by making the three statements related to the defense attorneys and their theory. Prosecutorial misconduct is not "a standalone basis for independent judicial review," State v. Hummel, 2017 UT 19, ¶ 111, 393 P.3d 314, meaning that we do not review the prosecutor's actions; rather, when a prosecutorial misconduct objection is made below, we review the district court's ruling on the objection for abuse of discretion, State...

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