State v. Skjonsby, Cr. N

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
Writing for the CourtSAND; ERICKSTAD
Citation319 N.W.2d 764
PartiesSTATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Richard W. SKJONSBY, Defendant and Appellant. (Two cases) os. 749-A, 802.
Docket NumberCr. N
Decision Date20 May 1982

Larry E. Stern and Bruce D. Quick, Asst. State's Attys., Fargo, for plaintiff and appellee; argued by Larry E. Stern, Fargo.

Bruce C. Britton, Fargo, for defendant and appellant.

SAND, Justice.

This is an appeal by the defendant, Richard W. Skjonsby [hereinafter referred to as Skjonsby], from a judgment of conviction in which Skjonsby was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences as a result of a jury conviction for the murder of Michael J. Kurtz [Kurtz] and the attempted murder of Charlotte Skjonsby [Charlotte].

On 26 March 1980 at approximately 7:30 p. m., the Fargo Police Department responded to a call for assistance from the Biltmore Motor Hotel to investigate a report that gunshots had been fired in room 118 of the Biltmore. Patrolman Wayne Jorgenson was the first police officer to arrive at the Biltmore, and he observed three people in room 118. Charlotte was sitting on a luggage rack and Jorgenson observed blood on her clothing. Kurtz, the renter of room 118, was lying face down on the floor a few feet from Charlotte. Also in the room was Skjonsby. Sgt. Donald Lawyer was the next police officer at the scene, and within minutes several other law enforcement personnel arrived.

Charlotte was transferred to Dakota Hospital where surgery was performed to remove bullet fragments from her body and her wounds were dressed. Kurtz was taken to St. Luke's Hospitals, and was pronounced dead at approximately 8:30 p. m. An autopsy On 11 April 1980 and 16 April 1980 a grand jury was convened in the death of Kurtz. The grand jury subsequently indicted Skjonsby for the murder of Kurtz and the attempted murder of Charlotte.

on Kurtz performed the next day determined that the cause of death was a single gunshot wound through the heart and right lung. Skjonsby was arrested at the scene and transported to the Fargo Police Department.

Charlotte testified before the grand jury and described her relationship with Skjonsby as being intimate and that he had asked her several times to marry him. Charlotte testified before the grand jury that Skjonsby was a jealous man who had on occasion struck her when he had been drinking. Charlotte also described Kurtz as a close family friend who was employed as a traveling jewelry salesman and who often visited them when he was in Fargo. Charlotte testified before the grand jury as follows to the events leading up to the shooting on 26 March 1980: Charlotte, her two daughters, and Kurtz had dinner at a restaurant at West Acres in Fargo on 26 March 1980. Shortly after dinner Charlotte went to Kurtz' room at the Biltmore to view his jewelry collection. Within minutes after Charlotte arrived at Kurtz' room, there was a tiny rap on the door, followed by a louder pounding. Kurtz instructed Charlotte to go into the bathroom because he suspected someone was trying to rob his jewelry. Charlotte testified that she went into the bathroom, heard a crash and a shot, and then silence. The bathroom door was then kicked open by Skjonsby and he grabbed Charlotte, threw her into the bathtub, and began shooting her. Skjonsby then left the room and Charlotte crawled out of the bathroom and called for help. Skjonsby subsequently returned to the room and the police arrived shortly thereafter.

At trial, Charlotte testified, contrary to her grand jury testimony, that the shootings were accidental or in self-defense. Charlotte, in substance, testified that following the knock on the door, Kurtz told her to go into the bathroom and he would get his gun; that while she was in the bathroom she heard a crashing and a fight, but no gunshot; that Skjonsby then kicked open the bathroom door and was holding Kurtz' gun in his hand; that a struggle between Kurtz and Skjonsby ensued and as they struggled, the gun discharged several times, striking Charlotte; that she then fell into the bathtub and heard one more shot, and then silence; and that she crawled out of the bathtub, saw Kurtz on the floor, and called for help.

Charlotte explained the differences in her testimony by stating that she was taking painkilling drugs at the time of her grand jury testimony and could not remember what she said before the grand jury.

