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Emerson v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

April 15, 2016

JAMES DARYL EMERSON, Appellant (Defendant),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Daniel L. Forgey, Judge

Representing Appellant:

Office of the State Public Defender: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel. Argument by Ms. Olson.

Representing Appellee:

Peter K. Michael, Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Marc L. Smith, Special Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Smith.

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

BURKE, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Appellant, James Daryl Emerson, challenges the district court's denial of his motion for a new trial. We affirm.


[¶2] Appellant presents one issue:

Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's motion for a new trial?


[¶3] On the evening of March 19, 2014, Appellant was at his nephew Samson's residence drinking with Samson, Alisha Ayers, and Jeremy Cantleberry. At some point, Appellant and Mr. Cantleberry got into a heated argument. Samson told everyone to leave and, in response, Appellant began yelling at Samson. Ultimately, Appellant left the residence and walked down the street to his home, which he shared with Mr. Cantleberry.

[¶4] Subsequently, Samson discovered that Appellant had forgotten his cell phone. He took the phone to Appellant's residence. After leaving the phone outside Appellant's trailer, Samson headed home. During that return trip, Samson was accosted by Appellant, who grabbed Samson and held a knife to his throat. During the ensuing struggle, Appellant cut Samson's cheek with the knife. Appellant then tackled Samson and held him on the ground for several minutes before releasing him.

[¶5] Samson then walked to his grandmother's house, and asked her to take him to the hospital. At the hospital, Samson told law enforcement that Appellant had attacked him and recited the events as described above. Law enforcement also interviewed Ms. Ayers, who was a witness to the assault, and Mr. Cantleberry. Both Ms. Ayers and Mr. Cantleberry corroborated Samson's account of the altercation.

[¶6] On the day following the assault, detectives from the Casper Police Department interviewed Appellant about the events of the previous night. Appellant claimed he had been in an altercation with an "unknown male" but stated that he was very intoxicated and did not remember anything about the altercation. The detectives observed that Appellant had blood on his pants and shirt. After Appellant was taken to jail, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant for Appellant's home and found a black knife with "Joker" engraved on one side of the blade and "Why so serious" on the other.

[¶7] On March 21, the State charged Appellant with aggravated assault and battery, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-502(a)(ii). At trial, Appellant claimed he had acted in self-defense. Samson testified to the same version of events as recorded in his interview at the hospital on the night of the assault. Ms. Ayers also gave testimony consistent with her statements to police after the assault. She stated that she saw Appellant grab Samson by the neck and that Samson was unarmed. Additionally, Mr. Cantleberry, consistent with his statements during investigation of the assault, testified that Appellant was highly agitated before the assault, and that he observed a gash on Samson's cheek after the assault. The State also introduced evidence showing that the knife found at Appellant's home had Samson's dried blood on it. After a three-day trial, the jury found Appellant guilty of aggravated assault and battery.

[¶8] Ten months after his conviction, Appellant filed a motion for a new trial based on statements made by Stanley Powley, whom Appellant had met in jail, and Mr. Powley's ex-girlfriend, Katie McNaughton. The couple had moved into Samson's residence after Appellant was charged but before trial. According to Appellant's motion, Mr. Powley claimed that Samson had told Mr. Powley "that he had to talk to Ayers and Cantleberry to make sure they all had their stories straight for the trial."

[ΒΆ9] The district court held a hearing on the motion. During the hearing, Mr. Powley testified that "I just remember [Samson] stating that [Samson], [Mr. Cantleberry], and [Ms. Ayers] had to get together to make sure that what they were saying was straight or whatever. That's about it." Ms. McNaughton testified that "The conversations were about, like, . . . Well, I think you should say this; and instead of saying that, we should say this instead, so ...

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