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Blevins v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

April 27, 2017

DANELL BLEVINS, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Uinta County The Honorable Joseph B. Bluemel, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Office of the Public Defender: Diane M. 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; Christyne Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Caitlin F. Young, Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Young.

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

          KAUTZ, Justice.

         [¶1] A jury convicted Appellant Danell Blevins of felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult, in violation of Wyo. Stat. Ann. §§ 6-2-507(a) and (d) (LexisNexis 2015). On appeal, Ms. Blevins challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's conclusion that the victim, Richard Tefertiller, was a vulnerable adult. She also claims the district court improperly instructed the jury on the mental element of the crime.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶3] Ms. Blevins presents the following issues on appeal:

I. Did the State present sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Tefertiller was a vulnerable adult as defined by statute?
II. Did the jury instruction that exploitation sufficient to establish the felony conviction need be a "reckless or intentional act" misstate the law?

         The State offers a similar statement of the issues.

         FACTS

         [¶4] Ms. Blevins was a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic in Evanston, Wyoming. Mr. Tefertiller, who was approximately 73 years old during the time at issue, was a disabled veteran. He frequented the VA clinic for evaluation and treatment of a host of medical and mental issues. Mr. Tefertiller's medical history included bouts of colon and prostate cancer, the latter resulting from his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Mr. Tefertiller also had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his service in Vietnam. The PTSD caused him to anger quickly and have recurrent nightmares. Mr. Tefertiller drank significant amounts of alcohol to self-medicate his PTSD and help him sleep. Whether as a consequence of his drinking, his age or other issues, Mr. Tefertiller fell and injured himself on occasion and had memory problems.

         [¶5] Ms. Blevins befriended Mr. Tefertiller and, in 2014, asked him to lend her money so that she could continue her education to become a registered nurse (RN). During the period between January 23, 2014 and January 2, 2015, Mr. Tefertiller gave Ms. Blevins $39, 550. At least $39, 000 was a loan for her education, [1] which she was supposed to repay once she obtained her degree. Ms. Blevins did not enter an RN program and, instead, used most of the money for things other than education.[2] She paid bills, gave some of the money to her sister, and went on a vacation.

         [¶6] Mr. Tefertiller's daughters learned about his loans to Ms. Blevins and contacted her to discuss repayment. She refused to talk to them about the loans, claiming the transactions were between her and Mr. Tefertiller. The daughters alerted the VA, which, together with the Evanston police department, began an investigation. The State charged Ms. Blevins with one count of intentionally exploiting a vulnerable adult, a felony. She was tried before a jury in April 2016, and the jury found her guilty of the crime. The district court sentenced Ms. Blevins to serve one to four years in prison and ordered her to reimburse $39, 000 to Mr. Tefertiller. She filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Sufficiency of the Evidence to Establish Mr. Tefertiller was a Vulnerable Adult

         [¶7] Ms. Blevins claims her conviction should be reversed because the State did not present sufficient evidence that Mr. Tefertiller was a vulnerable adult. In analyzing her claim,

[w]e do not consider "whether or not the evidence was sufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but [instead] whether or not the evidence could reasonably support such a finding by the factfinder." Hill v. State, 2016 WY 27, ¶ 13, 371 P.3d 553, 558 (Wyo. 2016) (citing Levengood v. State, 2014 WY 138, ¶ 12, 336 P.3d 1201, 1203 (Wyo. 2014)). "We will not reweigh the evidence nor will we re-examine the credibility of the witnesses." Hill, 2016 WY 27, ¶ 12, 371 P.3d at 558 (citation omitted). We review the sufficiency of the evidence "from this perspective because we defer to the jury as the fact-finder and assume they believed only the evidence adverse to the defendant since they found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Oldman [v. State], 2015 WY 121, ¶ 5, 359 P.3d [964] at 966.

Mraz v. State, 2016 WY 85, ¶ 19, 378 P.3d 280, 286 (Wyo. 2016), quoting Bean v. State, 2016 WY 48, ¶ 45, 373 P.3d 372, 387 (Wyo. 2016). In addition,

this Court examines the evidence in the light most favorable to the State. Faubion v. State, 2010 WY 79, ¶ 12, 233 P.3d 926, 929 (Wyo. 2010). We accept all evidence favorable to the State as true and give the State's evidence every favorable inference which can reasonably and fairly be drawn from it. We also disregard any evidence favorable to the appellant that conflicts with the State's evidence. Id.
Harnden v. State, 2016 WY 92, ¶ 5, 378 P.3d 611, 612-13 (Wyo. 2016) (quoting Pena v. State, 2015 WY 149, ¶ 16, 361 P.3d 862, 866 (Wyo. 2015)).

Worley v. State, 2017 WY 3, ¶ 17, 386 P.3d 765, 771 (Wyo. 2017).

         [¶8] Ms. Blevins was convicted of felony exploitation of a vulnerable adult under §§ 6-2-507 (a) and (d):

(a) Except under circumstances constituting a violation of W.S. 6-2-502 [aggravated assault and battery], a person is guilty of abuse, neglect, abandonment or exploitation of a vulnerable adult if the person intentionally or recklessly abuses, neglects, abandons, intimidates or exploits a vulnerable adult. . . . .
(d) Exploitation of a vulnerable adult is a felony punishable by not more than ten (10) years in prison, a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10, 000.00), or both, and registration of the ...

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