State v. Paulson

Citation358 P.3d 877 (Table)
Decision Date23 October 2015
Docket Number108,795.
PartiesSTATE of Kansas, Appellee, v. Michael Andrew PAULSON, Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Kansas

358 P.3d 877 (Table)

STATE of Kansas, Appellee
Michael Andrew PAULSON, Appellant.


Court of Appeals of Kansas.

Oct. 23, 2015.
Review Denied April 21, 2016.

Richard Ney, of Ney & Adams, of Wichita, for appellant.

Christina Trocheck, assistant county attorney, Ellen Mitchell, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.




Defendant Michael Andrew Paulson suspected his wife Valerie of having an affair. As they were in the process of separating—Paulson had begun moving out of their home—he stabbed Valerie to death and in the same incident seriously wounded their sister-in-law. A Saline County District Court jury convicted Paulson of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder at the conclusion of a 2–week trial. On appeal, Paulson has claimed an array of defects in the trial. Although Paulson received something less than a perfect trial, the actual deficiencies did not deprive him of a fair trial. We, therefore, affirm the convictions. See State v. Cruz, 297 Kan. 1048, 1075, 307 P.3d 199 (2013) (“As we have recognized for decades, ‘[a] defendant is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one[.]’ ”) (quoting State v. Bly, 215 Kan. 168, 178, 523 P.2d 397 [1974] ).

Paulson also challenges the district court's postconviction orders requiring him to reimburse about $8,200 in attorney fees for the appointed lawyer who represented him through the preliminary hearing and to pay about $18,000 in restitution to the Kansas Crime Victims Fund, his sister-in-law. Paulson has not shown those orders to be improper. So we affirm them, as well.

The parties are familiar with the lengthy pretrial proceedings and the extensive trial evidence generated in this case. We see little purpose in cataloguing that history simply for the sake of doing so. We extract some factual circumstances for context and then add pertinent facts as we discuss each of the points Paulson has raised on appeal.

Factual and Procedural Background

Paulson has never disputed that he killed Valerie and seriously injured Jessie Putman, his sister-in-law. The State charged Paulson with intentional first-degree murder for killing Valerie and attempted intentional first-degree murder for the injuries to Putman. The incident took place on July 6, 2010, meaning the substantive criminal law in effect then governs rather than the revised criminal code that went into effect the following year.

At trial, the case focused on Paulson's state of mind and whether he possessed the requisite criminal purpose or intent to be found guilty. Both the State and Paulson presented testimony from mental health experts for the jurors' consideration. The district court instructed the jurors only on intentional second-degree murder and attempted intentional second-degree murder as lesser included offenses—a decision Paulson has challenged on appeal. The district court also instructed the jurors they could find Paulson not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect or unqualifiedly not guilty. As we noted, the jurors convicted Paulson of the lesser offenses. The district court imposed sentences of 165 months for the killing of Valerie and 61 months for the attack on Putman to be served consecutively, yielding a controlling 226–month term of incarceration followed by postrelease supervision.

Valerie and Paulson had been married for 20 years and had two sons, Austin and Nathan, who were 14 and 10 years old when their father killed their mother. Valerie had a daughter, Kyrsten, from an earlier marriage. Paulson had adopted Kyrsten, and she referred to him as her father. Valerie home-schooled the children and did not have outside employment. Paulson worked as a field representative for a private company, a job requiring him to travel frequently.

The trial evidence showed that in 2007 or 2008, Valerie had an affair with a man who had worked with Paulson. She accumulated roughly $50,000 in credit card debt during that time. The couple separated briefly then, sought marriage counseling, and reconciled. Paulson took control of the family finances. They sold their home in Lindsborg and purchased a smaller, less expensive house in a nearby community. The marital friction continued.

