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Vaught v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

January 20, 2016

STEVEN W. VAUGHT, Appellant (Defendant),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Page 513

Appeal from the District Court of Campbell County The Honorable Thomas W. Rumpke, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Office of the Public Defender: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; Kirk A. Morgan, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Morgan.

Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Caitlyn F. Young, Assistant Attorney General; Darrell D. Jackson, Faculty Director, Bradford H. Coates, Student Director, and Jonathon M. Lebsack, Student Intern, of the Prosecution Assistance Program. Argument by Mr. Lebsack.

Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.


Page 514

DAVIS, Justice.

[¶1] Steven Vaught appeals convictions for two counts of first-degree sexual assault under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-302(a)(ii) and one count of kidnapping under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-201(a)(iii), (d).[1] We affirm.


[¶2] Vaught raises two issues relating to jury instructions, which we condense as follows:

I. Did the district court commit plain error by failing to instruct the jury that confinement would not support a kidnapping conviction unless it was separate from and not merely an incident of the sexual assaults?[2]
II. Did the district court's reply to a question from the jury that the jurors should reread the instructions already given amount to plain error?


[¶3] Vaught and his wife-to-be started dating in early April of 2013, began living together approximately a month later, and married on September 13, 2013. The events leading to Vaught's prosecution and conviction took place on January 15, 2014. Prior to that morning, he had never been violent with his spouse. However, earlier that month he became severely depressed, and despite taking the medication prescribed for his condition, he found himself frequently contemplating suicide.

[¶4] At approximately 4:00 a.m. on January 15, Vaught's wife arose because he had been crowding her out of bed, and then went to the kitchen. While she was leaning on a counter top and looking out the window in the dark, the kitchen lights came on, and Vaught, who is six feet four inches tall and weighs three hundred pounds, rushed up to her, forced duct tape over her mouth, knocked her legs out from under her, rolled her to the floor, and pressed his forearm on her neck until she had to struggle to breathe. With an angry look, he told her not to scream and that " you've made me do this. You've forced me into this." He then informed her that he was going to tie her to the bed, kill her, and then kill himself.

[¶5] Vaught then pulled his wife from the floor, removed the duct tape, and ushered her to the bedroom, where at his instruction she removed her pajamas and got into bed. Vaught joined her and the two talked for nearly an hour. Believing that he intended to kill her, she apologized for offending and belittling him during an argument they had the evening before, and also told him that she was wrong and that he had every right to be mad. She promised that if he let her go, she would never tell anyone

Page 515

about what had taken place earlier in the kitchen.

[¶6] She tried to get him to change his lethal plan by telling him she loved him and would do anything to prove it. She ultimately performed oral sex and engaged in intercourse due to his threat to kill her. Afterward she asked him if he felt better about their relationship. Vaught said he did not believe her, evidently referring to her statements that she loved him and would not report the incident. He then lifted the pillows on the bed to show the boot laces he had secured to both sides of the bed for the purpose of lashing her to it.

[¶7] A few moments later, she asked him to " let [her] make [him] one last meal." When he assented, she went to the kitchen, turned on the stove, and cracked three eggs into a skillet. She then asked if he wanted toast, which Vaught declined. With the eggs frying and out of sight of the bedroom where Vaught remained, she secured a small blanket and some slip-on shoes from near a couch. Thus attired, she slipped out the front door and sought help from her neighbors, who provided her sanctuary and called the Gillette Police Department.

[¶8] Vaught heard the front door close and assumed the police would soon be looking for him. Consequently, he dressed and locked and barricaded the front door with a chair wedged under the knob before leaving the second-floor apartment through a bedroom window and driving away. He was arrested later that day.

[¶9] Vaught claims that the acts alleged to constitute a kidnapping were merely incidental to the sexual assaults described above, and could not constitute a separate crime. However, this claimed " incidental rule" played no part in his trial. No one ever alluded to it, Vaught offered no instruction that even remotely reflected the rule of which he now claims the jury should have been informed, and such a rule was never mentioned in a motion for judgment of acquittal or for a new trial.

[¶10] His second issue relates to a question posed by the jury during its deliberations. The jury indicated, " We need clarification on count 3 and lesser charges; the courts' [sic] interpretation/definitions of #s 15, 22, 23." Count 3 was the kidnapping charge, and Instruction Nos. 15, 22, and 23 were the elements instructions for, respectively, kidnapping and the lesser-included offenses of false imprisonment and felonious restraint.[3]

[¶11] The district court asked the prosecutor and defense counsel how it should respond to the question. The prosecutor noted " they've been instructed and I think that they need to read the packet and be encouraged to read the package." Defense counsel then said, " I agree, Your Honor. Read the instructions and then instructions have been provided and whatever standard language the court uses for this kind of inquiry." The judge confirmed that counsel wanted him to instruct " the jury to review again all of the instructions that were previously provided to the jury by the court," which he then did. No one challenged the instruction as being contrary to what the court was asked to do after it was given.

[¶12] Vaught was convicted on all three charged counts. The district court sentenced him to twenty to forty years imprisonment on each of the sexual assault convictions, and to fifty-five to sixty-two years for the kidnapping conviction, with all sentences ...

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