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State v. Edwards

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

October 10, 2017

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
THOMAS EDWARDS, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1322-CR02258-01 Honorable Margaret M. Neill

          Lisa P. Page, Judge

          Thomas Edwards ("Defendant") appeals the trial court's judgment entered upon a jury verdict convicting him of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         At approximately 10 P.M. on April 21, 2013, Renee Nelson ("Nelson") was standing outside her home, located in the City of St. Louis, conversing with neighbors. During the conversation, a man wearing a black hoodie passed the group and greeted Nelson by her neighborhood-nickname "Anya." As a thirty-year resident of the neighborhood, Nelson recognized the man as Defendant.

         Defendant continued walking across the street before halting at a parked automobile. After Defendant conversed with the occupant of the parked vehicle ("Victim") for approximately 30 seconds, Nelson heard gunshots. As Defendant was leaving the scene, he turned around and fired additional gunshots towards the Victim. An autopsy revealed Victim was shot seven times.

          Law enforcement arrived and concluded the crime scene resembled a drug transaction gone awry. Pursuant to the investigation, Nelson was interviewed the night of the incident. She informed law enforcement that, immediately before the commission of the crime, Defendant walked within arms-length of her. Shortly thereafter, Nelson heard gunfire and witnessed Defendant discharging a gun in the direction of Victim. Although she had lived in that neighborhood for approximately thirty years and had known Defendant for approximately twenty years, Nelson provided law enforcement with the incorrect name of Defendant that night. Nelson, nevertheless, supplied law enforcement with Defendant's correct name around the time she examined a photographic lineup, infra.

         At that photographic lineup, a few weeks after the commission of the crime, Nelson examined six photographs as chosen by a computer. Defendant was the only one of the six photographs who lived in or around Nelson's neighborhood. Prior to viewing the photographic lineup, it is alleged the police explicitly instructed Nelson to select "the person that did the shooting." Nelson chose Defendant's photograph, naming him as the shooter. Law enforcement then informed Nelson that they had already arrested Defendant, seized guns and paraphernalia during his arrest, and that Defendant admitted he committed the murder.

         The State charged Defendant with first-degree murder, in violation of Section 565.020[1](Count I), armed criminal action, in violation of Section 571.015 (Count II), unlawful possession of a firearm, in violation of Section 571.070 (Count III), and possession of a controlled substance, in violation of Section 195.202 (Count IV). Defendant pled guilty to Counts III and IV, but proceeded to trial upon Counts I and II.

          During trial, the court denied Defendant's motion to suppress and exclude evidence of Nelson's pretrial and in-court identifications. The trial court refused to submit Defendant's proffered jury instruction for eyewitness testimony ("Instruction A"). The jury was instructed on the charged offense of first-degree murder and on the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. The trial court also refused to submit Defendant's proffered instructions for voluntary manslaughter ("Instruction B") and involuntary manslaughter ("Instruction C").

         The jury found Defendant guilty of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment for second-degree murder and ten years' imprisonment for armed criminal action, with sentences to run concurrently.

         This appeal now follows.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant advances three points on appeal. In his first point, Defendant contends the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress Nelson's out-of-court and in-court identifications because the pretrial procedures employed by law enforcement were unduly suggestive and, therefore, tainted both identifications.

         In his second point, Defendant asserts the trial court erred in refusing his proffered jury instruction ("Instruction A"), which was modeled after the adopted-but-not-yet-effective MAI-CR 3d 310.02 (2016). Defendant contends his proffered instruction clarified important factors relating to the reliability (or lack thereof) of eyewitness identifications.

         In his third point on appeal, Defendant maintains the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to instruct on his proffered instructions of the lesser-included offenses of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

          Point I-Trial Court Did Not Err in Admitting Nelson's Identifications

         In his first point on appeal, Defendant avers the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress Nelson's out-of-court and in-court identifications because the photographic lineup employed by law enforcement was impermissibly suggestive.

         Standard of Review

         "In reviewing the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress, we consider the evidence presented at both the suppression hearing and at trial to determine whether sufficient evidence exists in the record to support the trial court's ruling." State v. Nelson, 334 S.W.3d 189, 193 (Mo. App. W.D. 2011). This court reviews the facts and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling, and we disregard all contrary evidence. State v. Murray, 428 S.W.3d 705, 709 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014). We will not disturb the trial court's decision to admit or exclude the identification testimony unless there has been an abuse of discretion. State v. Green, 469 S.W.3d 881, 883 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015).

