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Haire v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

May 8, 2017

ANTHONY HAIRE, Appellant (Defendant),
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

         Appeal from the District Court of Washakie County The Honorable Robert E. Skar, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane 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 M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Mackenzie Williams, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Mr. Williams.

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

          DAVIS, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] Appellant Anthony D. Haire shot and killed a man, but claimed he did so in self-defense. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, and a jury found him guilty on both counts. He raises two issues as to the jury instructions on self-defense. First, he contends that the district court erred in failing to give the jury a requested castle doctrine instruction, which would have said that a person has no duty to retreat in his home even if he could safely do so. Second, Appellant asserts the district court committed plain error when it gave an instruction informing the jury that he had a duty to retreat before using deadly force.

         [¶2] Before considering Appellant's issues, we must first address whether the justification of self-defense is available when the crime charged involves a reckless act, rather than an intentional act. We hold that it is, and therefore must overrule our conclusion to the contrary in Duran v. State, 990 P.2d 1005 (Wyo. 1999). While the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's proposed castle doctrine instruction, we find that plain error occurred when the jury was instructed that Appellant had a duty to retreat before using deadly force. We therefore reverse and remand for a new trial on the charge of involuntary manslaughter.


         [¶3] This Court has raised the first issue on its own initiative because the answer to that question will determine whether it is appropriate to consider the issues Appellant raised. We have also rephrased the issues to better conform to the applicable standards of review, controlling law, and circumstances of this case:

1. Is the affirmative defense of self-defense available to a defendant when the crime charged involves a reckless act, rather than an intentional act?
2. Did the district court abuse its discretion when it refused Appellant's proposed jury instruction that there is no duty to retreat in one's home before using deadly force in self-defense?
3. Did the district court commit plain error when it instructed the jury that Appellant had a duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense?


         [¶4] Appellant lived with his wife and three small children in a mobile home in Worland, Wyoming. Their home was situated on a piece of property owned by Jamye SoRelle.[1] Mr. SoRelle also lived in a mobile home on the property. The following rendering sets the scene:

         (IMAGE OMITTED)

         As the diagram depicts, the mobile homes were arranged around a common parking area packed with numerous vehicles and with only a single entrance/exit.

         [¶5] On the evening of April 13, 2015, Appellant was grilling hamburgers in front of his mobile home with his family and a friend, Judy Cable. Mr. SoRelle came to the cookout for a time, but left abruptly for some reason. Later that evening, Ms. Cable attempted to leave in her vehicle, but found that she could not because Mr. SoRelle had parked his red Suburban, which was hitched to a trailer, in front of the driveway in and out of the property. Because she was blocked in, Ms. Cable returned to the Haires' home for assistance.

         [¶6] Appellant walked over to Mr. SoRelle's home and knocked on his door without receiving a response. Appellant then went back to his place and called Mr. SoRelle. Mr. SoRelle answered the call and indicated that he was upset that Ms. Cable's car had been parked in his usual parking spot, which is why he blocked it in.

         [¶7] After the call, Appellant, his wife, and Ms. Cable went outside. The Haires' children remained inside their home. Mr. SoRelle, who was apparently still upset and probably drunk, appeared and walked towards the three.[2] Appellant noticed that Mr. SoRelle was holding a .41 magnum revolver in his right hand as he approached.

         [¶8] Mr. SoRelle then shot his revolver into the ground near Mrs. Haire and Ms. Cable, who were standing near Appellant. The bullet's impact caused gravel to fly and hit Mrs. Haire's legs. Appellant quickly ushered the women back into his home.

         [¶9] Appellant did not follow the women into the home, however. Instead, he ran to his Hyundai car that was parked nearby to retrieve a semiautomatic pistol. See diagram, supra. He then positioned himself behind a white Suburban parked next to his car. In the time that it took Appellant to get his gun, Mr. SoRelle made his way to his red Suburban that was blocking the driveway. See id. The two were now in a standoff in the common parking area of the property with a distance of roughly twenty-five feet between them.

