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State v. Tresler

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Northern Division

September 12, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
KRYSTAL TRESLER, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Ralls County Honorable David C. Mobley

          LAWRENCE E. MOONEY, JUDGE

         The defendant, Krystal Tresler, appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of Ralls County following her conviction by a jury of one count of first-degree robbery in violation of section 569.020 RSMo. (Supp. 2014), and one count of second-degree felony-murder, in violation of section 565.021 RSMo, (Supp. 2014). The trial court imposed consecutive sentences often years of imprisonment on each count.

         First, although the initial prosecutor had indicated that in his opinion the defendant, Tresler, was a witness and nothing more, we find that the State made no promise that it would not prosecute her if she testified at a co-defendant's preliminary hearing. Thus, we do not apply the equitable-immunity doctrine. Second, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit a letter from the initial prosecutor about the defendant's cooperation. Third, we hold that the trial court did not commit prejudicial error when it gave the jury the verdict director for first-degree robbery. Finally, we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant's request for a mistrial. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The defendant does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence to support her convictions. Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence at trial revealed the following. The defendant, her boyfriend Gary Wiltermood, and three other persons whom the defendant met through Wiltermood-Amanda Lehenbauer, Michael Studer, and Cuda Dodd-spent the night of October 7, 2013 and the early morning of October 8, 2013 driving around the Hannibal area in the defendant's minivan. Wiltermood drove, the defendant sat in the front passenger seat, and Studer, Lehenbauer, and Dodd sat in the second row of seats. While the group rode around Hannibal, Lehenbauer heard Wiltermood and Studer discuss committing a robbery. Lehenbauer did not think much about it at the time because, she explained, Studer "comes up with everything and never follows through." In his statement to police, Wiltermood told police that "[e]verybody in the vehicle knew what was going on because Mikey [Studer] was talking to all of us."

         In the early morning of October 8th, three members of the group wanted to use the restroom, so they stopped at Walmart. The defendant, Studer, and Dodd went into Walmart while Lehenbauer and Wiltermood waited in the van. The defendant used the restroom and immediately returned to the van where she sat in the second row of seats. Dodd and Studer came out of Walmart some minutes later. Studer carried a pair of camouflage gloves and a hat, and he took the defendant's place in the front passenger seat. The group drove back to the motel where Wiltermood had a room. According to Wiltermood's statement to police, he retrieved his gun at this time for Studer to use in the robbery. After about 45 minutes at the motel, the group decided to go for a ride. The defendant again sat in the second-row seats on the passenger side of the van. Lehenbauer sat in the middle of the second row, and Dodd sat behind the driver. Studer sat in the front passenger seat while Wiltermood drove.

         Around 3:00 a.m. on October 8th, the group decided to go to Abel's Quick Shop on Shinn Lane in Hannibal. The defendant gave Wiltermood directions to Shinn Lane, and Hannibal police Sergeant Jennifer Grote testified that the group would have passed several other gas stations between the motel and the Abel's on Shinn Lane. Wiltermood dropped Studer in the parking lot of a bank next door to Abel's. Wiltermood then drove to Abel's, parked at a gas pump with the van directly facing the front of the store, and put $10 of gas in the van as Studer had instructed. In the meantime, Dodd went into Abel's ostensibly to use the restroom. Lehenbauer and the defendant remained seated in the second-row seats in the van with a clear view into the Abel's store.

         Wiltermood finished pumping the gas, and went inside to the cash register just as Dodd came out of the store. At that point, Studer came around the side of the store wearing the camouflage gloves and ski hat. Studer carried the gun provided by Wiltermood. Studer entered the store and confronted the clerk, Adrienne Arnett. Lehenbauer testified that she saw Arnett wave a clipboard at Studer. Wiltermood ran out of the store as Studer fired the first shot. Lehenbauer heard Studer fire two shots, heard a third shot, and saw Arnett grab her chest and fall. Wiltermood entered the van, and began to drive away. Lehenbauer testified that she was "freaking out, " but that the defendant remained calm. The defendant and Dodd told Lehenbauer to "shut up, " that everything would be okay. Studer chased the van, and Wiltermood stopped so that Studer could enter the van.

         Studer instructed Wiltermood to drive to the Mississippi River, which he did. At the river, everyone except Wiltermood exited the van. Studer threw his camouflage gloves, coat, and presumably the gun into the river. Wiltermood left in the van. The defendant, Studer, Lehenbauer, and Dodd walked back to the motel where Wiltermood was staying. They then met up with Wiltermood at an apartment in Hannibal. At some point, the defendant retrieved her van and left the others.

         Police interviewed the defendant at about 7:30 a.m. on October 8, 2013, and she told them she was at home at the time of the robbery. Eventually, the defendant admitted her presence at the crime, and told Sergeant Grote that "I didn't know if it [the robbery] was going to be a success. I didn't know if it was going to be a fucking failure." The defendant gave a signed statement to police later that day. She stated that the van belonged to her; that she gave Wiltermood directions to the Abel's store; that they dropped Studer off at the bank before proceeding to Abel's; that she saw Studer enter the store and heard three shots fired; that she heard Studer admit shooting the clerk; that she accompanied the group to the river where Studer disposed of the gun, hat, gloves, and his jacket; and that she remained with other members of the group until Wiltermood called her and told her to pick up her van.

