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State v. Holmsley

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

August 29, 2017

MAVERICK HOLMSLEY, Defendant/Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 15SL-CR00587-01 Honorable Kristine A. Kerr


          Honorable Mary K. Hoff, Judge.

         Maverick Holmsley (Defendant) appeals from the judgment upon his convictions following a jury trial for two counts of sodomy in the first degree and two counts of attempted sodomy in the first degree, in violation of Section 566.060, RSMo 2000.[1] The trial court sentenced Defendant to five years' imprisonment on each count, to be served concurrently. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the following evidence was adduced at trial:[2]

In August 2014, Principia High School ("Principia") was hosting sports camps at the high school that members of the boys' football and soccer teams were attending. During the camps, the boys resided in the dorms at Principia.

         On the evening of August 9, 2014, the football team went out to see a movie. After the movie ended, the boys went back to the dorms where they eventually went to sleep.

         In the early-morning hours of August 10, 2014, Defendant, along with four other rising seniors, went to the dorm rooms of four underclassmen, entered each victim's room, held each victim down, and attempted to sodomize or sodomized him.

         Later that day, the dean of students and the principal received information about an incident in the boys' dorm. The dean of students and the principal testified that they conducted an informal investigation into the incident, which included meeting with the five alleged perpetrators, including Defendant, who had been involved in the incident. The boys all admitted that they were involved. However, the principal testified that, at the meeting, Defendant did not say anything; he seemed very "distraught, " and he agreed only by nodding his head to what the other boys were saying.

         The dean of students testified that after speaking with the boys, she spoke with some of the alleged victims. After speaking with two of the victims, she called the school's lawyer, who then called police. The dean also testified that Defendant gave apology letters to her that were addressed to two of the four victims.

         The State charged Defendant and his other four teammates with four counts of sodomy and two counts of attempted sodomy. Defendant pleaded not guilty on all counts and the case proceeded to trial.

         Following the presentation of evidence, the jury found Defendant guilty as charged. The trial court sentenced Defendant to five years in prison for each count, to run concurrently. This appeal follows. Additional facts will be included in the discussion section below, as needed, to further address the points on appeal.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's denial of a motion for new trial for an abuse of discretion. State v. Kilgore, 505 S.W.3d 362, 366 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016). Under this standard, we must determine whether the trial court's ruling constituted an abuse of discretion because it clearly offends the logic of the circumstances or was arbitrary and unreasonable. Id. Therefore, an abuse of discretion is found when reasonable persons could not differ as to the propriety of the action taken by the court. Id.

         Juror Misconduct

         In Point I, Defendant argues the trial court erred in overruling Defendant's motion for new trial based on juror misconduct because the State failed to rebut the presumption of prejudice. We disagree.

         We will not disturb a trial court's ruling on a motion for new trial based on juror misconduct unless the trial court abused its discretion. State v. West, 425 S.W.3d 151, 154 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014); State v. Moore, 366 S.W.3d 651, 652 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012). We defer to the trial court because, "[t]he trial court hears the evidence concerning the alleged misconduct and is, therefore, in the best position to determine the credibility and intent of the parties and to determine any prejudicial effect of the alleged misconduct." Mathis v. Jones Store Co., 952 S.W.2d 360, 364 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997). The trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances then before it and is so arbitrary and unreasonable as to shock the sense of justice and indicate a lack of careful consideration. St. Louis City. v. River Bend Estates Homeowners' Ass'n, 408 S.W.3d 116, 134 (Mo. banc 2013). "In reviewing a trial court's order denying a motion for a new trial, the evidence is viewed in a light most favorable to the trial court's order." Id. Moreover, every case rests upon its own particular facts and a great deal of discretion is vested in the trial judge "who sits as an intimate observer of the whole chain of events." Mathis, 952 S.W.2d at 364.