         [¶10] According to Appellant, the two began yelling at each other.[3] Haire asked whether SoRelle was going to move the obstructing vehicle. He testified that he then saw a glimmer from SoRelle's revolver as SoRelle raised his arm. At that point, Haire testified that he took aim and fired one shot. SoRelle again raised his revolver, and Haire began firing, emptying the magazine of the remaining eleven rounds. Nine of the twelve bullets fired hit SoRelle, mortally wounding him.

         [¶11] A neighbor testified that she heard one initial shot followed by a significant break before the other succession of shots were fired.[4] However, Haire's wife testified that she heard two shots, then a slight pause, and then the remaining shots in rapid succession.

         [¶12] After the shooting stopped, Mrs. Haire came outside and saw Appellant standing with his pistol in hand. He told her to call 911. Appellant then approached Mr. SoRelle and removed the revolver from his hand and placed it on the hood of a vehicle a safe distance away.

         [¶13] Police and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter. Mr. SoRelle died at the scene with the keys to his red Suburban laying next to his body. Appellant was taken into custody by law enforcement.

         [¶14] The county attorney charged Appellant with involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. The involuntary manslaughter statute states in pertinent part:

a) A person is guilty of manslaughter if he unlawfully kills any human being without malice, expressed or implied, either:
* * *
(ii) Involuntarily, but recklessly ....

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-105(a)(ii) (LexisNexis 2015). "Recklessly" is statutorily defined as follows:

A person acts recklessly when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the harm he is accused of causing will occur, and the harm results. The risk shall be of such nature and degree that disregarding it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation[.]

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-l-104(ix) (LexisNexis 2015). Appellant pled not guilty to the charges and was tried eight months later.

         [¶15] Appellant's theory of the case was that he killed Mr. SoRelle in self-defense. The district court provided the jury with the following instructions reflecting his theory:

Jury Instruction No. 15.1
Self-defense is an issue in this case. The burden is on the State to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense. Unless the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense, you shall find the defendant not guilty of the crime of involuntary manslaughter.
Jury Instruction No. 27
Anthony Haire's theory of the case is that Anthony Haire had reasonable grounds to believe and actually did believe that he, his family or guest was [sic] in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which Anthony Haire or his family could be saved only by using deadly force against the aggressor. It is further Anthony Haire's contention that at no time was he the aggressor. If you find that Anthony Haire acted in self-defense of himself, his family or guest, and after consideration of all the evidence and all the jury instructions, then you should find him not guilty.

         [¶16] The district court also provided additional instructions[5] on the law of self-defense, which we summarize for the sake of brevity:

• Explanation of justifiable homicide in self-defense when there are reasonable grounds to believe there is imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm;
• The right to arm to resist attack where there are reasonable grounds to believe that another will attack with such force as to endanger life or cause serious bodily injury;
• Even if there are reasonable grounds to believe there is imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, a person must try to retreat rather than to take the life of the adversary if there was a convenient mode of retreat without increasing actual or apparent peril;[6]
• The right of self-defense ends when the danger ceases; • Self-defense is not a justification after an adversary is disabled;
• Use of reasonable force is justified to defend another person against an attack by an aggressor when the person has reasonable grounds to believe that the other person is in imminent danger of harm;
• A person is considered an aggressor when there is some sort of physical aggression or threat of imminent use of force;
• The right of self-defense is not available to an aggressor who provokes the conflict, unless the aggressor withdraws in good faith and informs the other person by words or actions that he desires to end the conflict and is thereafter threatened.

         [¶17] Appellant proposed an instruction on the castle doctrine, claiming that he had an absolute right to stand his ground and was under no obligation to retreat even if he could safely have done so. See infra ΒΆ 26. The district court rejected the instruction because it concluded that the circumstances did not warrant it. The court also ...

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