State v. Samples, 20200537-CA

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Writing for the CourtTENNEY, JUDGE
Citation2022 UT App 125
PartiesState of Utah, Appellee, v. Brandon Michael Samples, Appellant.
Docket Number20200537-CA
Decision Date10 November 2022

2022 UT App 125

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.

Brandon Michael Samples, Appellant.

No. 20200537-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 10, 2022


Seventh District Court, Castle Dale Department The Honorable Don Torgerson No. 191700095

Emily Adams and Freyja Johnson, Attorneys for Appellant, assisted by law students Rachel Johnson, Hunter Sullivan, and Brock Mason [1]

Sean D. Reyes and William M. Hains, Attorneys for Appellee

Judge Ryan D. Tenney authored this Opinion, in which Judge Gregory K. Orme and Justice Jill M. Pohlman concurred. [2]

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TENNEY, JUDGE

¶1 In early May 2019, an oil worker found a body lying on the side of a rural road in Emery County, Utah. The body was badly bruised and missing a finger. After law enforcement arrived and identified the victim (Victim), officers learned that Victim had spent his last night with two people: Brandon Samples and Samples's girlfriend (Girlfriend).

¶2 Police soon located Girlfriend, and over the course of several interviews, Girlfriend told officers that Samples had killed Victim and cut off his finger. Based on her claims and other collected evidence, the State charged Samples with murder, desecration of a human body, and three counts of obstructing justice. The case later went to trial, and at its close, the jury convicted Samples.

¶3 On appeal, Samples challenges his murder conviction on multiple grounds. First, Samples claims that his trial counsel (Counsel) was ineffective for not asking the district court for a midtrial continuance to allow him to locate a rebuttal expert to counter some of the State's medical evidence, and Samples asks us to remand so that he can introduce evidence to support this claim. See Utah R. App. P. 23B. Second, Samples claims that two officers should not have been allowed to repeat some of Girlfriend's out-of-court statements during their trial testimonies. Third, Samples contends that Counsel was ineffective for not objecting when a detective gave his opinion about whether Girlfriend could have caused Victim's injuries. Finally, Samples argues that he was prejudiced by the cumulative effect of the alleged errors.

¶4 For the reasons set forth below, we reject each of Samples's arguments (including his request for a rule 23B remand) and affirm his conviction.

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BACKGROUND[3]

The Murder

¶5 On Sunday, April 28, 2019, Brandon Samples was with Girlfriend at her house in Huntington, Utah, when he suggested that they visit Victim at Victim's motel room in Price, Utah. Girlfriend agreed. Girlfriend had "never met [Victim] before," so when they arrived, she "just sat there" while Samples and Victim chatted. While there, Victim showed them a "stone" that he had made in memory of his late mother. He then offered to make one for Samples because Samples's mother, whom Victim had been friends with, had recently passed away. Samples had previously been in a "playful mood," but this offer angered him, presumably because Samples believed that Victim had killed his mother.

¶6 Samples and Girlfriend then left and went to the house where Samples lived. Once there, Samples borrowed some power saws from his landlord and plugged them in so that they could charge. While the saws were charging, the couple ran a few errands, during which time Samples used meth twice. Girlfriend also tried to inject herself, but she was apparently unsuccessful.

¶7 Samples and Girlfriend later went back to Victim's motel room. While there, Victim, who was looking for a place to live, mentioned that he "had a U-Haul full of his stuff." Girlfriend offered to let him store things in her shed, which she mentioned had electricity. Victim said something about the shed "sound[ing] like some place where [he] could live," and Samples "got really upset and started acting really jealous." From Girlfriend's perspective, it seemed like Samples thought she and Victim "had something going on."

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¶8 The three decided to look at Girlfriend's shed, so they got in her car and drove to her house in Huntington. It was a cold night, and once they were there, Girlfriend went inside to put on warmer clothes while Victim and Samples went to look at the shed. But Girlfriend had a problem-namely, she'd recently broken her dominant arm, she'd had a cast on it for about a week, and it was "difficult [for her] to use" her arm because she was "still in pain." Once inside, she realized that she needed Samples's help just to tie her shoes.[4]

¶9 After the three were back together in the house and ready to go back to Price, Samples told Victim that the car was unlocked and that he and Girlfriend would "be out in just a minute." When Victim left, Samples shut the door and said, "I'm going to kill [Victim]." At that point, Girlfriend "really wasn't sure" that Samples was going to do anything. But before they left, Samples instructed Girlfriend to put her phone in the bedroom "so that [they] couldn't be tracked."

