State v. Williams

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtEdwin H. Smith; Smart, P.J., and Ellis
Citation24 S.W.3d 101
Parties(Mo.App. W.D. 2000) State of Missouri, Respondent, v. John J. Williams, Jr., Appellant. WD56380 0
Decision Date11 April 2000

24 S.W.3d 101 (Mo.App. W.D. 2000)
State of Missouri, Respondent,
v.
John J. Williams, Jr., Appellant.
WD56380
Missouri Court of Appeals Western District
04/11/2000

Appeal From: Circuit Court of Jackson County, Hon. David W. Shinn

Counsel for Appellant: Scott E. Walter

Counsel for Respondent: Philip M. Koppe

Opinion Summary: John J. Williams, Jr., appeals the circuit court's judgment of his jury convictions for felony murder in the second degree, section 565.021; endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree, section 568.045; and armed criminal action (ACA), section 571.015, for which he was sentenced, as a prior offender, sections 558.016, 558.019, 557.036, RSMo Supp. 1996, to consecutive terms of imprisonment of life, five years, and twenty-five years, respectively, in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The appellant raises five points on appeal. In Point I, he claims that the trial court erred in overruling his motions for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's evidence and all the evidence because there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of felony murder in that the State's medical evidence did not establish that his striking of his son with a belt, the act constituting the underlying felony of endangering the welfare of a child, caused his death. In Point II, he claims that the trial court erred in overruling his Batson objection to the State's use of a peremptory strike to strike a member of the venire because it deprived him of his constitutional right to be tried by a fair and impartial jury in that the reasons given by the State for striking the venireman, specifically, that he was divorced, were not constitutionally neutral reasons for doing so. In Point III, he claims that the trial court erred in submitting Instruction No. 11, the verdict director for the offense of ACA, based on a conviction for the underlying felony of felony murder, because: (1) the State failed to show that he committed the underlying felony by, with, or through the use of a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon, as required by section 571.015 and defined in section 556.061(9), (10), in that the belt used by the appellant in the commission of the underlying felony was not a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon as defined by statute; and (2) section 571.015 is constitutionally infirm as being overbroad and void for vagueness in that it does not give adequate notice and fair warning as to what acts constitute armed criminal action. In Point IV, the appellant claims that the trial court erred in overruling his objection to the State's closing argument concerning the force necessary to cause the belt, which was used by the appellant to strike the victim, to fray because it deprived him of his constitutional right to a trial before a fair and impartial jury in that this argument referred to evidence not in the record. In Point V, he claims that the trial court erred in overruling his pretrial motion to dismiss the felony murder charge, based on the application of the "merger doctrine," because the alleged acts constituting the underlying felony, endangering the welfare of a child, merged with the acts that were alleged to have caused the death of the victim in that the striking of the victim by the appellant with a belt not only was alleged to have constituted the underlying felony, but was alleged to have caused his death.

Division Three holds: Because the disposition of the claims raised by the appellant in Points I and III are contingent on the disposition of the claim he raises in Point V, we discuss Point V first. In Point V, the appellant claims that the trial court erred in overruling his motion to dismiss the felony murder charge against him based on the application of the merger doctrine. The merger doctrine is a means of limiting or barring application of the felony murder rule when the act causing the homicide is indivisible from the act providing the basis for the underlying felony. The State contends on appeal that the doctrine is no longer viable in this state due to the express language of section 565.021.1(2), effective October 1, 1984, which provides that "any felony" will serve as a predicate felony for purposes of felony murder. The State contends that by the use of the phrase "any felony" in the statute, the legislature intended that even those felonies included in the homicide itself could serve as the underlying felony for a felony murder charge.

Giving the "any felony" language its plain and ordinary meaning, we interpret it to mean "every" felony. However, this interpretation appears to fly in the face of decisions by the Missouri Supreme Court and the Missouri Court of Appeals in that we interpret the felony murder statutes in effect at the times these cases were decided as extending felony murder to "any felony," as does the present statute, yet they all recognized the merger doctrine as a limitation on the felony murder rule. We can only assume that the courts involved did not see the application of the doctrine as a case of statutory interpretation, but one of whether the doctrine was necessary to limit the felony murder rule to its commonly defined purposes. Regardless of the effect of the "any felony" language of section 565.021.1(2) on the continuing viability of the doctrine, the State points to other language in the statute, which did not exist previously, either expressly or in effect, that leads it to conclude that the legislature intended to extend the felony murder rule to every felony, except as limited by section 565.021.2, which provides: "Murder in the second degree is a class A felony, and the punishment for second degree murder shall be in addition to the punishment for commission of a related felony or attempted felony, other than murder or manslaughter." Giving this language its plain and ordinary meaning, we would agree with the State that the legislature intended that the felony murder rule would not extend to the felonies of murder and manslaughter. We conclude that when our legislature excluded murder and manslaughter as predicate felonies for felony murder, it intended that no other limitations be placed on the offense of felony murder, which would include limitation by way of the merger doctrine. Thus, the trial court did not err in failing to sustain the appellant's motion to dismiss the felony murder charge against him.

As to Point I, viewing the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the verdict and accepting as true all reasonable inferences from it, we find that a reasonable juror could find that the victim's death occurred as a result of the appellant striking him with a belt.

In regard to Point II, after the State offered a race-neutral reason for its challenged peremptory strike, the burden shifted back to the appellant to show that the State's explanation was merely pretextual. However, the appellant failed to do so. As such, he did not make an effective Batson challenge to the State's strike and has not preserved this issue for appeal.

As to Point III, because the appellant's defense counsel did not make a specific objection to the giving of Instruction No. 11, the verdict director for the offense of ACA, at trial, he did not preserve for appellate review the issues raised in this point. Reviewing the issues raised for plain error, we find that the record does not reveal obvious and clear error that would result in manifest injustice or a miscarriage of justice.