         Analysis

         A. Two-Step Analysis

         "A defendant has a due process right to exclude identification testimony which results from procedures that are unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to an irreparably mistaken identification." State v. Hoopingarner, 845 S.W.2d 89, 93 (Mo. App. E.D. 1993). Where pretrial identification testimony is challenged on appeal, this court engages in a two-step analysis. Foster v. State, 348 S.W.3d 158, 161 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011).

         First, we assess whether the procedures employed by law enforcement during the pretrial identification were impermissibly or unduly suggestive. State v. Hunter, 43 S.W.3d 336, 340 (Mo. App. W.D. 2001). Second, if the procedures employed by law enforcement are unduly suggestive, we then proceed to evaluate "whether the suggestive procedures have so tainted the identification as to lead to a substantial likelihood that the pre-trial identification was not reliable." State v. Chambers, 234 S.W.3d 501, 513 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007).

         The defendant must satisfy both prongs to render the identification testimony inadmissible. Id.; see also State v. Barriner, 210 S.W.3d 285, 297 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006) ("If the defendant carries his burden, in showing that both prongs of the test are satisfied, then both the out-of-court and in-court identifications by the witness of the defendant must be excluded by the trial court."). Correspondingly, if the pretrial identification procedures are determined not to be unreasonably suggestive, then the court need not review the reliability of the identification. Green, 469 S.W.3d at 884.

         B. The pretrial procedures employed were not unduly suggestive

         The first step of our analysis focuses solely on the actions of the police in administering the pretrial procedures for identification. State v. Mullins, 340 S.W.3d 311, 314 (Mo. App. E.D. 2011). "A pretrial identification procedure is unduly suggestive if the identification results not from the witness's recall of first-hand observations, but rather from the procedures or actions employed by the police." State v. Glover, 951 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997). In evaluating the potential suggestiveness of pretrial procedures, a court may examine the entire process, including "an evaluation of the conditions under which the identification occurred . . . including police commentary." Id.

         Defendant maintains numerous pretrial identification procedures were unduly suggestive, causing Nelson's out-of-court and in-court identifications to become tainted and inadmissible. Specifically, Defendant avers the pretrial identifications procedures were unduly suggestive because: (1) initially, Nelson inaccurately identified the name of the suspect; (2) the police requested Nelson select "the person that did the shooting" during the photographic lineup; (3) immediately after Nelson selected Defendant from the photographic lineup, the police communicated additional information to Nelson about Defendant and the circumstances surrounding the criminal investigation; and (4) the photographic lineup included no photographs of individuals residing in Nelson's neighborhood but for Defendant's photograph. We will address each in turn.

         1. Inaccurate Name of Defendant

         Nelson was interviewed by the police near the scene of the crime, shortly after the crime. She informed the police that immediately before the commission of the crime, she was standing outside her home and Defendant walked within arms-length of her. Moments later, Nelson heard gunfire and witnessed Defendant discharging a gun in the direction of the Victim. Although Nelson had lived in that neighborhood for approximately thirty years and had known Defendant for approximately twenty years, Nelson provided the police with the incorrect name of Defendant. However, Nelson provided the police with Defendant's correct name around the time of the photographic lineup.

         Defendant's first objection regarding the pretrial procedures employed is completely unrelated to any pretrial identification procedure utilized by the police. Rather, Defendant is merely contesting the reliability of Nelson's pretrial identification, based upon her memory and recollection after observing a traumatic and violent incident. Glover, 951 S.W.2d at 363 ("Such matters provide fodder for cross-examination and for argument to the jury that the identification was not credible or believable; they do not provide a basis to suppress the identification as the product of an unduly suggestive procedure."). Defendant's complaint does not relate to the suggestiveness of the "procedures or actions employed by the police[.]" Glover, supra; see, e.g., State v. Winters, 900 S.W.2d 636, 640-41 (Mo. App. W.D. 1995).

         Defendant merely attempts to bootstrap Nelson's initial inability to correctly recall Defendant's name to substantiate his contention that the pretrial procedures were unduly suggestive. State v. Lawrence, 700 S.W.2d 111, 112 (Mo. App. E.D. 1985) (lineup held not to be unduly suggestive when friends or family suggested to the witness that the defendant was responsible for the crime and where non-governmental sources provided the witness with the defendant's name). Defendant's argument is without merit.

         2. Police Commentary Prior to Photographic Lineup

         A few weeks after the commission of the crime, Nelson participated in a photographic lineup. Prior to viewing the lineup prepared by the police, she was allegedly instructed to select "the person that did the shooting." On appeal, Defendant contends that such an instruction by the police implicitly suggested to Nelson "that the ...


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