¶10 The group took "the back roads to Price" and started driving on a dirt road. Samples suggested they stop and go rock hunting, something that Girlfriend enjoyed doing. Around 1:00 a.m., Samples pulled off the road and Girlfriend "jumped out" of the car with a flashlight and "took off . . . straight out from the car." Girlfriend "was quite a ways from the car" when she turned around and saw Samples standing by her car. He was putting on latex gloves and had placed two metal baseball bats against the

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side of her car. Despite her earlier doubts, when Girlfriend saw Samples with the bats, she now believed "[t]hat he was serious about what he said at the house, that he was going to kill [Victim]." She was also scared for her own life because Samples had previously threatened her.

¶11 Victim had walked up the road a bit, and Girlfriend felt like she needed to warn him. She pointed her flashlight at the ground and started walking toward him. But before Girlfriend could get to him, she heard what sounded like a bat swinging and hitting Victim. Girlfriend heard Victim say, "No, [Samples]. Why?" She heard Victim "[b]egging for his life," after which she heard Samples say, "You know why."

¶12 When Girlfriend got to where Samples was standing, he handed her a bat and told her to hit Victim. Victim said to Girlfriend, "No, not you." But Girlfriend was "scared of [Samples]," so she "hit [Victim] in the arm and in the leg" as Samples had requested. Girlfriend could "[b]arely" grip the bat because of her cast, and her arm "hurt like hell" when she swung the bat. After she hit Victim, Girlfriend "dropped the bat" and ran back to her car. As she stood there, she heard Samples hit Victim "a few more times," after which he returned to the car. Samples said, "I think he's dead," but he then grabbed Girlfriend's flashlight and flashed it back in Victim's direction. When Samples saw that Victim had crawled away, he went back to him and said, "You thought you were going to get away, huh?" Victim asked, "Why are you doing this, [Samples]?" Samples replied, "You know why I'm doing this. You killed my mom." Samples then "started swinging" the bat "uncontrollably" at Victim. During this beating, the bat that Samples was using-which already had a "small crack in it"-broke in two. Girlfriend "heard a gurgling," which she believed was Victim "choking on his own blood."

¶13 When Samples stopped hitting Victim, he grabbed the bats and Victim's hat and wallet, got in the car, and told Girlfriend to

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get in the car and start driving. As Girlfriend drove, Samples rolled down his window and threw out the bat that Girlfriend had used and part of his broken bat. He was "excited" and said, "I can't believe I broke one of the bats." Samples then told Girlfriend that they needed to "get [their] stories straight." He said, "If anybody asks, we dropped [Victim] off" by Samples's landlord's house "because he needed to go talk to somebody about owing them some money and he was going to get a ride back to the motel." Girlfriend, who was "in shock" and "scared," agreed to tell that story.

¶14 Back at Girlfriend's house, Samples and Girlfriend ate and then injected themselves with meth. Samples also called his brother (Brother), and Girlfriend heard him say, "Remember what we talked about? Well, it's done." After the phone call, Samples told Girlfriend that they needed to go back to the dirt road "because he dropped a cigarette butt and he didn't want no DNA left up there." Girlfriend's car had a flat tire from their earlier excursion, so Samples borrowed a friend's car. Before leaving, Samples put a cooler and the saws in the backseat. On the way to Victim's body, they stopped to get gas. There, Samples put a trash bag in the garbage can next to the pump. Inside the bag was the remaining piece of the broken bat, Victim's hat, and Victim's wallet.

¶15 Back at the dirt road, Girlfriend helped Samples "tidy up the crime scene." While doing so, she found the cigarette butt that Samples had discarded earlier and put it in the car. She also picked up Victim's glasses, some batteries that were in the road, and a shovel that was lying on the side of the road. The shovel was from Girlfriend's car, but she didn't know why it was lying there. Girlfriend then went back to the car to meet Samples. Samples now had the saws out, and "he went over to [Victim] and tried to cut [Victim] up." But the "battery wouldn't work," so Samples put the saws back in the car and asked Girlfriend for her knife.

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¶16 Samples took Girlfriend's knife and went over to Victim's body. When he came back, "he had [Victim's] finger in his hand." He told Girlfriend that her knife "had cut through [Victim's] finger perfectly. He only had to . . . tear off the last little bit." Girlfriend noticed that Victim's severed finger had a ring on it. The ring was "sentimental" to Samples because it matched one that belonged to his mother. After showing her the finger, Samples put it in a latex glove and...

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