State v. Reese

Decision Date08 October 2013
Docket Number42305-7-II
CourtWashington Court of Appeals


Hunt P.J.

Joshua Nathan Reese appeals his bench trial convictions and exceptional sentences for first degree felony murder, first degree burglary, two counts of first degree robbery, and two counts of second degree assault. He argues that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a CrR 3.6 evidentiary hearing and in failing to suppress his statements that were the product of an unlawful traffic stop; (2) he received ineffective assistance when his trial counsel advised him to waive his right to a jury trial; (3) the State presented insufficient evidence to support his convictions for both counts of first degree robbery, one count of second degree assault, and felony murder; (4) the trial court miscalculated his offender score because several of his current offenses constituted the same criminal conduct and/or merged; and (5) the trial court erred in imposing exceptional sentences which were clearly excessive and not supported by the record. Reese also challenges several of the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

We affirm Reese's convictions and his exceptional sentences.

I. Home Invasion
A. Burglary, Robbery, Assault, and Felony Murder

Joshua Nathan Reese and his three associates, including Amanda Knight and Kiyoshi Higashi, saw James Sanders' Craigslist posting offering to sell a diamond wedding ring, surmised that James and Charlene Sanders had other valuables in their house, and planned to "rob" them by doing a "normal house lick."[1] Ex. 136 at 3. On April 28, 2010, Knight drove Reese, Higashi, and Clabon Berniard in her car to the home of James and Charlene Sanders and their children, CK, aged 10, and JS, [2] aged 14. Knight and her passengers carried zip ties; Reese, Berniard, and Higashi also carried loaded handguns. Before entering the house, Knight used a Bluetooth device to establish a cell phone connection with Reese and Berniard, who remained in her car to listen for the code words "get down, " the signal that they could enter the house and take the Sanders' valuable property. Ex. 136 at 10.

Charlene and James Sanders[3] and their two boys were watching a movie upstairs while waiting for the prospective buyer who had responded to the Craigslist posting. Knight and Higashi approached the Sanders' home, claiming to be the prospective buyers of the ring. James came downstairs to greet them. Eventually, James called Charlene to the downstairs kitchen to answer Knight's questions about the ring.

Charlene answered Knight's questions and then handed the ring to her. Higashi asked Knight if she wanted the ring; Knight responded, "[Y]es." 2 Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) at 181. Higashi pulled out a "wad of cash" and said, "How about this?" 2 VRP at 182. He then pulled out a gun and said, "How about this?" 2 VRP at 182. James and Charlene told Higashi and Knight to "[t]ake it, " "just take everything." 2 VRP at 182. Higashi and Knight j ordered James and Charlene to "[g]et down, " forced James and Charlene face down to the floor with their hands behind their backs, restrained their wrists with zip ties, and ripped their wedding rings off their fingers. 2 VRP at 182.

Charlene heard two more people "rushing in" and she "heard commotion" throughout the house. 2 VRP at 185. Two men with guns, later identified as Reese and Berniard, entered the upstairs bonus room where CK and JS were watching the movie. The men pointed their guns at CK and JS, "pulled [them] really fast downstairs" by their wrists, and laid them face down on the kitchen floor with their hands behind their backs.[4] 2 VRP at 211. One of the men with a gun began yelling at Charlene and asking her, "Where is the safe?" 2 VRP at 187. Charlene and James again implored, "Just take everything; just take everything." 2 VRP at 187. The man responded, "I'll kill you; I'll kill them." 2 VRP at 187. When Charlene looked up to find her children, several of the intruders ordered her to lie "facedown." 2 VRP at 187.

Berniard called Charlene a "b*tch, " kicked her in the head, stood over her, pointed a gun to the back of her head, cocked its hammer, and started counting down from three, demanding to know where the family's safe was located. 3 VRP at 344. Charlene thought she was going to die. When Berniard reached "[one], " Charlene told him they had a safe; and James gave Berniard a fake code. 2 VRP at 188. Berniard announced to his fellow intruders, "They have a safe, " and then demanded to know where the family's second safe was located. 2 VRP at 188. Charlene told him they did not have a second safe.

