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Pearson v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

February 28, 2017

JAMES E. PEARSON, Appellant (Defendant),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

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

          Representing Appellant: Office of the Public Defender: Diane M. Lozano, State Public Defender; Tina N. Olson, Chief Appellate Counsel; David E. Westling, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel. Argument by Mr. Westling.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; David L. Delicath, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; D. David DeWald, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. DeWald.

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

          KAUTZ, Justice.

         [¶1] James E. Pearson was convicted after a jury trial of one count of aggravated arson and one count of attempted first degree murder for starting a fire in a motel hallway outside the victim's room. He claims the evidence was insufficient for the jury to conclude that he had the specific intent to kill the victim and that his due process rights were violated when the district court allowed the State to call a witness to testify after failing to timely disclose agreements between the witness and the State.

         [¶2] We affirm.


         [¶3] Mr. Pearson presents the following issues on appeal:

I. Did the trial court err when it failed to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal in regard to the charge of attempted first degree murder in that there was no evidence of a specific intent to kill a specified human being?
II. Did the [trial] court err by refusing to exclude a witness for whom prior plea agreements had not been disclosed despite demand for the same, thereby failing to address prosecutorial misconduct and the violation of Mr. Pearson's due process rights afforded by Giglio v. United States and Brady v. Maryland?

         The State articulates similar issues, although phrased in greater detail.


         [¶4] On September 6, 2014, Mr. Pearson traveled from Casper to Gillette, Wyoming to see Autumn Evans, with whom he had a sexual relationship. He picked her up from Room 315 at the Rodeway Inn and rented a room at the Super 8 Motel. Mr. Pearson drove an uncommon automobile, a pearl colored Chrysler 300 with a distinctive grill and rims. This unique vehicle was later identified at significant times and places around Gillette.

         [¶5] Mr. Pearson gave Ms. Evans some methamphetamine and she was supposed to sell it to someone at a bar. She did not return from the bar, so Mr. Pearson went in looking for her and was told that she had not been there. He then attempted to locate her at the Super 8 and Rodeway Inn but did not find her. Ms. Evans was actually in Room 315 of the Rodeway Inn when he came to the door looking for her, but she instructed a man who was in the room with her, Cameron Means, to tell Mr. Pearson that she was not there. She hid on the floor behind the bed while Mr. Means spoke to Mr. Pearson. Mr. Pearson told Mr. Means he was looking for Ms. Evans because she needed to pay for the methamphetamine.

         [¶6] At approximately 1:09 a.m. on September 7, 2014, Mr. Pearson purchased gasoline. A car consistent with his was seen on video surveillance cameras near the Rodeway Inn at approximately 1:24 a.m. Jolene Boos testified that she was outside the motel smoking when Mr. Pearson pulled up in his car and got out. He was carrying an object that she could not see very well and asked if "Autumn was home." Ms. Boos did not respond to his question. Mr. Pearson entered the motel, and shortly thereafter, she saw him look down at her from the third floor stairwell window. Ms. Boos testified that she could not remember the exact time she saw Mr. Pearson, but within half an hour after seeing him, she heard "some commotion." She looked out and saw that someone had jumped out of a window and landed on top of a vehicle. She then realized the motel was on fire. The fire was reported at approximately 1:38 a.m.

         [¶7] The third floor of the motel was badly damaged. Ms. Evans was not injured in the fire, but her boyfriend, Jeremy Duncan, suffered very serious injuries when he fell or jumped from the third floor. Other occupants of the motel were also injured in the fire. Fire investigators determined that the fire had been set deliberately outside of Room 315 using gasoline as an accelerant. A patrol car video camera and cell phone location records indicated that Mr. Pearson left town just before the fire was reported.

         [¶8] The State charged Mr. Pearson with one count of aggravated arson and one count of attempted first degree murder of Ms. Evans. His jury trial began on Monday, August 17, 2015, and ended on August 20, 2015. The Friday before trial, the State entered into an agreement with Cameron Means giving him immunity from prosecution for any narcotics-related crimes he would reveal during his testimony. At 6:30 a.m. on the first day of trial, the prosecutor notified defense counsel of the immunity agreement and a plea agreement with Mr. Means in a different case. Defense counsel objected, claiming that, under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963) and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 154, 92 S.Ct. 763, 766, 31 L.Ed.2d 104 (1972), the State should be prohibited from calling Mr. Means to testify because it had violated Mr. Pearson's right to due process by not disclosing the agreements sooner.

         [¶9] The district court expressed concern over the late notification, but ultimately allowed Mr. Means to testify. It determined that the State had not violated Brady and Giglio because the defense would have the opportunity to use the information about Mr. Means' agreements with the State at trial. The jury returned guilty verdicts on both counts, and the district court sentenced Mr. Pearson to serve twenty-four to twenty-eight years in prison on the aggravated arson conviction and life without the possibility of parole on the attempted first degree murder conviction. He filed a timely notice of appeal.


         1. Sufficiency of the Evidence on Attempted First Degree Murder

         [¶10] Mr. Pearson claims the district court should have granted his motion for judgment of acquittal on the attempted first degree murder charge because there was insufficient evidence that he specifically intended to kill Ms. Evans.

In reviewing the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal, we examine and accept as true the evidence of the prosecution together with all logical and reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, leaving out entirely the evidence of the defendant in conflict therewith.
A motion for judgment of acquittal is to be granted only when the evidence is such that a reasonable juror must have a reasonable doubt as to the existence of any of the essential elements of the crime. Or, stated another way, if there is [sufficient] evidence to sustain a conviction of the crime, the motion should not be granted. This standard applies whether the supporting evidence is direct or circumstantial.

Butcher v. State, 2005 WY 146, ¶ 11, 123 P.3d 543, 548 (Wyo. 2005).

Bruce v. State, 2015 WY 46, ¶ 52, 346 P.3d 909, 926 (Wyo. 2015). In other words, "[o]ur duty is to determine whether a quorum of reasonable and rational individuals would, or even could, have come to the same result as the jury actually did." Wilkerson v. State, 2014 WY 136, ¶ 28, 336 P.3d 1188, 1200 (Wyo. 2014) (citations omitted).

         [¶11] Mr. Pearson was convicted of attempted first degree murder. Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-101 (LexisNexis 2015) defines first degree murder, in relevant part, as: "(a) Whoever purposely and with premeditated malice . . . kills any human being is guilty of murder in the first degree." Wyo. ...

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