FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY The Honorable Edith
L. Messina, Judge
PATRICIA BRECKENRIDGE, JUDGE
Sanders is serving a sentence of life imprisonment for the
murder of Sherilyn Hill. Mr. Sanders appeals a judgment
convicting him of one count of murder in the second degree,
section 565.021.1,  claiming the
trial court committed reversible error by refusing to
instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of
involuntary manslaughter. Consistent with the indictment, the
trial court instructed the jury it must find Mr. Sanders
guilty of second degree murder if the jury found beyond a
reasonable doubt that Mr. Sanders knowingly caused Ms.
Hill's death by "kicking her and strangling
her." The trial court also instructed the jury on
voluntary manslaughter, which, like the second degree murder
instruction, required the jury to determine whether Mr.
Sanders caused Ms. Hill's death by "kicking her and
strangling her." The trial court refused Mr.
Sanders' requested instruction on the lesser included
offense of involuntary manslaughter, which would have
required the jury to determine whether Mr. Sanders
"recklessly" caused Ms. Hill's death by
"kicking her." The trial court did not err by
refusing to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter
because Mr. Sanders' proffered involuntary manslaughter
instruction impermissibly modified the charged offense by
requiring the jury to find he caused Ms. Hill's death by
kicking her as opposed to kicking and strangling her. The
judgment is affirmed.
and Procedural Background
December 7, 2011, a maintenance worker discovered Ms.
Hill's body under the stairwell of a motel in Kansas
City, Missouri. A sheet and towel were wrapped around her
neck and the lower part of her face. A medical examiner
determined the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the
head and strangulation.
investigation revealed that, "around Thanksgiving,
" Mr. Sanders rented a room at the motel and shared it
with Ms. Hill and Zonia Brown. Ms. Brown told police Mr.
Sanders and Ms. Hill were involved in a violent fight at the
motel. The police arrested and questioned Mr. Sanders. Mr.
Sanders denied there was an altercation in the motel room. A
search of Mr. Sanders' home revealed Ms. Hill's blood
on Mr. Sanders' boots. The state charged Mr. Sanders with
murder in the second degree for knowingly causing Ms.
Hill's death "by kicking her and strangulating
trial, Ms. Brown testified she and Ms. Hill agreed to have
sex with Mr. Sanders in exchange for crack cocaine. An
argument ensued when Mr. Sanders provided what Ms. Brown and
Ms. Hill believed was an insufficient quantity of crack
cocaine. On three separate occasions, Ms. Hill pointed a
knife at Mr. Sanders and demanded more crack cocaine. After
Ms. Hill left her knife in the bathroom, Mr. Sanders knocked
her down and repeatedly kicked her in the head until she lay
lifeless on the floor. When asked what Ms. Hill was doing
during the time she was being kicked, Ms. Brown stated,
"She was fighting for her life. She was trying to get up
but she - every time she tried to get up, he would kick
her." Ms. Brown stated she left the room as Mr. Sanders
wrapped a bed sheet around Ms. Hill's head.
Sanders' trial testimony offered a different version of
events. Mr. Sanders testified Ms. Hill pulled out a knife,
stuck it in his face, and demanded more crack cocaine. Mr.
Sanders declined to give her more crack, and she put the
knife back in her pocket. Mr. Sanders testified Ms. Hill
approached him from behind, held her knife to his throat, cut
him, and said she would "just take" Mr.
Sanders' belongings. Ms. Hill then took Mr. Sanders'
wallet, threw it to Ms. Brown, and said, "Get his
money." Mr. Sanders grabbed her arm and hit her in the
head. Ms. Hill swung at Mr. Sanders with the knife. Mr.
Sanders testified he believed she was going to stab him. He
elbowed Ms. Hill in the head as hard as he could. As she
staggered backwards, she kept swinging the knife. Mr. Sanders
kicked Ms. Hill in the chest and hit her in the mouth,
causing her to fall backward and hit her head on the sink.
