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State v. Wright

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Special Division

July 16, 2019


          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri The Honorable Sandra Midkiff, Judge

          Before Cynthia L. Martin, Presiding Judge, Alok Ahuja, Judge and Thomas N. Chapman, Judge


         Destynie J. Wright ("Wright") appeals her convictions of one count of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree, one count of assault in the second degree, two counts of armed criminal action, and one count of tampering with physical evidence. Wright argues that the trial court erred by denying a motion to suppress and admitting her recorded statement at trial because the statement was made during a custodial interrogation where Wright had not been informed of her Miranda[1] rights. Wright further argues the trial court erred because the verdict directors for the charges of involuntary manslaughter and assault submitted elements in the disjunctive, depriving her of unanimous jury verdicts. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Factual and Procedural Background[2]

         On December 31, 2015, Wright drove herself and her friend Kierra Ramsey ("Ramsey") to a New Year's Eve party at a dance hall in Kansas City. In the early hours of January 1, 2016, Ramsey's ex-boyfriend, Sederick Jones ("Jones"), arrived at the party, intent on encouraging Ramsey to leave with him. Jones followed Wright and Ramsey into the women's restroom, blocking their exit until a member of the cleaning crew forced them to leave the building. Outside, Jones continued pressing Ramsey to leave with him, and was arguing with Wright. Wright and Ramsey tried to leave in Wright's car, but Jones got into the backseat. Jones continued to argue with Wright and Ramsey for about an hour. During that time, Wright was using her cell phone to text her boyfriend, Ramon Boyd ("Boyd"), in relevant part as follows:

Boyd: Keep [Jones] there.
Wright: Okay.
Wright: He is in my car.
Wright: Come get him now.
Boyd: Okay, pulling up.
Wright: Parking lot.
Boyd: Okay
Wright: NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Boyd: Is he still there?
Boyd: I am. I got you.
Wright: Now, TK
Boyd: Ok. 2 mins
Wright: he gotta gun dude come the fuck on
Boyd: Here.

         Shortly after this exchange, Jones and Ramsey exited Wright's vehicle. Boyd shot Jones four times, killing Jones. Ramsey was shot twice. Gunfire shattered a window on Wright's vehicle.

         Wright fled the scene in her car. Boyd called Wright moments after the shooting, but Wright did not initiate any calls, including to 911. Wright drove to her sister's house, and parked the car. Boyd met her there. The two retreated to Boyd's home, where Wright stayed until she returned to her sister's house the next morning.

         The next morning, Kansas City Police Detectives Jeremy Wells ("Wells") and Darin Penrod ("Penrod"), were looking for Wright as they knew she had been a witness to the shooting. They were contacted by Wright's sister, who told them that Wright was now at her house. Wells and Penrod arrived at Wright's sister's house, and were invited inside. Wright was sitting on a couch in the living room. Wells and Penrod asked Wright if she would be willing to go to the police station to provide a statement. Wright agreed to do so. As Wright was leaving, Wright's sister asked if she wanted her cell phone. Wright responded that she "did not need her phone." Penrod said "I can take it." Wright's sister handed Penrod the phone. Wright did not object.

         Wright rode with Penrod and Wells to the police station in an unmarked police car. She was not restrained in any way. Wright was taken to an interview room. She was offered water and the opportunity to use the restroom. At the beginning of the interview, Wright verbally consented to the Detectives' request to search her cell phone for any information that might be helpful to the investigation.

         Wright then provided a statement. Wright explained that she and Ramsey had gone out for the evening; that Ramsey and Jones had been arguing on the phone earlier in the evening; that Jones showed up unexpectedly at the dance hall and began harassing them; and that Jones entered the backseat of her car as she and Ramsey were attempting to leave. Wright told the Detectives that Jones was flashing a gun, and that when Ramsey finally agreed to leave with Jones, she heard gunshots as they exited Wright's car. Wright described seeing Jones and Ramsey fall to the ground, but said she had no idea who shot them. Wright told the Detectives she "blacked out," and fled the scene out of fear. Wright made no mention of Boyd or of his involvement in the shooting. Wright first told the Detectives that she drove away from the scene without checking on the victims, went walking, and eventually sat outside until morning before resetting her phone around 6:00 a.m. Later in the interview, Wright said that she drove to her sister's house after leaving the scene, parked her car, and then walked with no particular destination before ending up at an unknown driveway where she sat and waited for several hours before returning to her sister's house the next morning. Wright confirmed that she was still in her dress from the night before, though she had changed into more comfortable shoes before getting out of her car. During this portion of Wright's statement, the Detectives were cordial, though they pressed Wright about why she had not contacted the police or summoned help for Ramsey, whom Wright described as her best friend.

         The Detectives then asked Wright to sign a written form verifying her consent to search her cell phone. Wright again told the Detectives she had been required to hard reset her phone the night before because it had gotten too cold while she was out walking. Wright asked if she could have a lawyer review the consent form. Wright was advised that she did not have to sign the form if she did not want to. Wright did not sign the consent form.

         Wells and Penrod took a break from the interview, leaving Wright alone in the unlocked interview room. When they returned, their questioning of Wright remained cordial, but became more aggressive. Penrod challenged the implausibility of Wright's statement, and told Wright that he believed she was covering for someone. They told Wright a preliminary statement had already been taken from Ramsey which called into question the truthfulness of Wright's statement. They impressed upon Wright the importance of telling the truth. They told Wright that it appeared possible that whoever shot Jones may have been acting in justifiable defense of Ramsey, and suggested that Wright's refusal to tell them all she knew was thus difficult to understand. Though the Detectives' questioning of Wright became more pressing and pointed, the Detectives' demeanor remained cordial and respectful. Wright's statement never wavered.

         When Penrod continued to press Wright to tell the truth, Wright requested an attorney:

Penrod: Okay, no, [] let's get to the truth. Let's get to the truth.
Wright: That is the truth what I told you.
Penrod: No, it's not the truth. No, what you're telling me ...

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