As to Point IV, the prosecutor's challenged remarks in closing argument were reasonable inferences from the evidence regarding the events that transpired prior to the victim's death, which the prosecutor was entitled to argue.

Edwin H. Smith, Judge

John J. Williams, Jr., appeals the circuit court's judgment of his jury convictions for felony murder in the second degree, section 565.021;1 endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree, section 568.045; and armed criminal action (ACA), section 571.015, for which he was sentenced, as a prior offender, sections 558.016, 558.019, 557.036, RSMo Supp. 1996, to consecutive terms of imprisonment of life, five years, and twenty-five years, respectively, in the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The appellant raises five points on appeal. In Point I, he claims that the trial court erred in overruling his motions for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's evidence and all the evidence because there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of felony murder in that the State's medical evidence did not establish that his striking of his son with a belt, the act constituting the underlying felony of endangering the welfare of a child, caused his death. In Point II, he claims that the trial court erred in overruling his Batson objection to the State's use of a peremptory strike to strike a member of the venire because it deprived him of his constitutional right to be tried by a fair and impartial jury in that the reasons given by the State for striking the venireman, specifically, that he was divorced, were not constitutionally neutral reasons for doing so. In Point III, he claims that the trial court erred in submitting Instruction No. 11, the verdict director for the offense of ACA, section 571.015, based on a conviction for the underlying felony of felony murder, because: (1) the State failed to show that he committed the underlying felony by, with, or through the use of a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon, as required by section 571.015 and defined in section 556.061(9), (10), in that the belt used by the appellant in the commission of the underlying felony was not a dangerous instrument or deadly weapon as defined by statute; and (2) section 571.015 is constitutionally infirm as being overbroad and void for vagueness in that it does not give adequate notice and fair warning as to what acts constitute armed criminal action. In Point IV, the appellant...

To continue reading

Request your trial
63 practice notes
  • Fisher and Utley v. State, 113
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • December 17, 2001
    ...States, 450 U.S. 333, 101 S.Ct. 1137, 67 L.Ed.2d 275 (1981); Faraga v. State, 514 So.2d 295, 302-03 (Miss.1987); and State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 117 (Mo.App.2000). Holbrook was a case in which the defendant was convicted of reckless endangerment 786 A.2d 749 and first degree arson. Ne......
  • State of Tn v. Godsey, E1997-00207-SC-R11-DD
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 29, 2001
    ...App. 1995); State v. Cromey, 348 N.W.2d 759, 760 (Minn. 1984); Faraga v. State, 514 So.2d 295, 302-03 (Miss. 1987); State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 115-17 (Mo. Ct. App. 2000); State v. McCann, 907 P.2d 239, 241 (Okla. Crim. App. 1995); Tremblay, 479 P.2d at 511; see generally 40 Am. Jur. ......
  • Roary v. State, 25
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • February 11, 2005
    ...The position is commonly referred to as either the "merger" doctrine or the "collateral-felony" doctrine.14 See Missouri v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 114-15 867 A.2d 1104 In California v. Hansen, 9 Cal.4th 300, 36 Cal.Rptr.2d 609, 885 P.2d 1022 (1994), the Supreme Court of California summari......
  • People v. Davis, 95614.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • December 16, 2004
    ...236 Ga. at 757, 225 S.E.2d at 271-72. Still other jurisdictions adopted the merger doctrine and then abandoned it. In State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 117 (Mo.App.2000), the court concluded that the state legislature abrogated the merger doctrine by excluding only murder and manslaughter a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
62 cases
  • Fisher and Utley v. State, 113
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • December 17, 2001
    ...States, 450 U.S. 333, 101 S.Ct. 1137, 67 L.Ed.2d 275 (1981); Faraga v. State, 514 So.2d 295, 302-03 (Miss.1987); and State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 117 (Mo.App.2000). Holbrook was a case in which the defendant was convicted of reckless endangerment 786 A.2d 749 and first degree arson. Ne......
  • State of Tn v. Godsey, E1997-00207-SC-R11-DD
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • November 29, 2001
    ...App. 1995); State v. Cromey, 348 N.W.2d 759, 760 (Minn. 1984); Faraga v. State, 514 So.2d 295, 302-03 (Miss. 1987); State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 115-17 (Mo. Ct. App. 2000); State v. McCann, 907 P.2d 239, 241 (Okla. Crim. App. 1995); Tremblay, 479 P.2d at 511; see generally 40 Am. Jur. ......
  • Roary v. State, 25
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • February 11, 2005
    ...The position is commonly referred to as either the "merger" doctrine or the "collateral-felony" doctrine.14 See Missouri v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 114-15 867 A.2d 1104 In California v. Hansen, 9 Cal.4th 300, 36 Cal.Rptr.2d 609, 885 P.2d 1022 (1994), the Supreme Court of California summari......
  • People v. Davis, 95614.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • December 16, 2004
    ...236 Ga. at 757, 225 S.E.2d at 271-72. Still other jurisdictions adopted the merger doctrine and then abandoned it. In State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 117 (Mo.App.2000), the court concluded that the state legislature abrogated the merger doctrine by excluding only murder and manslaughter a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • CRIMINAL LAW: CAPITAL FELONY MERGER.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 111 Nbr. 3, June 2021
    • June 22, 2021
    ...note 5, at *200-01 ("And if one intends to do another felony, and undesignedly kills a man, this is also murder."); State v. Williams, 24 S.W.3d 101, 110 (Mo. Ct. App. (21) See sources cited supra note 20. (22) ROBINSON & WILLIAMS, supra note 3, at 53; sources cited supra note 20. (23) ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT