Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County. The Honorable W. Thomas Sullins, Judge.
For Appellant: Timothy K. Newcomb, Appellate Consultation, Laramie, Wyoming; Joseph H. Low IV, The Law Firm of Joseph H. Low IV, Long Beach, California. Argument by Mr. Newcomb.
For Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Joshua C. Eames, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Eames.
Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.
BURKE, Chief Justice.
[¶1] Appellant, John Henry Knospler, Jr., was convicted of second-degree murder after he shot and killed James Baldwin in the parking lot of Racks Gentlemen's Club in Casper, Wyoming. He asserts error in the district court's evidentiary rulings and in the jury instructions. We affirm Appellant's conviction.
[¶2] Appellant presents five issues, which we restate as follows:
1. Did the district court abuse its discretion in excluding evidence relating to the victim's criminal history?
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion in excluding expert testimony purporting to establish a link between viewing depictions of pornography and a character trait for aggression?
3. Did the district court err in denying Appellant's request to instruct the jury regarding self-defense in a home or habitation?
4. Did the district court err in instructing the jury, in relation to Appellant's claim of self-defense, that it must determine
whether Appellant or the victim was the first aggressor?
5. Did the district court abuse its discretion in permitting the State to introduce 404(b) evidence despite the State's late notice of its intent to use the evidence?
[¶3] On the night of October 3, 2013, Appellant and the victim, James Baldwin, separately visited Racks Gentlemen's Club in Casper. Around 10:30 p.m., Appellant was asked to leave after he was observed with marijuana inside the bar. Appellant left and sat in his vehicle in the parking lot. Shortly before midnight, bar employees found the victim asleep at a bar table and asked him to leave. The employees offered to call a cab for the victim, but he stated that his friends were waiting for him in a car parked outside the bar. The victim exited to the parking lot and approached the vehicle occupied by Appellant. The victim pulled on the passenger door handle and knocked on the window. When he did not get an answer, the victim walked around to the driver's side and leaned on the door. Appellant then shot and killed the victim.
[¶4] After the shooting, Appellant drove away from the scene and bar employees called the police. Shortly thereafter, a sheriff's deputy observed a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle that had been reported. The deputy stopped Appellant after he observed him driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. When the deputy approached the vehicle, he smelled a strong odor of alcohol and marijuana. The deputy also noticed that the driver's door window was missing and appeared to have been broken. Prior to his arrest, Appellant told the officer that he did not know how the window had been broken and that he had not been in any altercation that night.
[¶5] As a result of the incident on October 3rd, the State charged Appellant with one count of second-degree murder. Prior to trial, Appellant filed a notice of his intent to introduce evidence of the victim's criminal history to show that he was the first aggressor. Appellant sought to introduce evidence of the victim's arrests for breach of the peace, battery and interference with a police officer, and eluding police, as well as his arrest for 19 counts of conspiracy to commit vehicular burglary. Ultimately, the district court allowed evidence of the victim's arrest for battery and interference with a police officer, but excluded evidence relating to the remaining arrests.
[¶6] Appellant also filed a pretrial motion seeking to introduce evidence of the victim's internet search history. Appellant claimed the search history showed that the victim had viewed websites depicting pornography and bestiality. Appellant argued that these sites showed that the victim was likely to engage in aggressive behavior. The district court granted the State's motion to exclude the evidence, ruling that it was inadmissible under W.R.E. 403 because the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
[¶7] Four days prior to trial, Appellant filed a " Motion for Exception and Offer of Proof" which sought admission of the websites as well as expert testimony relating to the characteristics of persons who view images depicting child pornography and bestiality. In his motion, Appellant claimed that two proposed expert witnesses would testify that " it is common for those individuals that view bestiality pornography to be aggressive in nature and commit violent crimes[.]" The district court addressed the matter during a bench conference on the first day of trial. After noting that Appellant had waited until four days prior to trial to identify an expert, the district court denied the motion and again found that the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger for unfair prejudice.
[¶8] On November 19, 2014, the State provided notice of its intent to introduce testimony of three witnesses under Rule 404(b). Appellant filed a motion to exclude the evidence on the grounds that it was irrelevant and constituted inadmissible hearsay. At the pretrial conference, the State noted that the proposed testimony had only been recently discovered after re-interviewing the witnesses and that the evidence had
been immediately disclosed to Appellant. The district court denied the motion. After the witnesses testified at trial, Appellant filed a motion to strike the testimony of two of the witnesses because the State had violated the district court's deadline to disclose 404(b) evidence. The district court also denied that motion.
[¶9] At trial, Appellant claimed that he had acted in self-defense when he shot and killed the victim. According to Appellant, the victim punched out Appellant's car window and assaulted him inside his vehicle before Appellant shot him. In accordance with this theory, Appellant proposed jury instructions setting forth rules relating to self-defense in a home or habitation and specifically included " vehicles" in the definition of " habitation." The district court declined to give the requested instructions.
[¶10] The jury found Appellant guilty of second-degree murder and Appellant was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison. This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary in the discussion below.
Issue 1: Exclusion of the victim's criminal ...