State v. Samuel

Decision Date11 September 2019
Docket NumberDocket No. 44182
Citation165 Idaho 746,452 P.3d 768
CourtIdaho Supreme Court
Parties STATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Eldon Gale SAMUEL III, Defendant-Appellant

Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, attorneys for Appellant. Maya P. Waldron argued.

Lawrence W. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, attorneys for Respondent. Theodore S. Tollefson argued.

BEVAN, Justice

I. NATURE OF THE CASE

Eldon Samuel III appeals from a district court judgment entered after a jury found Samuel guilty of second degree murder for killing his father and first degree murder for killing his brother. We affirm.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Samuel was born in California in 1999. Samuel's parents had another son eleven months after Samuel was born. Samuel's younger brother was severely autistic and required significant attention. Both of Samuel's parents had prescription drug addictions which led to financial problems, criminal charges, and arrests. Throughout Samuel's childhood the family lived in shoddy, cockroach-infested residences and moved frequently, usually after they had been evicted for not paying rent. Samuel's mother started abusing pain pills following a car accident when Samuel was 4, became suicidal, and was hospitalized several times. Samuel's father became addicted to pain pills after he injured his shoulder at work. Samuel's father began to believe that a "zombie apocalypse" was inevitable. Samuel's mother testified that Samuel's father taught him how to kill zombies by playing violent video games, watching zombie themed movies, and training Samuel to use knives and guns.

Samuel witnessed extreme violence growing up. When Samuel was four he watched his father pour lighter fluid on his mother and threaten to burn her alive because he wanted a settlement check she received from a car accident. When Samuel was six he watched his father intentionally drive over his mother, breaking her collar bone. When Samuel was ten his father pointed a gun at his mother's head, bound her with duct tape, and forced Samuel to urinate on her. Child Protective Services were repeatedly contacted in California but never intervened. By 2013, Samuel's mother had left and Samuel's father moved to Idaho with Samuel and his brother. Samuel had frequent visits to the doctor for insomnia, nausea, migraines, blurred vision, and congestion.

On the evening of March 24, 2014, officers responded to a 911 call at Samuel's residence. Samuel told the operator that his brother and dad had been shot. After officers arrived on the scene Samuel was taken to the police station. After originally telling a different version of the events that evening, i.e., initially blaming his father for killing his brother, Samuel eventually described the following events during a police interrogation.

Samuel's father was on medication when he shot a .45 gun outside, believing that a "zombie apocalypse" had begun. Samuel told his father to go back inside. Once his father went inside he pushed Samuel in the chest and told him to leave. Samuel picked up his father's gun, and when his father pushed him a second time, Samuel shot him in the stomach. Samuel's father then crawled to Samuel's brother's room, leaving a trail of blood on the floor. Samuel did not believe the first shot killed his father and shot him three more times in the head once he reached Samuel's brother's room.

After killing his father, Samuel saw his brother hiding under the bed and told him to get out. His brother did not move. Samuel got a shotgun and shot his brother while he was under the bed. Samuel reloaded the shotgun and continued to shoot his brother. Samuel then dropped the shotgun and started to stab at his brother with a knife. Samuel moved the mattress off of the bed frame and got a machete. Samuel swung the machete at his brother through the gaps in the wood planks of the bed frame. When his brother tried to climb out from underneath the bed, Samuel hit him in the back of the head with the machete. Samuel continued to swing the machete as hard as he could until his brother stopped talking and was quiet. Samuel then called 911.

Originally, the State charged Samuel with two counts of first degree murder. However, after a preliminary hearing, the magistrate court found the State had not established probable cause on the premeditation element for the murder of Samuel's father. Thus, Samuel was charged with first degree murder for his brother and second degree murder for his father.

Samuel moved to suppress the statements he made during his police interrogation, arguing that he did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his Miranda1 rights and his statements to the police were not voluntary. In support of his motion, Samuel submitted a forensic mental health examination performed by Dr. Craig Beaver. The district court held that the admissibility of Dr. Beaver's report was conditional on Samuel submitting to a second examination that would be conducted by the State's expert. Samuel declined to meet with the State's mental health expert and the district court excluded Dr. Beaver's testimony. Ultimately, the district court denied Samuel's motion to suppress the interrogation.

