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State v. Wright

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division

May 29, 2018

KEITH E. WRIGHT, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable Edward W. Sweeney, Jr.



         Keith E. Wright ("Wright") appeals from the trial court's judgment, following a jury trial, convicting him on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action. Wright raises four points on appeal. Wright initially charges the trial court with error for excluding evidence of an alternative perpetrator. In Point Two, Wright claims that the trial court erred in finding that the State did not violate his right to a speedy trial. In Points Three and Four, Wright argues that the trial court erroneously admitted his videotaped statements, made during a police interview, because they were cumulative and lacked proper foundation.

         Because Wright presented no evidence that the purported alternative perpetrator committed an act directly connected to the charged crimes, we deny Point One. We reject Point Two because the pretrial delay did not prejudice Wright. Lastly, because the trial court did not err in admitting Wright's videotaped statements as rebuttal evidence, we deny Points Three and Four. We affirm.

         Factual and Procedural History

         I. Pre-trial Proceedings

         Police officers arrested Wright on June 2, 2015, after finding Ricos Boyd ("Boyd") and Shayla Carter ("Carter") shot to death in the alley behind Wright's residence. On June 30, 2015, Wright was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action.[1] The trial court placed the case on the trial docket and continued the case to October 2015. In September 2015, the trial court granted the State's request for a continuance because the State was waiting for the final police report. On October 25, 2015, Wright asserted his right to a speedy trial.

         In November 2015, the trial court again granted the State a continuance because of the incomplete police report. In January 2016, the trial court approved the State's motion for a continuance due to the still unfinished police report and the assigned trial attorney's departure from the circuit attorney's office. Substitute counsel appeared for the State and, in February 2016, said counsel moved for additional time to prepare for trial and to receive the final police report. After a hearing and over Wright's objection, the trial court ordered another continuance. The trial court again reset the case in April 2016, after conducting another hearing, wherein the State explained that the prosecuting attorney was unavailable due to a scheduled break after several jury trials. The court finally scheduled Wright's trial for June 13, 2016.

         Wright moved to dismiss the indictment alleging that the State violated his right to a speedy trial. Wright argued that he had consistent medical issues in jail, had experienced extreme anxiety due to his confinement, and was unable to see his children. The motion court denied Wright's motion, finding that, under all of the circumstances, the pretrial delay did not prejudice Wright. The trial court stated that there was no evidence that the State deliberately delayed the proceedings. Wright's jury trial began on June 13, 2016.

         II. Trial

         At trial, the State presented the following evidence. On June 2, 2015, Wright lived at 3623 North Newstead Avenue in St. Louis with his wife ("Michelle")[2] and their children. Zelma Higgins ("Higgins")-Michelle's aunt-lived nearby and frequently visited Michelle. Early that morning, Higgins walked past Wright's residence and heard Michelle arguing with a woman later identified as Carter. Higgins stopped and saw Michelle and Carter in Wright's backyard. Peering into the backyard, Higgins also spotted Boyd and Wright. Higgins recognized Boyd as Michelle's sexual partner. Carter was Boyd's close friend. Higgins also observed and identified Boyd's vehicle and Wright's vehicle parked in the alley. Higgins then wandered around the area, before pausing at a position where she could again view Wright's backyard. Michelle and Carter were still arguing.

         As the argument persisted, Higgins witnessed Wright suddenly shoot Boyd multiple times, striking him in the thigh, back, neck, and buttocks. Boyd was unarmed. Higgins observed Wright move to the front of Boyd's vehicle to confront Carter. Carter was in the vehicle, holding up her hands, and pleading with Wright not to shoot. Wright shot Carter repeatedly, striking her in the side, back, and hand. Boyd and Carter died from their gunshot wounds. Wright and Michelle drove away from the scene. Higgins testified that, although she had taken crack cocaine that morning, the shooting sobered her. Higgins eventually flagged down some police officers.

          Responding to the call, Detective Thomas Walsh ("Det. Walsh") arrived at the crime scene. Det. Walsh reported that the shooting occurred around 3:20 a.m. Twelve .40 caliber shell casings were recovered from Wright's backyard and alley. Testing revealed that the same firearm fired all twelve shell casings. Det. Walsh did not discover a firearm at the scene. Based on the information provided by Higgins, Det. Walsh identified Wright as a suspect. Later that day, detectives arrested Wright.

