State v. Madplume, DA 14-0592

Docket NºDA 14-0592
Citation390 P.3d 142, 386 Mont. 368
Case DateFebruary 28, 2017
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana

For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana, Steven N. Eschenbacher, Lake County Attorney, Polson, Montana

Justice Dirk M. Sandefur delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 Following a jury trial in the Twentieth Judicial District Court, Lake County, Melvin Lee Madplume Jr. was convicted of deliberate homicide under the felony murder rule, § 45-5-102(1)(b), MCA, and sentenced to life without parole. Madplume timely appealed, arguing the District Court erred in admitting evidence of prior acts barred by M. R. Evid. 404(b). Madplume also claims the District Court sentenced him to pay costs of defense, prosecution, and jury selection without sufficient findings regarding his ability to pay.

We affirm the District Court's evidentiary ruling, reverse the sentence to pay costs, and remand for an inquiry into Madplume's ability to pay.


¶ 2 Madplume raises two issues on direct appeal:

1. Did the District Court abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of Madplume's prior acts under M. R. Evid. 404(b) and 403 ?

2. Did the District Court err in sentencing Madplume to pay costs of assigned defense, prosecution, and jury selection without a sufficient inquiry into his ability to pay?


¶ 3 Madplume's conviction stems from the May 25, 2013 death of his 28-year-old cousin, Laurence Kenmille, at Wild Horse Hot Springs in Hot Springs, Montana. In its initial charging documents, the State recited the details of a prior, uncharged incident involving Madplume and another male cousin at Wild Horse. Madplume filed a motion in limine to exclude from trial all evidence of the prior event. The District Court denied Madplume's motion and admitted the evidence as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, and plan. Because the District Court based its decision on a comparison of the circumstances of Kenmille's death and the prior incident, a brief explanation of each event is required.

A. Prior Incident

¶ 4 A week before Kenmille's death, Madplume and Bassu Eneas (Bassu) went to J.B.'s house to ask if he would drive them to Wild Horse. Like Kenmille, J.B. and Bassu were both cousins of Madplume. At the time, Madplume and J.B. were 29 and 40 years old, respectively, but Bassu was still a teenager. Madplume explained that he and Bassu had been drinking and needed a sober driver to take them to the hot springs. J.B. agreed to go with them in Madplume's car, but Madplume ended up driving. At Madplume's insistence, J.B. consumed two shots of whisky and began drinking a beer on the way to Wild Horse. When they arrived at Wild Horse, J.B. noticed that no one was working at the front desk, which made him uncomfortable about going inside. Madplume insisted he had reserved a room and led J.B. and Bassu to Room Four.

¶ 5 Room Four featured a private "plunge room" and sauna. The plunge room housed a sunken, cement hot tub filled with water piped in from the hot springs. The tub was situated against two walls in a corner of the room. A high metal railing wrapped around the tub's two open sides and down seven concrete steps into the tub. Because of the railing, the steps were the only way in and out of the tub. A short ledge along one wall provided the only seating available in the tub. In the corner of the plunge room opposite the tub, a metal door with a glass window led to a small sauna.

¶ 6 At first, J.B. was reluctant to get into the tub with Madplume and Bassu. A recent surgery on his foot left him self-conscious and leery of getting an infection from the water. Madplume, however, claimed to have a background in healthcare from working as a CNA, and assured J.B. that the hot water would be good for his foot. When J.B. finally joined Madplume and Bassu in the tub, Madplume began pestering J.B., asking to see his foot up close. When J.B. relented, Madplume touched J.B.'s inner thigh, which J.B. interpreted as a sexual advance and resisted, pushing Madplume away. Madplume then told Bassu to leave the room. Once Bassu was gone, Madplume accused J.B. of leading him on. J.B. got angry and tried to leave, but the combination of heat, alcohol, and the foot surgery made him unsteady. Madplume blocked the steps out of the hot tub and pushed J.B. back into the water multiple times. Eventually, J.B. pushed past Madplume, put on his shoes, and left the room.

¶ 7 J.B. found Bassu outside and told him what had happened, warning him against being alone with Madplume. Without cell service or other options to leave Wild Horse, J.B. and Bassu had to rely on Madplume to get home. When Madplume offered to drive them home, they accepted. The ride home began with Madplume speeding toward the highway, drifting from side to side across the dirt road leading away from Wild Horse. Upon reaching the highway, instead of turning left toward J.B.'s home, Madplume turned right toward Hot Springs. After Madplume sped past a cutoff road to Ronan, J.B. started getting mad again and demanded that Madplume pull over. When Madplume stopped, J.B. got out and began walking toward a local convenience store. About 20 minutes later, Madplume returned and encouraged J.B. to get back in the car. J.B. climbed in, and after more erratic driving, Madplume eventually took J.B. back to his home.

B. Kenmille's Death

¶ 8 Madplume had purchased two bottles of rum before heading to Kenmille's mother's house for a late breakfast on May 25, 2013. At the time, Kenmille was staying at his mother's house. After visiting with friends and family in the neighborhood, Madplume, Kenmille and Youstah Eneas, Bassu's 16-year-old brother, went to Wild Horse. According to Wild Horse employees, the three men arrived around 3 p.m. and had already begun partying and drinking the rum Madplume had brought. The employees noted that Kenmille was particularly boisterous at first, but as the day went on he became more inebriated and subdued. Later in the afternoon, a Wild Horse employee noticed that Kenmille's speech was slurred and he was leaning on walls for support. Madplume, on the other hand, seemed normal.

¶ 9 At about 5 p.m., Madplume and company made their way to Room Four, the same room where Madplume and J.B. had their altercation less than a week earlier. Madplume and Kenmille put on swim trunks and got into the hot tub, but Youstah was feeling sick and decided to wait in the lobby. Over the course of the evening, Youstah made several trips back to Room Four to ask Madplume and Kenmille if they were ready to leave. The second time Youstah checked in, Kenmille seemed barely awake; his eyes were closed and his head was down, but above the water. Madplume assured Youstah that Kenmille was all right and said they would be done soon.

¶ 10 Back in the lobby, Youstah told one of the Wild Horse employees about Kenmille's state, and the employee said he would check on Kenmille and Madplume. Youstah then went looking for something to eat and passed Room Four along the way. He glanced through the window and saw Madplume hunched over, as if he was carrying something. Youstah did not enter the room to see what Madplume was doing, but continued his search for food until he had circled the building and arrived back in the lobby.

¶ 11 The final time Youstah went back to the room, he saw Kenmille sitting naked next to Madplume in the hot tub. Madplume volunteered that they were all right and everything was still fine, but Youstah started to worry when he noticed the water was tinted red around Kenmille. He also saw the glass in the door to the sauna was broken and shards of glass on the floor appeared to be speckled with blood. Madplume explained that Kenmille had slipped and fallen earlier, but assured Youstah that Kenmille was fine—he was just faking being asleep. Youstah went back to the lobby and told one of the employees to check on Kenmille.

¶ 12 Derek Smith was working at Wild Horse with his father, Dave Smith, on the day Kenmille died. Derek responded to Youstah's first request for someone to check on Kenmille. On that visit, Derek entered the plunge room and asked if Madplume and Kenmille needed anything. Derek noticed that Kenmille was in the corner of the hot tub, leaning forward with his face in the water while Madplume sat next to him, patting his back. Madplume said they did not need anything, and Derek left. At some point in the afternoon, Dave reported hearing glass breaking in the direction of Room Four, as well as noise that he described as the sounds of men rough-housing and laughing. One of the owners of Wild Horse walked by the room to see if the front window was broken, but did not go inside the room to see if glass had broken elsewhere.

¶ 13 Derek also checked on Madplume and Kenmille after Youstah noticed blood on the broken glass of the sauna door and what appeared to be blood in the tub around Kenmille. During that check-in, Madplume asked if Derek would help pull Kenmille out of the tub. At trial, Derek recalled that the tub's water was murky, as if someone had vomited in it. Madplume pushed Kenmille to a spot where Derek and Youstah could reach over the tub's railing and help pull Kenmille out. As they were moving Kenmille, Madplume's grip slipped and Kenmille's face sank under the water, but Kenmille did not appear to react. After they removed Kenmille from the tub, Derek noticed bruises on Kenmille's shins. Derek went back to the lobby to get his father's help.

¶ 14 As Kenmille lay unresponsive on the floor next to the hot tub, blood began to pool under the back of his head. Confusion and panic set in. After some discussion, Madplume, Youstah, Derek and Dave decided to try to put Kenmille in Madplume's car to drive him to the hospital....

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