The case proceeded to a lengthy jury trial. The defense theory was that Samuel killed his father in self-defense, and that he killed his brother in a rage—committing manslaughter not murder. The jury found Samuel guilty of second degree murder for killing his father, and first degree murder for killing his brother. The district court sentenced Samuel to a unified term of 15 years, with 10 years fixed, for second degree murder, and a concurrent life term, with 20 years fixed, for first degree murder. Samuel timely appealed, arguing that because of multiple errors during his trial, both individually and cumulatively, the court denied Samuel his right to a fair trial.

III. ISSUES ON APPEAL

1. Whether the district court erred by denying Samuel's motion to suppress because it impermissibly limited the expert mental health evidence Samuel could present by granting the State's motion under Idaho Code section 18-207.

2. Whether the district court erred by denying Samuel's motion to suppress the statements he made during his interview with the police because Samuel did not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waive his Miranda rights and his confession was coerced.

3. Whether the district court abused its discretion when it did not allow Samuel to present evidence of specific instances of his father's violent and irrational behavior.

4. Whether the district court abused its discretion when it did not allow Samuel's mother to testify that she witnessed Samuel's fear of his father.

5. Whether the district court abused its discretion by limiting Dr. Gentile's expert testimony.

6. Whether the district court abused its discretion by excluding a portion of Dr. Julien's expert testimony.

7. Whether the accumulation of errors, even if individually harmless, deprived Samuel of his right to a fair trial.

8. Whether the district court abused its discretion during sentencing.

IV. ANALYSIS

A. The district court did not err when it granted the State's motion under Idaho Code section 18-207(4)(c), requiring Samuel to submit to an examination by the State's expert if Samuel wanted to present his own expert testimony that he did not voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently waive his Miranda rights.

Samuel moved to suppress his police interrogation alleging that he did not voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently, waive his Miranda rights. In support, Samuel submitted a report from a forensic mental health examination performed by Dr. Craig Beaver. Dr. Beaver opined that Samuel did not appreciate his Miranda rights and did not understand his right to remain silent or his right to have legal counsel present. The State filed a motion under Idaho Code section 18-207(4)(c) requesting the opportunity for its own expert to examine Samuel. The defense objected.

After a hearing on the issue, the district court granted the State's motion and held that if Samuel refused to submit to the State's expert for examination, it would lead to excluding Dr. Beaver's testimony at the suppression hearing. The defense filed a motion for reconsideration, which the district court denied, maintaining that Samuel had raised the issue of whether his mental condition prevented him from knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights. The district court reasoned that to deny the State's motion for examination would deprive it of the only adequate means to meet the defense's expert testimony. The State moved to compel the defense to comply with the court's order. Samuel filed a notice of intent to remain silent, stating that Samuel would neither meet with nor talk to the State's mental health expert. The State thus moved to exclude Dr. Beaver's testimony and strike any reference to Dr. Beaver's report. The district court granted the State's motion.

"In reviewing an order granting or denying a motion to suppress evidence, this Court will defer to the trial court's factual findings unless clearly erroneous. However, free review is exercised over a trial court's determination as to whether constitutional requirements have been satisfied in light of the facts found." State v. Doe , 137 Idaho 519, 522, 50 P.3d 1014, 1017 (2002) (quoting State v. Donato , 135 Idaho 469, 470, 20 P.3d 5, 6 (2001) ).

When a party challenges a statute on constitutional grounds, it "bears the burden of establishing that the statute is unconstitutional and must overcome a strong presumption of validity. Appellate courts are obligated to seek an interpretation of a statute that upholds its constitutionality." State v. Manzanares , 152 Idaho 410, 418, 272 P.3d 382, 390 (2012) (quoting State v. Korsen , 138 Idaho 706, 711, 69 P.3d 126, 131 (2003) ).

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