Monday, August 18, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 97

Summary of Decision issued August 18, 2008

Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Case Name: Eaton v. State

Citation: 2008 WY 97

Docket Number: 04-180 & 06-255

Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, the Honorable David B. Park, Judge.

Representing Appellant: Kenneth M. Koski, Public Defender; Tina N. Kerin, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel; Marion Yoder, Senior Assistant Public Defender; Ryan R. Roden, Senior Assistant Appellate Counsel; and Donna D. Domonkos, Appellate Counsel.

Representing Appellee: Patrick J. Crank, Wyoming Attorney General; Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General; D. Michael Pauling; David L. Delicath; and Melissa Swearingen, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

Facts/Discussion: Eaton sought review of his conviction for the crime of first degree murder, three counts of felony murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and first degree sexual assault, and the sentence of death which was imposed on June 3, 2004.
The Court divided the opinion into three parts. Part I dealt with those asserted errors that occurred in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial that would require reversal of Eaton’s convictions. Part II dealt with whether or not there were errors in the sentencing phase of the trial that would require reversal of the sentence of death. Part III dealt with the issues raised in Eaton’s appeal of the district court’s denial of his motion for a new trial.


Introduction-------------------------------------------------------------------------------¶ 1

Issues--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------¶ 2

Facts and Proceedings-------------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 3-10

Discussion--------------------------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 11-12

PART I. Guilt/Innocence Phase

A. Was Eaton Incompetent During Trial and the Proceedings in this Court

(i) Competency as a medical/mental issue.---------------------------¶¶ 13-23

(ii) Competency as suggested by events at trial.---------------------¶¶ 24-30

B. Voir Dire as Predisposing Jury to Find Eaton Guilty----------------------¶¶ 31-32

C. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel--------------------------------------------¶¶ 33-37

(i) Did the theory-of-the-case defense chosen by defense

counsel meet the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and

Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases

(February 2003).----------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 38-47

(ii) No challenge to DNA.------------------------------------------------¶¶ 48-50

(iii) Failure to know the applicable law.--------------------------------¶¶ 51-54

(iv) Concession of guilt without Eaton’s consent.-------------------¶¶ 55-61

(v) Defense counsel’s election to allow the trial to proceed

when Eaton was not competent to stand trial constitutes

ineffective assistance of counsel.--------------------------------------------¶ 62

(vi) Waiver of venue.----------------------------------------------------¶¶ 63-65

(vii) Failure to object to instructions.----------------------------------¶¶ 66-73

(viii) The foregoing arguments, in combination,

demonstrate that Eaton was abandoned by defense counsel.-----¶¶ 74-76

D. Hostility/Prejudice/Bias Toward Eaton at Guilt/Innocence

Phase; Additional Remand--------------------------------------------------¶¶ 77-79

(i) Guilt/innocence phase prejudice/bias/hostility.------------------¶¶ 80-81

(ii) Need for additional remand.---------------------------------------------¶ 82

E. Juror Misconduct--------------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 83-91

F. Admission of Evidence--------------------------------------------------------------¶ 92

(i) Testimony of Joe Dax.-----------------------------------------------¶¶ 93-96

(ii) Dr. Thorpen in the jury box.---------------------------------------¶¶ 97-98

(iii) Mary Follette.-------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 99-100

G. Record Incomplete---------------------------------------------------------¶¶101-102

H. Prosecutorial Misconduct-------------------------------------------------¶¶ 103-104

I. Cumulative Error--------------------------------------------------------------------¶ 105

CONCLUSION-------------------------------------------------------------------------¶ 106

PART II: Sentencing Phase---------------------------------------------------------¶ 107

A. Voir Dire----------------------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 108-114

B. Application of the 2003 Statute to this Case---------------------------¶¶ 115-125

C. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel------------------------------------------------¶ 126

(i) 2003 statute---------------------------------------------------------------¶ 127

(ii) Whether Trial Counsel Provided Ineffective

Assistance in the Investigation and Presentation in

the Sentencing Phase of Mitigating Evidence---------------------¶ 128-185¶

(iii) Instructions-------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 186-188

(iv) Sentencing form inadequate------------------------------------------¶ 189

D. Hostility of Judge-----------------------------------------------------------------¶ 190

E. Prosecutorial Misconduct----------------------------------------------------------¶ 191

(i) In closing argument----------------------------------------------¶¶ 192-200

(ii) During examination of witnesses------------------------------¶¶ 201-205

(iii) Destruction of evidence-----------------------------------------------¶ 206

F. Allowing Dr. Ash to Testify------------------------------------------------¶¶ 207-210

G. Instructions Improper-----------------------------------------------------¶¶ 211-213

H. Record Incomplete---------------------------------------------------------------¶ 214

(i) Instructions conference/other discussions---------------------¶¶ 215-216

(ii) Remand hearing too limited-------------------------------------------¶ 217

I. Error in Admission of Too Much Evidence About 1998 Conviction--------¶ 218

Conclusion-------------------------------------------------------------------------------¶ 219

Part III: Motion for New Trial-------------------------------------------------------¶ 220

Discussion-----------------------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 221-227

Conclusion------------------------------------------------------------------------¶¶ 228-230

Holding: The Court examined the briefs of the parties and the record on appeal and held that no error occurred during the guilt/innocence phase of Eaton’s trial that would require reversal of his seven convictions. Therefore, the judgment was affirmed in all respects. The Court found no reversible error in the penalty phase and affirmed the death sentence. A constitutional death penalty sentencing scheme must ensure the availability of meaningful judicial review as a final safeguard that improves the reliability of the sentencing process. Throughout the opinion the Court applied the final safeguard as provided in § 6-2-103(c) (d) and (e). The Court was satisfied that the evidence supported the jury’s findings with respect to aggravating and mitigating circumstance. It was the Court’s determination that the sentence of death was not imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor.
The Court affirmed the judgment and sentence of the district court, as well as its order denying Eaton’s motion for a new trial. The case was remanded to the district court for the purpose of vacating the suspension of the sentence of death and setting a specific date for the execution of that sentence.


J. Hill delivered the decision.


[SPECIAL NOTE: This opinion uses the "Universal Citation." It was given an "official" citation when it was issued. You should use this citation whenever you cite the opinion, with a P.3d parallel citation. Please note when you look at the opinion that all of the paragraphs are numbered. When you pinpoint cite to a quote, you should cite to this paragraph number rather than to any page number. If you need assistance in putting together a citation using the Universal Citation form, please contact the Wyoming State Law Library.]

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