         The Marion County Prosecuting Attorney, the initial prosecutor, immediately filed complaints against Studer and Wiltermood. The State subpoenaed the defendant to testify at Studer's preliminary hearing, and the defendant consulted an attorney ("preliminary-hearing counsel") about whether she should do so.[1] According to his hearing testimony on the defendant's motion to dismiss the charges, preliminary-hearing counsel stated that he spoke via telephone with the prosecuting attorney because he was concerned that his client might be the focus of an investigation or a suspect. Preliminary-hearing counsel understood from his discussion with the prosecuting attorney "that, in [the prosecutor's] opinion and his review of the case, that [Tresler] was a witness and nothing more and he had no intention of charging her with any offense regarding the incident." On cross-examination, preliminary-hearing counsel testified that he did not negotiate an agreement that the State would not charge his client.

Q. Okay. And at that time did you all negotiate any sort of plea (sic) agreement-
A. No.
Q. -that if she were to testify, she would not be charged?
A. No. I mean, I-at that point, based on what [the prosecutor] told me, he said she was not going to be charged.
Q, Okay. She was not the focus and that he did not have intent to charge her at that time?
A. That he had-yeah. That he, as far-I think his words to me were, "1 consider her to be a witness and nothing more. "

         Furthermore, preliminary-hearing counsel did not state that the initial prosecutor told him if Tresler testified against Studer and/or Wiltermood, she would not be charged. No other witnesses testified at the hearing on the defendant's motion to dismiss.

         The defendant testified at Studer's preliminary hearing. She acknowledged that she owned the van the group used the day of the robbery and murder, and she described the group's Walmart stop, Studer's exit from Walmart with a camouflage hat and gloves, the seating arrangements in the van, Studer's exit from the van in the bank parking lot, his walk from the bank around the back of the Abel's and into the store, the confrontation in the store, Studer's shooting of Arnett, and the group's travel to the river where Studer disposed of clothing and presumably the gun. On cross-examination, the defendant denied knowing that anyone in the group was drinking alcohol or using drugs, and she denied hearing anyone talk about robbing a gas station. She also denied that she made any deals with the State in connection with the case or in exchange for her testimony.

Q. Have you made any deals with the State of Missouri to testify here today?
A. No, ma'am.
Q. Or in this case at all?
A. No, ma'am.

         Studer and Wiltermood each pled guilty to murder. Several weeks after the defendant testified at Studer's preliminary hearing, the initial prosecutor wrote a letter for the defendant to her legal counsel in an Arkansas child-custody matter. The letter stated:

Krystal Treasler (sic) is a witness for the Prosecution in a robbery/murder case which I filed. She is not a suspect or co-conspirator and will not be charged with any crime. Her unfortunate presence at the scene of this crime should not be used against her in any custody dispute. She has been cooperative with my office and with the police.

         Shortly thereafter, the elected Marion County Prosecuting Attorney became a judge, and the new Marion County Prosecuting Attorney sent the cases against Studer and Wiltermood to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution because of a conflict of interest. The Attorney General eventually charged the defendant with first-degree robbery and second-degree felony murder in connection with the death of Arnett. The record gives no indication about what prompted the filing of charges against the defendant. Lehenbauer, Wiltermood, and Studer testified for the State in the defendant's four-day trial. The defendant did not testify. After deliberating for less than three hours, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree robbery and second-degree felony murder. Following the jury's recommendation, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences often years of imprisonment on each count. The defendant appeals.

         Discussion

         In four points on appeal, the defendant challenges the trial court's denial of her motion to dismiss the charges, the court's refusal to admit into evidence the letter from the initial prosecutor about the defendant's cooperation, the verdict director for first-degree robbery, and the court's denial of the defendant's request for a mistrial.

         Point I

         In her first point on appeal, the defendant claims the trial court abused its discretion when it denied her motion to dismiss. She argues that she had an implicit agreement with the Marion County Prosecuting Attorney that she would not be prosecuted if she testified at Studer's preliminary hearing, that she fulfilled her duty by testifying at the hearing, and that this prosecution is directly related to the matters about which she testified.

         We review the trial court's denial of a motion to dismiss a criminal charge for an abuse of discretion. State v. Williams, 411 S.W.3d 315, 319 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013). Atrial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is clearly against the logic of the circumstances and is so unreasonable that it indicates a lack of careful consideration. State v, Sanders, 481 S.W.3d 907, 913 (Mo. App. E.D. 2016).

         In Missouri, prosecutors lack the inherent authority to grant immunity. State ex re], Munn v. McKelvey, 733 S.W.2d 765, 770 (Mo. banc 1987). Section 491.205 RSMo. (2016), however, provides that a prosecutor can obtain a court order to compel a person's testimony in exchange for full transactional immunity under certain circumstances.[2] The procedures of section 491.205 were not followed here. Instead, the defendant contends that she had an implicit agreement with the prosecutor that she would not be charged in connection with the events surrounding Arnett's death. The defendant argues that, as a result of this implicit agreement, she is entitled to equitable immunity.

         Citing Munn, the State counters that "[prosecutorial promises of immunity that are not authorized by statute are not binding and constitute no bar to a subsequent prosecution of the immunized witness[, ]" and that "the only avenue for immunity to be granted is an agreement approved by a judge under the provisions of section 49l.2O5[.]" We expressly reject this argument for two reasons. First, the question presented in Munn was not about the doctrine of equitable immunity, but the authority of the prosecutor to promise immunity in the first place. Id. More importantly, we reject the State's argument because of the due-process rights implicated when a governmental promise of ...


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