State v. Slade

Citation331 P.3d 930
Decision Date01 August 2014
Docket NumberNo. 32,681.,32,681.
PartiesSTATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Cameron SLADE, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of New Mexico

331 P.3d 930

STATE of New Mexico, Plaintiff–Appellee,
Cameron SLADE, Defendant–Appellant.

No. 32,681.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico.

April 15, 2014.
Certiorari Granted Aug. 1, 2014, No. 34,764.

[331 P.3d 931]

Gary K. King, Attorney General, Yvonne M. Chicoine, Assistant Attorney General, Santa Fe, NM, for Appellee.

Templeman and Crutchfield, C. Barry Crutchfield, Lovington, NM, for Appellant.



{1} Defendant Cameron Slade was convicted of attempted first degree murder after attending a party that ended with one person dead and the victim, Brian Alexander, seriously injured from multiple gunshot wounds. On appeal, Defendant maintains that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. We agree that the State failed to meet its burden to demonstrate that Defendant acted willfully, deliberately, and with premeditated intent to kill the victim. We further conclude that because the State elected to charge attempted first degree murder and not to instruct the jury on attempted second degree murder, double jeopardy principles bar retrial of Defendant for the lesser included charge of attempted second

[331 P.3d 932]

degree murder. Defendant's conviction is reversed and his sentence vacated.


{2} Defendant was charged with and convicted of attempted first degree murder for the shooting of Brian Alexander at a party in Hobbs, New Mexico. Alexander suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The other essential facts are as follows.

{3} After arriving at the party, Defendant waited outside the rented hall while his friend, J.J. Royal, and his cousin, Dedrick Thomas, went inside. Defendant was carrying a .38 revolver that he had borrowed from Royal, and Royal was carrying a semiautomatic .40 caliber pistol belonging to Defendant. Shortly after Royal and Thomas entered the hall, a fight erupted and Royal and Alexander stepped in to break it up. In an attempt to stop the fighting, the party's organizers turned on the lights and approximately thirty guests began leaving the hall. Once outside, the fight resumed a few yards away from the entrance. Royal and Alexander also left the hall and began fighting each other on a ramp just outside the hall's entrance. A friend and roommate of Alexander's, Alton Granville, also joined in the fight. Thomas returned to his car, which was parked a few yards away from the entrance, where he encountered Defendant. After Thomas told Defendant about the fight, Defendant wordlessly walked toward the hall entrance. Thomas then got in his car, drove toward the hall entrance, and parked in the street near the ramp.

{4} Moments later, Royal heard gunshots from an unknown location. Believing he had been shot, Royal drew the semiautomatic .40 caliber pistol and shot Granville four times, killing him. Royal also shot at Alexander several times as Alexander was running down the ramp and away from the hall entrance. Royal fired a total of six times.

{5} Eyewitness testimony about Defendant's whereabouts during the fighting was mixed. At trial, Alexander testified that he did not see Defendant at all during the shooting, but he had testified at a preliminary hearing that he had seen Defendant in the street. Thomas testified that he did not see Defendant near the fight and never saw him fire a weapon. Royal testified that he did not see Defendant shoot at any time.

{6} After the shooting began, Defendant was seen running with Royal away from the area of the fight, while people fired at them. Defendant and Royal then ran into an alley, pursued by people in a car who were also shooting at them. Royal exchanged weapons with Defendant and fired the .38 revolver at the vehicle one or two times.

{7} Meanwhile, Thomas, whose car had been hit with one bullet, returned to his apartment. Defendant arrived approximately thirty-five minutes later and hid the semiautomatic .40 caliber pistol in a bedroom closet. This weapon was later recovered from a house in Midland, Texas, belonging to a family member of Royal's. The barrel of the weapon had been removed.

{8} Defendant and Thomas went to the Hobbs Police Department the next day to be interviewed. Defendant instructed Thomas to say that he did not know what had happened, and Defendant told the police during the interview that he went to the party only with Thomas, that he never saw Royal that night, that he stayed in his car most of the time he was there, and that he rode home with Thomas. Thomas testified that Defendant told him that Defendant had “shot ... Alexander once.” Royal also told police during the investigation that Defendant had admitted shooting Alexander one time, but at trial denied that Defendant had admitted to the shooting.