Skjonsby appeared as a witness at the trial and his testimony, in substance, was consistent with Charlotte's testimony at trial concerning the actual shootings. Skjonsby testified as follows: At 7:00 p. m. on 26 March 1980 he received a telephone call from Kurtz who said, "I've got Charlotte. This is Mike Kurtz. I've got Charlotte and I'm going to get even with her once and for all and I'm going to kill her." Skjonsby testified that as a result of the telephone call he went completely out of his head knowing that Charlotte would be hurt. After receiving the phone call from Kurtz, Skjonsby drove to Hornbacher's at West Acres to find Charlotte. Skjonsby did not see Charlotte's car in the parking lot and called Charlotte's store at West Acres to see if she was there. An employee at the West Acres store told Skjonsby that Charlotte was with Kurtz at the Biltmore. Skjonsby drove to the Biltmore and after learning Kurtz' room number went to room 118 and knocked on the door. After no one answered the door, he drop-kicked the window next to the door and entered room 118. A struggle with Kurtz ensued and Skjonsby hit Kurtz and slammed him into the window. As a result, Kurtz dropped his gun. Skjonsby picked up Kurtz' gun because he was afraid Kurtz would use it on him. Skjonsby then kicked open the door to the bathroom and saw Charlotte standing in the bathroom. While Skjonsby was standing in the bathroom door, Kurtz jumped him from the side and started slamming his arm against the bathroom door frame causing The State's evidence generally supported its theory that the shootings were intentional and were not in self-defense or accidental. The State presented testimony of police officers who arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting. Sgt. Lawyer, one of them, testified that when he entered the room he exclaimed, "Who did this?" or "What has happened?" Lawyer testified that Skjonsby replied, "I did this." and that Skjonsby further stated "I went crazy. I left the room and came back. The gun is in the car." The police officers also testified that Skjonsby stated that his car was outside. The police officers testified that they obtained Skjonsby's keys from him at this time. The officers testified that Skjonsby was then placed under arrest, given the Miranda warning and taken to a police car in the Biltmore parking lot and from there to the police department. As Skjonsby was being led to the police car, he identified his car in the Biltmore parking lot.

the gun to discharge. The struggle continued and the gun discharged each time Kurtz slammed Skjonsby's arm against the door frame. The struggle continued in the vanity area adjacent to the bathroom and Kurtz slammed Skjonsby against the vanity counter. The gun went off as Skjonsby fell backward and hit the counter, and this shot apparently hit Kurtz. Skjonsby was momentarily knocked out and when he regained his senses he saw Charlotte lying in the corner of the bathroom. He picked her up, laid her in the bathtub, gave her a kiss, told her he loved her, picked up the gun and ran to his car. He began to drive away and then decided to go back to the room. Skjonsby also denied making any admissions or statements to the police in room 118.

The State's evidence also reflected that after Skjonsby was transported to the police department he was again read his Miranda rights by Capt. George Pavlicek. Pavlicek testified that he gave Skjonsby a telephone book so he could call an attorney. At this time Pavlicek testified that Skjonsby asked him, "How many times did I shoot him?"

Skjonsby subsequently made several telephone calls and in one call stated to his father, "Dad, I did something bad, very bad. I shot Charlotte and her boyfriend in a room. I'm at the Fargo police department. I think Charlotte is in the hospital. I tried to call Fred Kramer but I can't get ahold of him." Skjonsby also made another phone call and made essentially the same statements to that person, with the addition that, "I want a change of clothes brought to the Fargo police department."

A search warrant for Skjonsby's automobile was executed and a pistol and registration card were seized. Additionally, Skjonsby's apartment was searched and a gun belt and empty gun holster were recovered.

The State offered testimony of several renters of nearby rooms at the Biltmore which corroborated the police officer's testimony that Skjonsby made numerous admissions at room 118. An FBI ballistics expert testified that the bullets found in the room 118 came from the gun found in Skjonsby's automobile. The ballistics expert also testified that the murder weapon did not have a "hair" trigger which would fire with a slight touch of a finger. The ballistics expert also testified that the distance between the muzzle of the gun and the victim, when the bullet was fired, was at least five feet because no residue was found on the victim's clothing.

An FBI glass expert testified that the broken window in room 118 was broken by a high speed projectile, such as a bullet, and not by kicking the window, as testified by Skjonsby. Furthermore, the glass expert testified that the amount of glass found on Skjonsby's pants, sweater and boots was not consistent with a person kicking a piece of glass. The State also offered evidence that there were small cuts on Kurtz which were consistent with spraying glass but inconsistent with a person rolling in glass. The State also offered the testimony of Charlotte's orthopedic surgeon who testified that many of Charlotte's wounds were joined by a continuous channel, indicating...

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