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State v. Ryland

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

September 26, 2017



          Before: Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Presiding Judge, Karen King Mitchell, Judge and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge.


         Drew M. Ryland (Ryland) appeals his convictions for one count of murder in the second degree, one count of resisting a lawful stop, three counts of assault in the second degree, and four counts of armed criminal action following a jury trial. Ryland argues that the trial court erred in allowing the State to inaccurately define reasonable doubt and impermissibly inject excessive emotion into its closing argument, in not permitting use of prior municipal ordinance violations to establish a witness's bias, and by denying his motion for acquittal.[1] Finding no error, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background [2]

         On September 19, 2014, Ryland met Brandon Harris (Harris) and Tyler Beisel (Beisel) at the home of Ryland's mother in Independence. The three consumed some beer, took several shots of tequila, and smoked marijuana before taking Ryland's white 2001 Chevrolet Suburban to Grain Valley to pick up a fourth man identified as Wes.[3] The group then drove to the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City where they drank for several hours before continuing to Westport, where they consumed more alcohol, before heading home.

         Kansas City Police Officer Chad Fowler was patrolling the Westport area in an unmarked police cruiser during the early morning hours of September 20th. At approximately 12:47 a.m., he observed Ryland's Suburban traveling at a high rate of speed at the intersection of 42nd Street and Southwest Trafficway. Officer Fowler turned onto Southwest Trafficway and saw the Suburban run a red light at 39th Street. He continued following the Suburban and activated his lights and siren after observing it run a second red light at Valentine Road. Officer Fowler pursued the Suburban on Southwest Trafficway at speeds reaching 90 miles per hour before the Suburban was forced to a stop at the intersection with 31st Street due to multiple cars blocking its ability to proceed. Officer Fowler pulled directly behind the Suburban and shined his spotlight to indicate to the driver that he was attempting to stop the vehicle. However, the other vehicles at the intersection began to move allowing the Suburban to veer sharply to the right and gain access to 31st Street. Once on 31st Street, the Suburban again accelerated to a high rate of speed before entering into the oncoming lane of traffic to avoid more vehicles stopped at a red light at the intersection with Broadway.

         Officer Fowler followed the Suburban onto 31st Street before discontinuing the pursuit. At trial, he testified that he ended the pursuit because he believed the driver was not going to stop and police policy authorized pursuits only in situations where a person has committed a violent felony. Officer Fowler further testified that, based on his training and experience, the driver of the Suburban was operating in a manner that created a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death to others. His assessment proved sadly accurate as, just moments after terminating the pursuit, the Suburban collided with a Dodge Charger occupied by Malcolm Timley (Timley) and Michael Hernandez (Hernandez) near the intersection of 31st Street and Grand Avenue.

         A resident who lived near the location of the crash, and who had been outside talking on her phone, testified that she did not hear the sound of screeching tires before the crash. This testimony was corroborated by data recovered from the Suburban that showed no signs of braking prior to the crash. Rather, the data indicated that during the five seconds before the collision "the throttle showed to be depressed 100 percent, basically meaning that [the driver] had the pedal to the floor." An accident reconstructionist testified that the Charger had been traveling in its lane of traffic when the Suburban, traveling at 80 to 81 miles per hour in the wrong lane of traffic, collided with it. The Suburban caught fire shortly after the impact, burning the entire interior and engine compartment.

         Multiple individuals who immediately responded to the crash scene were called to testify at trial. One witness testified that she saw an individual exit the Suburban through the driver's side rear door and, when asked his name, the individual responded with a name starting with a "D" or just said "D." The witness identified Ryland's jacket, which was recovered by police at the hospital following the crash, as the one worn by the individual she saw exiting from the driver's side of the Suburban. Several other witnesses testified that they saw two individuals lying on the ground on the passenger's side of the vehicle. These individuals were helped to the sidewalk where they were treated by EMTs. One of these individuals was identified as Harris, who told the EMT treating him that he had been a passenger in the Suburban.

         Ryland and Beisel were taken to St. Luke's Hospital following the crash. Ryland was interviewed by a detective within two hours of the collision. The detective testified that he smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Ryland's breath. When the detective identified himself to Ryland and told him that he was there to question him about the wreck, Ryland responded by asking "Am I in trouble?" When the detective advised him that he did not know the details of the crash, Ryland proceeded to ask him "How many people did I hurt?" A search warrant was obtained and Ryland's blood was drawn at approximately 5:45 a.m., close to five hours after the crash. He was found to have a blood alcohol content of .145 at that time. At trial, Ryland testified that he could not recall who had driven the Suburban from Westport and could not remember anything about the crash.

         Beisel was interviewed at the hospital by an officer approximately five hours after the accident. Beisel indicated that he had been sitting in the front passenger seat, that Harris had been seated behind him, and that Ryland had been driving. The officer returned the next day and Beisel provided a similar statement, which was recorded by the officer. In addition, Beisel was shown a photograph of Ryland and wrote on the back that he was "100% sure Drew Ryland was driving away from Westport." At trial, Beissel testified that Ryland visited him in the ICU several days after the crash. According to Beisel, Ryland apologized for causing the accident and suggested that the two of them tell law enforcement that Harris had been driving the Suburban. Nevertheless, Beisel testified at trial that Ryland, not Harris, had been driving.

         Harris was taken to Truman Medical Center following the collision. He was first interviewed by police approximately an hour after the crash. At that time, he told an officer that the vehicle he had been in was a yellow 2003 Suburban; that it had been driven by a man named "Drake;"[4] and that there were two other passengers in the car, one male and one female. The officer requested permission to test Harris's blood, to which Harris responded that "marijuana might come back in it, " but that he was not driving so it was fine and consented to the blood draw. His blood alcohol content was .221.

         Harris was interviewed by police a second time later the same day and this time gave a statement that was consistent with the one given by Beisel; namely that he, Beisel, and Ryland had left Westport in the Suburban; that Ryland had been driving; that Beisel had been in the front passenger's seat; and that he had been seated behind Beisel. This statement was later supplemented after Harris remembered that he had asked Ryland to stop when he became aware that the police were following them. Harris was also shown a photo of Ryland and wrote and signed on the back that he was "100% sure that Drew [Ryland] was driving when the crash occurred." At trial, Harris testified that he could remember leaving the last bar in Westport, Ryland driving, Beisel yelling "shotgun, " Ryland trying to find a station on the radio as the vehicle ran a stoplight, and a Crown Victoria pulling up behind them followed by Ryland accelerating. He remembered nothing else from that night and his next memory was waking up in the trauma unit.

         Hernandez and Timley, the passengers in the Charger that was struck in the collision, both suffered severe injuries from the crash. Timley spent two weeks in the hospital followed by five months in a wheelchair or bed and was still experiencing severe physical limitations at the time of trial. Hernandez suffered a bruised skull, blood accumulation on his brain, a broken nose, several fractured ribs, and bruises to the chest, abdomen, flanks, on the back of the heart, and to the lining of both lungs. Blood was found in both sides of the chest, in the stomach, and in the esophagus. Doctors were forced to remove several of his internal organs, including his spleen and a portion of his large bowel. He developed an infection in his lungs and in the area where his spleen was removed. Hernandez died on October 8, 2014, eighteen days after the accident, of complications from multiple blunt force trauma.

         Ryland was charged with one count of the class D felony of resisting a lawful stop in a manner creating a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death; one count of the class A felony of second degree (felony) murder for the death of Hernandez, with the aforementioned resisting a lawful stop constituting the underlying felony offense; three counts of the class C felony of assault in the second ...

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