         Here, during jury deliberations, the trial court received a note from the jury stating that "[o]ne of our jurors has stated that she would be unable to convict (vote guilty) unless she knows what the sentence would be. She says she doesn't believe a 17-year-old should be tried as an adult. Wants to be able to petition the Court for lenience." The court responded with a note that stated, "[t]he jury will be guided by the evidence as they recall it and the instructions of law as provided by the Court."

         Almost an hour later, the bailiff alerted the trial court that one of the jurors had opened the door of the jury room and tried to leave. The trial court told counsel that it wanted to bring the jurors back into the courtroom and inquire of the foreperson whether further deliberations would assist the jury. Following a short recess, the trial court received a note from the jury that stated, "we are making progress after a break and additional discussion." After discussion with the parties, the court overruled Defendant's request for a mistrial and for further inquiry and decided to allow the jury to continue deliberating. Shortly thereafter, the jury returned its verdicts.

         After polling the jury, Defendant asked to inquire of the one juror that attempted to leave the jury room. The trial court refused, stating that it was "not allowed to question the jurors separately and independently, and otherwise pierce their verdict." Defendant then asked that the trial court inquire of the bailiff under oath as to what happened when the juror tried to leave. The trial court agreed to inquire, and the parties agreed that the trial court would ask the questions.

         The bailiff testified that "[t]he door opened, and the tall Juror Number 12 said she had to leave, she couldn't do it no more, she was being forced into something she didn't believe in." The bailiff testified that the juror was "crying, very upset[, ]" and "[s]he kept walking past me. I kept. . . guiding her back with a little hug." The bailiff also testified that when the juror came back out again, "I told her that she needed to remain with her group, that, you know, she needed to comply, and work as a team." The bailiff testified that she never told the jurors what kind of verdict they had to reach or that they had to agree with each other.

         Defendant argued that this interaction interfered with the jury process. The trial court stated that it was a very challenging situation for the bailiff because she was charged with keeping the jury together.

         After hearing argument, the trial court denied Defendant's request to further interview the bailiff, but found that "there has been a rebuttable presumption of prejudice created and that the burden has shifted to the State to produce evidence which overcomes it."

         On August 31, 2016, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the matter. Juror No. 12 testified that she tried to leave the jury room, but she did not leave because the bailiff told her she would go to jail. She also testified that the bailiff did not discuss anything about the case with her and did not influence her verdict.

         On cross-examination, Juror No. 12 testified that she wanted to leave the jury room, but that the bailiff was standing in the doorway when she opened the door. She also testified that she had no physical contact with the bailiff. She then reaffirmed that her interaction with the bailiff had no effect on her verdict:

Q. Do you recall if the bailiff ever said to you that you needed to comply?
A. Comply with what?
Q. I don't know, I'm just asking if she-if you recall her using those words at all?
A. No.
Q. No, you don't recall?
A. No, I don't recall.
Q. Do you recall if the bailiff ever said to you that you need to go back in and work as a team?
A. Something like that. I don't know if that was the exact words, but that I needed to stay in the room and we needed to work together.
Q. Okay. So what you recall is she said you need to go back in there or you'll go to jail; right?
A. That's backwards.
Q. Okay. You tell me what you remember?
A. I said I wanted to get out of here, I was very, very upset, and she said if you come out you will go to jail.
Q. When she said that to you-
A. Then I went back in the room.
Q. Okay. When she said that statement to you that you just told me about going to jail, what did you understand that to mean?
A. That you can't just walk out of a jury deliberation room, if you do that you're breaking a law.
Q. At that point you said that you went back into the room?
A. Right.
Q. And joined the rest of your jurors, is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. The incident or the contact that you had with the bailiff, [ ], do you have any knowledge as to whether any of the other jurors observed that interaction?
A. I don't know, they were in the room and there was the door.
Q. Okay. When you went back into the jury room you continued deliberations; is that correct?
A. Yes.
Q. . . . Did the statement that [the bailiff] made to you have any affect (sic) on your verdict?
A. No.
Q. . . . [Juror Number 12], if-if the bailiff had not stopped you and turned you around and made that statement to you about going to jail ...

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