Mr. Sanders testified Ms. Hill tried to reach for the knife,
so he tried to kick the knife away but accidentally kicked
her in the face, causing her to flip over and strike her head
against the wall. Ms. Hill was rendered unconscious. Mr.
Sanders denied he attempted to wrap her in a bedsheet but
admitted he carried her out of the room, placed her on the
stairway landing, and told the motel manager there was a
woman passed out on the stairway. Mr. Sanders testified he
left the motel and, when he later returned to his room, Ms.
Hill was no longer on the stairwell, so he assumed she left.
The trial court instructed the jury on second degree murder
and voluntary manslaughter. The verdict director for second
degree murder instructed the jury to determine whether Mr.
Sanders knowingly caused Ms. Hill's death by kicking her
and strangling her and whether he did so without the
influence of sudden passion and not in lawful self-defense.
The verdict director for voluntary manslaughter instructed
the jury to determine whether Mr. Sanders knowingly caused
Ms. Hill's death by kicking her and strangling her and
that he did not act in lawful self-defense. The court also instructed the jury on
trial court refused to submit Mr. Sanders' proffered
involuntary manslaughter instruction, which would have
required the jury to determine whether he recklessly caused
Ms. Hill's death by kicking her. Unlike the second degree
murder instruction, Mr. Sanders' proffered involuntary
manslaughter instruction did not require the jury to
determine whether he caused Ms. Hill's death by
jury found Mr. Sanders guilty of second degree murder. The
trial court sentenced Mr. Sanders to life imprisonment. Mr.
Sanders appeals. This Court granted transfer following an
opinion by the court of appeals. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10.
Sanders' sole point on appeal asserts the trial court
committed reversible error by refusing to instruct the jury
on the nested lesser included offense of involuntary
manslaughter. Mr. Sanders asserts the instructional error is
presumed prejudicial and the trial court's erroneous
refusal to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter
prevented the jury from considering whether he recklessly
caused Ms. Hill's death. Mr. Sanders also asserts the
jury could have found he recklessly used excessive force when
he acted in self-defense.
trial court's rejection of Mr. Sanders' proffered
involuntary manslaughter instruction is subject to de
novo review. State v. Jackson, 433 S.W.3d 390,
395 (Mo. banc 2014). Instructional error requires reversal
when the error is "so prejudicial that it deprived the
defendant of a fair trial." State v.
Zetina-Torres, 482 S.W.3d 801, 810 (Mo. banc 2016)
(quoting State v. Nash, 339 S.W.3d 500, 511-12 (Mo.
banc 2011)). Prejudice is presumed when a trial court fails
to give a requested instruction to submit a nested lesser
included offense. Jackson, 433 S.W.3d at 395 n.4
(citing State v. Redmond, 937 S.W.2d 205, 210 (Mo.
banc 1996)). Nonetheless, a trial court does not commit
instructional error by rejecting an improper jury instruction
for the lesser included offense. State v. Blurton,
484 S.W.3d 758, 766 (Mo. banc 2016). The "trial
court's rejection of a proffered instruction should be
affirmed '[i]f the trial court was correct . . . for any
reason[.]'" Id. (quoting State
v. White, 936 S.W.2d 793, 794 (Mo. banc 1997));
see also State v. Bradley, 811 S.W.2d 379, 383 (Mo.
banc 1991) (judgment will be affirmed on any sustainable
ground even if the stated reason for a circuit court's
ruling is incorrect).
Circuit Court Did Not Commit Instructional Error
556.046, RSMo Supp. 2002, defines the trial court's
obligation to instruct on lesser included offenses. In
pertinent part, section 556.046.2, RSMo Supp. 2002, provides,
"The court shall not be obligated to charge the jury
with respect to an included offense unless there is a basis
for a verdict acquitting the defendant of the offense charged
and convicting him of the included offense." Section
556.046.3, RSMo Supp. 2002, further provides:
The court shall be obligated to instruct the jury with
respect to a particular included offense only if there is a
basis in the evidence for acquitting the defendant of the
immediately higher included offense and there is a basis in
the evidence for ...