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Sam v. State

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 10, 2019

PHILLIP SAM, Appellant (Defendant),
v.
THE STATE OF WYOMING, Appellee (Plaintiff).

          Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge

          Representing Appellant: Office of the State Public Defender: Diane Lozano, State Public Defender; Kirk A. Morgan, Chief Appellate Counsel; David E. Westling, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel.

          Representing Appellee: Bridget Hill, Wyoming Attorney General; Jenny L. Craig, Deputy Attorney General; Christyne M. Martens, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Timothy P. Zintak, Assistant Attorney General

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and FOX, KAUTZ, BOOMGAARDEN, and GRAY, JJ.

          DAVIS, CHIEF JUSTICE

         [¶1] Phillip Sam was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and twelve counts of aggravated assault and battery for crimes he committed when he was sixteen years old. The district court found that Mr. Sam was not a juvenile so irredeemable that he deserved a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and instead sentenced him to an aggregate prison term that left him eligible for parole after fifty-two years. This Court upheld Mr. Sam's conviction, but found his sentence was a de facto life without parole sentence in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and remanded for resentencing. On remand, the district court imposed an aggregate sentence that leaves Mr. Sam eligible for parole after serving thirty-five years. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Mr. Sam presents a single issue that we restate as: Did the district court violate the Eighth Amendment or abuse its discretion in sentencing Mr. Sam to an aggregate sentence that leaves him eligible for parole after serving thirty-five years?[1]

         FACTS

         [¶3] In 2016, Mr. Sam was convicted of one count of first-degree murder and twelve counts of aggravated assault and battery. Sam v. State, 2017 WY 98, ¶ 8, 401 P.3d 834, 842 (Wyo. 2017). We described the underlying facts in our decision affirming the conviction:

Mr. Sam had ongoing conflict with a rival youth group, which escalated on October 4 and into the early hours of October 5, 2014. The afternoon of the 4th, Mr. Sam stole a .40 caliber S&W semi-automatic pistol from his mother's boyfriend. Later, he had several communications with members of the rival group about setting up a fight. He made sure the group was primed to fight when he went out to the mall where they were watching a movie, located one of their cars, and broke its mirror and slashed its tires. Mr. Sam then went to hang out at his friend Timber Strange's house. He took out the gun to show his friends and "said that he was going to kill someone that night."
When the car's owner discovered the damage, one of the rival group, Damian Brennand, immediately called Mr. Sam, believing he was "the only known person who would have done it," and "told him ... he needed his ass beat," and that he was going to bring a gun to the park to shoot Mr. Sam. Later, one member of the group called Mr. Sam back to say they "couldn't get their hands on a gun. They couldn't find one," but they wanted to meet him and fight. Mr. Sam changed the location of the encounter to Martin Luther King Park and went there with five friends. Mr. Sam took the pistol, and he and Timber Strange sat in a pavilion for about 15 minutes. Mr. Strange testified:
I had asked him if this was actually what he wanted to do, if he actually wanted to do this.
Q. [Prosecutor] And by this, what did you mean?
A. As in hurt people and potentially kill ...

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