         A. Wright's Testimony and Videotaped Statements

         Wright testified in his own defense at trial. Wright explained that he was asleep at his home when he heard gunshots. Wright stated that he dressed, pulled his vehicle around to the front of his home, placed his children and Michelle in his vehicle, and left. Wright denied killing Boyd and Carter. Wright also claimed that he did not own a firearm. Wright acknowledged that he was aware, but not jealous, of Boyd's sexual relationship with Michelle. Wright later clarified that he was separated from Michelle, Michelle had relocated to Higginsville, Missouri, and he specifically knew of Michelle's new location.

         During cross-examination, Wright admitted that his trial testimony contradicted statements he had made to detectives after the shootings. Specifically, after the shooting, Wright informed detectives that he did not have any knowledge or information about the shootings. But as the interview continued, Wright told the detectives that the shootings were in self-defense. Wright eventually confessed to detectives that he heard Michelle and Carter arguing, retrieved his .40 caliber firearm, shot the victims repeatedly, drove away from the scene, and discarded his firearm. Wright also purportedly provided specific details about the shootings in the interview.

         Although Wright admitted making inconsistent statements, Wright maintained during cross-examination that the detectives' threats off camera to take away his children caused him make inculpatory statements. Further, Wright contended that the interviewing detectives provided him with the details of the crime, prompted his answers, suggested off camera that he claim self-defense, and coerced his incriminating statements.

         In rebuttal, the State announced that it would call Det. Walsh-one of the interviewing detectives-and present a videotape of Wright's interview with the detectives.[3] Wright stated that he would object because the exhibit was cumulative and repetitive. The trial court never explicitly ruled on Wright's objection. The parties extensively discussed which components of the videotaped statements they would show to the jury. Wright withdrew other objections to portions of the videotape, and the parties agreed to certain redactions. Det. Walsh then testified that the exhibit was a fair and accurate representation of the interview and that no questioning of Wright occurred outside the recording. The State asked to admit the videotape. At that time, Wright did not object. The trial court admitted the exhibit, and the State presented it to the jury.

         B. Alternative-Perpetrator Evidence

         Wright also sought to introduce evidence that a witness saw an unknown person flee from the area of the shooting. The State opposed the admission of such evidence, arguing that without any direct evidence tying the alternative perpetrator to the shootings, the evidence was likely to confuse the jury and was inadmissible. Wright submitted the testimony of Stacey Torrey ("Torrey") as an offer of proof.

         Torrey testified that, on the morning of the shootings, he was repairing a cable outage on the 4300 block of Lexington Avenue in St. Louis. Torrey was positioned around the corner- approximately a half block to one-and-a-half blocks--from the site of the shootings. As Torrey was completing paperwork in his truck, he noticed a man in a hoodie, with a rough beard, wearing blue jeans, and running east on Lexington Avenue towards him. Concerned for his own safety, Torrey drove westward along Lexington Avenue. After circling back around to Natural Bridge Avenue, Torrey approached the crime scene. As he neared, Torrey spotted the arrival of several police vehicles and stopped to report. Torrey informed police officers that the man "you probably looking for just ran down past me." Wright was not the man Torrey observed.

         The trial court excluded Torrey's testimony. The trial court found that although Torrey observed an unidentified man running a half block to one-and-a-half blocks from where the shooting occurred, Torrey's testimony did not establish that the man carried a firearm or ran directly from the site of the shootings. In denying the proffer of evidence, the trial court found that Wright did not offer any exhibits specifically demonstrating Torrey's position relative to the crime scene, and the timeline of Torrey's observances remained "very, very sketchy." The trial court noted that Torrey did not hear any gunshots or identify the time he arrived at the crime scene.

         III. Post-trial Proceedings

         After deliberating, the jury found Wright guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action. Wright moved for a new trial. In his motion, Wright challenged the trial court's ruling on his speedy-trial claim, arguing that the pretrial delay prejudiced him because Michelle relocated and her whereabouts were unknown at trial. Wright also argued that the ...

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