Berniard and another male intruder picked James up off the floor and led him into the laundry room near the garage. CK and JS stood up; and JS followed the men and his father into the laundry room. Before they reached the garage, James broke free from his zip ties and started punching Berniard. Berniard shot his gun at James, a piece of James's ear flew off, and, he fell unconscious to the floor. Charlene heard "two or three" gunshots and later learned that James had been shot three times. 2 VRP at 191.

JS jumped on Berniard's back and started choking and fighting him. Berniard "pistol whipped" JS three or four times on the head, leaving him with a concussion; bruises on his neck, face, and arms; and a gash and scar behind his left ear. 3 VRP at 346. Two of the male intruders dragged James's body into the living room. After quickly rummaging through the family's belongings upstairs, all four intruders fled out the front door.

Charlene found James in the downstairs living room, gasping for air. With her zip ties still on, she called 911. Paramedics arrived and pronounced James dead. Charlene had suffered an injury to her left temple, which required a CAT scan.

Detective John Jimenez and members of the Pierce County Sheriffs Department homicide team initially processed the scene. Jimenez found the contents of a woman's purse dumped out on the upstairs furniture, blood stains and two shell casings near James's body in the living room, a shell casing on the kitchen floor, and hair and blood spatter on the pattern molding near the living room door. The. officers determined that the following valuable items had been stolen from the Sanders' home: the old wedding ring that James had posted on Craigslist, Charlene's and James's wedding rings, Charlene's wallet, JS's and Charlene's cell phones, a Playstation 3, an iPod touch, and an iPod charger bearing the initials "J-A-S." 3 VRP at 350.

Around 10:30 or 11:00 PM that same night, Knight dropped off Higashi at his girlfriend Jenna Ford's house. Ford noticed that Higashi had two handguns, a wallet, another person's cell phone, and a bunch of receipts in his possession. After reading the news online, Higashi called Knight, who returned with Reese in her white Crown Victoria so the three could "get a story together." 4 VRP at 433. The next morning, Knight picked up Higashi at Ford's house. Later that day, Higashi texted Ford and told her that he was out of state. Ford eventually reported Higashi and his whereabouts to the authorities.

B. Investigation

The morning of May 1, Daly City, California Police Officer Eddy Klier observed Knight driving a white Crown Victoria without a front license plate (in violation of California Vehicle Code (CVC) § 5204), made a U-turn, got behind Knight's vehicle, and followed it. Before turning on his emergency lights, Klier noticed that the front passenger, Reese, was not wearing his seat belt (in violation of CVC § 27315). When Knight stopped in response to Klier's emergency lights, Reese immediately opened the front passenger-side door and got out. Klier ordered Reese to get back inside the car; and Reese complied. Klier asked Reese for identification, which Reese claimed he did not have. Klier asked Reese for his name; Reese responded that his name was "Niako Hatt, " which did not match any records in the police system. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 345. While talking with Reese, Klier had observed Reese reach his left hand several times into his waistband; Klier was concerned for his safety because Reese was wearing a large black coat and bulky clothes capable of concealing a weapon. Higashi was in the backseat.

When backup arrived, Klier asked Reese to get out of the car so he could conduct a "pat-down search" for weapons and identification. 3 VRP at 308. Reese stood up, removed his coat, tossed it on the front passenger seat, removed an unknown object from his rear left pant leg, and handed it to Higashi in the backseat. Believing the concealed object might be a weapon or drugs, Klier detained all three occupants for further investigation and conducted a pat down search of Reese. Klier found nothing on Reese's person but later found several bags of marijuana in his coat pocket.

Knight consented to a search of her Crown Victoria, including a backpack inside, which she claimed was hers. Under the vehicle's front passenger seat where Reese had been seated, the officers found a loaded .22 caliber handgun with a red bandana on its handle. Inside Knight's backpack the officers found a concealed weapons permit belonging to Knight and two boxes of .380 caliber and .22 caliber ammunition. Reese admitted knowing that the .22 caliber handgun was under his seat, but he denied that it belonged to him. The officers seized the .22 caliber handgun and the ammunition from Knight's backpack; arrested Knight, Higashi, and Reese; and booked them into the San Mateo County jail. Daly City police officers notified the Pierce County Sheriffs Department that they had arrested three people matching the...

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