Estes v. State, 012220 AKCA, A-12103

Docket Nº:A-12103
Opinion Judge:WOLLENBERG, JUDGE
Party Name:CYNTHIA ESTES, Appellant, v. STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
Attorney:Andrew Steiner, Attorney at Law, Bend, Oregon (opening brief) and Jane Martinez, Law Office of Jane B. Martinez, LLC, Anchorage (reply brief), under contract with the Office of Public Advocacy, Anchorage, for the Appellant. Timothy W. Terrell, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeal...
Judge Panel:Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Wollenberg and Harbison, Judges.
Case Date:January 22, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Alaska
 
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CYNTHIA ESTES, Appellant,

v.

STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.

No. A-12103

Court of Appeals of Alaska

January 22, 2020

UNPUBLISHED See Alaska Appellate Rule 214(d)

Appeal from the Superior Court, Third Judicial District, Palmer, Eric Smith, Judge Trial Court No. 3PA-07-01883 CI

Andrew Steiner, Attorney at Law, Bend, Oregon (opening brief) and Jane Martinez, Law Office of Jane B. Martinez, LLC, Anchorage (reply brief), under contract with the Office of Public Advocacy, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Timothy W. Terrell, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.

Before: Allard, Chief Judge, and Wollenberg and Harbison, Judges.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WOLLENBERG, JUDGE

Following a jury trial, Cynthia Estes was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree burglary for acting as an accomplice to her husband, Richard Deremer, in killing Estes's cousin and stealing his prescription medications.1 We affirmed Estes's convictions on direct appeal.2

Estes filed an application for post-conviction relief alleging that her trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel. At trial, Estes's attorney had presented a specific-intent defense - i.e., that Estes did not intend for Deremer to shoot or kill her cousin and she therefore lacked the requisite mental state to be found guilty as an accomplice to first-degree murder. In her post-conviction relief application, Estes argued, among other things, that her attorney was incompetent for failing to adequately present this defense. After an evidentiary hearing, the superior court denied Estes's application for post-conviction relief.

Estes now appeals the denial of her application, renewing her argument that her trial attorney failed to adequately present a specific-intent defense to the jury.[3] In particular, Estes argues that her attorney was ineffective for failing to present testimony from an expert in psychology who had personally evaluated Estes. Estes also argues her attorney failed to adequately explain to the jury in his closing argument how Estes's history of abuse related to the specific-intent requirement.

For the reasons explained in this opinion, we reject Estes's arguments on appeal, and we affirm the superior court's denial of her post-conviction relief application.

Underlying facts and proceedings

Estes and her husband, Deremer, were suspected of killing Estes's cousin, David McKinney, and then taking medications from McKinney's home before setting it on fire. The facts surrounding these events are described in detail in our prior decision in Estes's direct appeal (as well as Deremer's appeals), 4 and are briefly summarized here.

In November 2003, McKinney had multiple prescriptions for narcotics and other drugs, including hydromorphone, methadone, and diazepam. He received a total of 840 pills, plus 15 Fentanyl patches, approximately every 28 days. Estes, who had a substantial drug problem, knew that McKinney kept these medications in a floor safe, with the combination to the safe on a slip of paper in his wallet. McKinney came to believe that Estes was stealing his medications, and he allegedly threatened Estes and her family.

In response, Estes drove Deremer to McKinney's residence so that Deremer could confront McKinney. Estes dropped Deremer off at McKinney's house and drove off; Estes and Deremer brought along two-way radios so that they could communicate. While inside alone, Deremer shot McKinney in the head.

When Estes returned to McKinney's house to pick up Deremer, she discovered McKinney's dead body inside. She then retrieved the slip of paper from McKinney's wallet that contained the combination to the safe where McKinney stored his medications, and she showed Deremer the location of the safe. Because they were unable to open the safe, Deremer later returned to the house with tools, retrieved the medications from the safe, and lit the house on fire with a torch before leaving.

The police obtained Glass warrants, and recorded separate conversations that Deremer and Estes each had with Deremer's cousin, Jason Chew. Deremer admitted to murder and arson, and he provided details of the crime that were consistent with the physical evidence.

During his conversation with Estes, Chew asserted that he had spoken with Deremer about the homicide and that Deremer had described how he had plotted with Estes to kill McKinney. Estes denied having any idea that Deremer intended to commit murder; she said she believed that Deremer was merely going to confront McKinney about the ongoing family dispute.

However, during a subsequent interview with two state troopers, Estes admitted that she knew Deremer intended to shoot McKinney when she drove him to the house - although she did not want to believe that he would really go through with it.

Estes was charged, as an accomplice to her husband, with multiple felony counts related to McKinney's death and the subsequent fire in his home.5 Estes and Deremer were tried separately.6

In order to establish Estes's guilt as an accomplice to first-degree murder, the State first had to show that one or more persons committed each element of the offense.7 The State alleged that Deremer shot McKinney, with the intent to kill him.

Next, to establish Estes's legal accountability for Deremer's conduct, the State had to show (1) that Estes aided or abetted Deremer in planning or committing the murder, (2) that she did so with the intent to promote or facilitate Deremer's conduct, and (3) that she, too, possessed the culpable mental state for first-degree murder-i.e., that she specifically intended McKinney's death.8

At trial, Estes's attorney argued that Estes did not know that Deremer was going to kill McKinney, and that she did not intend for Deremer to shoot or kill McKinney. The attorney argued that Estes instead thought that Deremer was simply going to confront McKinney in an effort to put an end to McKinney's threats.

In support of this argument, Estes's attorney presented evidence that Estes was a victim of domestic violence by...

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