Paulson suspected Valerie was having another affair. The State's theory of the case had Paulson, armed with a knife, going to the family home to kill Valerie when she returned—a premeditated murder. The prosecutor suggested Paulson's motive lay, at least in part, in the family's deep-seated, conservative religious views in which divorce was anathema. Paulson's explanation at trial had him returning to the family home and hiding upstairs to discover information Valerie might reveal either confirming or refuting his suspicion about the new affair. Paulson did not testify. For the most part, the jurors heard his version of the attack through his out-of-court conversations with the psychologist who testified at trial as a key part of the defense case. According to that account, Paulson overheard a conversation between Valerie and Putman and a cell phone call between Valerie and her putative lover that in his mind confirmed the affair. But he never described the details of the conversation or of the phone call. Paulson said upon confirming the affair, he lost control, stormed down the stairs, apparently picked up a knife in the kitchen, and attacked Valerie and Putman. As the psychologist recounted Paulson's version, everything appeared to him in “flashes” and he did not have a recollection of stabbing either Valerie or Putman.

Putman testified that she and Valerie arrived at the house in the early evening. Valerie immediately noticed that in some of the family photographs Paulson had pasted pictures of her ex-husband or the man with whom she had earlier had an affair over his own face. Putman looked around to see if Paulson was there but didn't find him. Putman said she and Valerie began straightening up the house and cleaning the kitchen. According to Putman, Valerie spoke briefly about the man with whom Paulson suspected she was then involved. But Putman said the conversation did not relate to the nature of the relationship. Valerie told her the man was going to pay for her divorce. Putman told the jurors she stepped away and did not hear what Valerie said to the man during the cell phone call.

Putman testified she went out the back door to make a call on her cell phone. As she looked back inside, she saw Paulson run from the dining room, through the kitchen, and toward the back bedroom. Putman testified she did not see Paulson pick up anything as he ran toward the bedroom. She then heard Valerie screaming, “Stop, no, Andy, oh [G]od, no, stop.” Putman testified she immediately tried to call 911, but the call didn't go through. So she went back inside, encountering Paulson in the kitchen. Paulson immediately stabbed Putman in the abdomen. Putman fled into the backyard. Paulson followed. He continued to stab her in the chest until the two fell into the yard. He then stabbed her in the back. But, as they struggled, Paulson stopped the attack and went back into the house. Putman then succeeded in calling 911 on her phone. As she pleaded for help, Paulson returned, grabbed her cell phone, and began stabbing her again. Putman asked him why he attacked her, and Paulson replied: “[Y]ou're the reason we're getting divorced, you're the reason she is leaving me.” She told Paulson that she had never done anything to him. At that point, Paulson stopped and went into the house again. Putman made it to her car and drove away. Putman testified she was struggling to breathe and remain conscious, so she pulled into the parking lot of a building supply store and cried out for help. As store employees called for an ambulance, Putman told an off-duty law enforcement officer at the store that Paulson had stabbed her. Putman was hospitalized for multiple stab wounds to her arms and torso.

When law enforcement officers arrived at the home, Paulson had already fled. They found Valerie's body in the bathtub of the downstairs bathroom. A forensic pathologist later identified 18 stab wounds, including 6 to Valerie's chest, 7 to the right side of her torso, and defensive injuries to hands and arms.

After driving away from the home, Paulson called Kyrsten. She described him as crying very hard and sounding “out of it.” He told Kyrsten he had killed Valerie and intended to visit his parents to say goodbye to them. Paulson then asked to speak to Austin and Nathan and told Austin that Valerie and Putnam were dead. As Paulson talked to his sons, Kyrsten called 911 and then tried to reach the family's minister.

The morning after the attack, Paulson was arrested at a café in Bennington, a little town just over 25 miles away. An officer who participated in the arrest testified that Paulson said his wife was having an affair and was going to take his children. But Paulson did not otherwise say anything about the attack on Valerie and Putman. The officer described Paulson as calm and cooperative.

Legal Analysis

Failure to Instruct on Voluntary Manslaughter

Paulson contends the district court erred in not instructing the jurors they could consider voluntary manslaughter and attempted voluntary manslaughter as lesser included offenses. A district court...

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