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State v. Beckett

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, First Division

March 6, 2018

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
ERICK E. BECKETT, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cass County, Missouri The Honorable William B. Collins, Judge

          Before Thomas H. Newton, Presiding Judge, and Victor C. Howard and Karen King Mitchell, Judges.

          Karen King Mitchell, Judge.

         Erick Beckett appeals, following a jury trial, his conviction for first-degree murder (§ 565.020)[1] and armed criminal action (§ 571.015), for which he was sentenced to concurrent terms of life without the possibility of parole and thirty years' imprisonment. Beckett raises one claim on appeal; he argues that the trial court abused its discretion in precluding defense counsel from questioning the venire panel to discern whether they could consider all the evidence once they heard that "two shots" were fired. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.

         Background[2]

         On February 23, 2013, Beckett called 911 to report that he had shot his wife (Victim) a couple of times. Police responding to the call found Victim lying on the bed in the master bedroom with her head in a pool of blood. The police also found a Smith and Wesson handgun (containing a live cartridge) and two more cartridges (one live and one spent) on the bed near Victim's head. Emergency response personnel initiated life-saving procedures at the scene, but Victim was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

         Beckett was indicted on two charges-murder in the first degree (Count 1) and armed criminal action (Count 2). During voir dire, the following exchange occurred:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: You are going to hear that there were two shots in this case, and I have got to know right now if that fact, that fact alone does it for you?
[PROSECUTOR]: Your Honor, can we approach?
THE COURT: Sure.
(The following proceedings were had at the Bench.)
[PROSECUTOR]: We're getting into what the evidence is going to show. The same reason he wanted to cut me off. I'm making the exact same objection is to him giving the two shots. We're not going to get into trigger pull since we're going to have somebody talk about that.[3] We're going to have somebody talk about one or two shots, he doesn't need to talk about that.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Judge, I am not arguing evidence, I am making sure that these jurors will look at all the evidence and consider it all. That is an operative fact in this case, and if they are not going to listen to anything else, I am entitled to know it. I am not going beyond anything else. You know well enough if somebody starts talking about-or asking me questions, I am going to tell them that's it.
THE COURT: Here's the problem I'm seeing. Is that going to be the evidence in the case?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: There are two shots.
[PROSECUTOR]: Yes.
THE COURT: So what is the point of the question that you are asking I guess?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: The point is that they are going to listen to all the evidence as it comes in and not make their mind up based on that fact alone, and that is it.
THE COURT: You are not asking them that. You are asking if there are two shots, is that enough to convict him?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: No. I just went through out there that they have to wait until the end of all the evidence and consider all of the evidence. My question to them is if you hear evidence that there's two shots, is that all? Is that it? Do you not need to hear anymore?
[PROSECUTOR]: That is critical in this case.
THE COURT: That's what my concern is. [Defense Counsel], I chastised the prosecution for and so fair is fair. I have asked them never to do what they did to me the last trial we had which is getting commitments from jurors. What we are here to do is to determine whether they can be fair and can listen to all the evidence. If you ask that question I've got no problem, but you're asking them to parse out individual pieces of evidence which is exactly why you got a mistrial the last time, and [the Prosecutor] was the one standing there right next to you.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: That is not what I am doing here, Judge, I am asking them if they will follow the instructions.
THE COURT: Sustained. You ask questions of what their biases are. That's what this voir dire part is about, it's not to ...

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