{9} Several different kinds of bullets and/or casings were recovered from the scene. Six Remington brand .40 caliber casings, later determined to have been fired by the semiautomatic .40 caliber pistol carried by Royal, were found near where Granville was shot. The single bullet recovered from Alexander's clothing was shown to have been fired by the same gun as two bullets found in Granville's body, although the forensic examiner could not assess whether the three bullets had been fired by the semiautomatic .40 caliber pistol because the barrel was missing. Five Federal brand .40 caliber casings were also recovered from the street near where Thomas and Defendant had parked. Analysis

[331 P.3d 933]

demonstrated that the Federal casings were all fired from the same weapon, but that weapon was never recovered. One 9 mm unfired bullet was also found at the scene. A bullet fragment found in Thomas's car was determined to be a different type than the bullets taken from Granville and Alexander. No .38 caliber bullets or casings were recovered from the scene or Alexander, although the .38 revolver itself was recovered from Royal's family member.

{10} After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of attempted first degree murder and acquitted of tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to nine years of incarceration for attempted first degree murder and one year for the use of a firearm. Additional facts are included as necessary to our discussion.


{11} Defendant argues that (1) the State's evidence fails to demonstrate that he shot Alexander at all; and (2) there was also insufficient evidence that he acted with the requisite intent for first degree murder, i.e., deliberate intent to kill. Defendant also argues that the “corpus delicti rule” was violated because the testimony as to his admission was not trustworthy and there was no independent evidence that Defendant shot Alexander. Because the disposition of Defendant's sufficiency arguments makes it unnecessary, we do not reach the latter point.

A. The Evidence of Deliberate Intent Was Insufficient

{12} Defendant argues that the evidence presented at trial was “totally insufficient” to support a conclusion that Defendant “committed any criminal act” and that the jury's verdict rested on “mere guess or speculation.” Because the jury was instructed on and returned a verdict as to attempted first degree murder, we focus our analysis on the sufficiency of the evidence pertinent to that charge. We agree with Defendant's assertion that the evidence did not support a conclusion that he acted with deliberate intent. We begin by discussing the standard of review of such an assertion, first generally and then in the context of attempted first degree murder. We then apply the standard of review to the State's arguments.

1. Standard of Review

{13} On appeal, the appellate courts “review sufficiency of the evidence ... from a highly deferential standpoint.” State v. Dowling, 2011–NMSC–016, ¶ 20, 150 N.M. 110, 257 P.3d 930. All evidence is “viewed in the light most favorable to the [s]tate, [and we] resolv [e] all conflicts and mak[e] all permissible inferences in favor of the jury's verdict.” Id. We examine each essential element of the crimes charged and the evidence at trial “to ensure that a rational jury could have found the facts required for each element of the conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. The appellate courts “do not search for inferences supporting a contrary verdict or re-weigh the evidence because this type of analysis would substitute an appellate court's judgment for that of the jury.” State v. Graham, 2005–NMSC–004, ¶ 13, 137 N.M. 197, 109 P.3d 285; see State v. McGhee, 1985–NMSC–047, ¶ 17, 103 N.M. 100, 703 P.2d 877 (“The determination of the weight and effect of the evidence, including all reasonable inferences to be drawn from both the direct and circumstantial evidence is a matter reserved for determination by the trier of fact.”).

{14} Although appellate courts are highly deferential to a jury's decisions, it is “the independent responsibility of the courts to ensure that the jury's decisions are supportable by evidence in the record, rather than mere guess or conjecture.” State v. Vigil, 2010–NMSC–003, ¶ 4, 147 N.M. 537, 226 P.3d 636 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); seeUJI 14–6006 NMRA (stating that the “verdict should not be based on speculation, guess[,] or conjecture”). In other words, “[e]vidence from which a proposition can be derived only by speculation among equally plausible alternatives is not substantial evidence of the proposition.” Baca v. Bueno Foods, 1988–NMCA–112, ¶ 15, 108 N.M. 98, 766 P.2d 1332. This principle necessarily requires a reviewing court to distinguish between conclusions based on speculation and those based on inferences, a task that is not always straightforward. See

[331 P.3d 934]

Romero v. State, 1991–NMCA–042, ¶ 38, 112 N.M. 291, 814 P.2d 1019 (“[T]he line between speculation and reasonable inference is not always clear.”), aff'd in part, rev'd in part,1991–NMSC–071, 112 N.M. 332, 815 P.2d 628. Nevertheless, this Court has made clear that an inference must be linked to a fact in evidence. “A reasonable inference is a conclusion arrived at by a process of reasoning...

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