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Taylor v. State

March 6, 2009


Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Jeffrey A. Donnell, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Voigt, Chief Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] The appellant appeals his conviction on numerous criminal charges, including first-degree premeditated murder, on the ground that the district court abused its discretion by admitting certain uncharged misconduct evidence. Finding no error, we affirm.


[¶2]Did the district court abuse its discretion by admitting evidence of two prior instances in which the appellant threatened someone?


[¶3] We will recite the facts underlying the crimes charged in this case in some detail because they provide the context for the issue presented. To avoid unwarranted publicity, we will refer to the participants by their first name only, or by an identifier such as "the appellant" or "the victim."

[¶4] The appellant met Beth in 1992, at a time that she was in the process of obtaining a divorce from her first husband, Troy. Beth and the appellant were married in 1994. That marriage ended in divorce in 2004. Prior to the divorce, Beth had entered into a relationship with John. Beth's relationship with John did not endure, however, and she reconciled with the appellant in 2005. They remarried in 2006. That road became equally rocky, and the appellant filed for divorce on March 20, 2007, after learning that Beth was involved in a sexual relationship with the eventual murder victim.

[¶5] During the weekend of March 29-April 1, 2007, Beth went from her home in Casper to Cheyenne to visit her daughter. The appellant telephoned Beth repeatedly. Early in the afternoon of Sunday, April 1, Beth's daughter told the appellant when he called again that Beth had returned to Casper. At about the same time, the appellant's neighbor saw him loading "long guns" into his pickup.

[¶6] At about 2:30 or 3:00 p.m., the appellant drove over to the victim's house looking for Beth. She was not there, but the appellant saw the victim standing outside his residence. According to the appellant's trial testimony, the victim looked at him "with disdain" as he passed. This angered the appellant, who returned home, where he consumed beer and tequila.

[¶7] Upon returning to Casper, Beth went to the victim's house, where the two of them and a friend watched television. She left the house before 6:30 p.m., at which time she was accosted by the appellant, who had been parked out of sight in a nearby alley. During the ensuing argument, the appellant reached into Beth's vehicle, grabbed her by the hair, and slammed her head against the window. He then declared that, though he had not carried through with his earlier threat to kill John, he would "kill somebody this time."

[¶8] Taking this threat seriously, Beth drove to the police station, with the appellant following her. When they arrived at the police station, the appellant again approached Beth, this time pointing a .45 caliber pistol at her. He told her he would not kill her if she returned home with him. Fearing she would be killed, Beth slumped against the side of her vehicle. The appellant shoved the gun back into his pants while stating that he would "kill somebody." Beth went into the police station as the appellant drove away.

[¶9] Immediately upon entering the police station, Beth telephoned the victim to warn him. The victim told her to hang up and call 911, and that he would watch for the appellant. Beth did as she was told, her call to 911 being logged in at 6:25 p.m. Beth described the encounter and told the dispatcher that she had seen a shotgun in the appellant's truck. Three minutes later, the dispatcher received a "hang up" 911 call from the victim's residence. Officers responding to the call found the victim dead on his kitchen floor. He was lying on his back, with a shotgun across his knee and a cordless telephone on the floor next to his hand. Pellets from a shotgun blast had made divots in the floor under his head.

[¶10] The appellant's own trial testimony and the testimony of a friend established what had happened: The victim had closed and locked his front door when he saw the appellant arrive. The appellant blasted his way through the front door with his 12-gauge shotgun. The victim then fired his own shotgun at the appellant, inflicting only minor injuries. The appellant returned fire, hitting the victim in the chest with a disabling blow. He then walked up to the wounded victim and fired a second shot directly at his head. The appellant fled the scene, driving to a friend's house north of Casper. When the appellant confessed the murder to his friend, the latter contacted the police and arranged for the appellant's surrender.

[¶11] After the appellant's arrest, a preliminary hearing, and a district court arraignment, the charges against him were finalized in an Amended Information filed on October 8, 2007: one count of first-degree premeditated murder, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-101 (LexisNexis 2007); one count of felony murder, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-101 (LexisNexis 2007); one count of aggravated burglary, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-3-301(a) and (c)(i)(ii) (LexisNexis 2007); one count of threatening to use a drawn deadly weapon on another, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(iii) (LexisNexis 2007); one count of possessing or transporting a deadly weapon with the unlawful intent to threaten the life or physical well-being of another, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-8-103 (LexisNexis 2007); and one count of battery, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-501(b) and (d) (LexisNexis 2007). He was convicted by a jury on all six counts.


[¶12] We recently reiterated both the accepted trial court process for determining whether to admit uncharged misconduct evidence and this Court's standard for reviewing such determinations:

We review a district court's rulings on the admissibility of evidence, including uncharged misconduct evidence, for an abuse of discretion, and we will not reverse absent a clear abuse of such discretion. Bromley v. State, 2007 WY 20, ¶ 8, 150 P.3d 1202, 1206 (Wyo. 2007). "A trial court abuses its discretion when it could not have reasonably concluded as it did." Id. at ΒΆ ...

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