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State v. Rice

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

December 24, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
DEON MONTRELL RICE, Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of of the City of St. Louis 1622-CR03779-01 Honorable Timothy J. Boyer

          OPINION

          James M. Dowd, Presiding Judge

         Deon M. Rice appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis entered after a jury found him guilty as an accomplice of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon. Rice's convictions stem from an incident in which he traveled with five other men to an apartment building in order for two of their number to engage in fistfights with members of another group of six men they knew were inside. Three of the men in Rice's cohort were carrying firearms, and when they noticed the other group come outside with one man carrying a handgun, they opened fire and inadvertently but fatally shot one of their own.

         On appeal, Rice contends that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on self-defense or defense of a third person. Additionally, while conceding his failure to preserve the issue-and therefore, requesting plain error review-Rice asserts the court's verdict-directing instructions for first-degree involuntary manslaughter and unlawful use of a weapon violated his right to a unanimous jury verdict. We find no reversible error and affirm.

         Background

         This case arose from the violent culmination of multiple ongoing feuds. On the night of August 29, 2016, Rice was working at a Burger King restaurant at Loughborough Commons in South St. Louis City when a group of six men-Terrell Harvey, Lerrenzo Young, Jerome Hawkins-Shaw, Tyrone Evans, Kenneth Brooks, and Darwin Jones-entered the parking lot in Lerrenzo Young's vehicle. Two of the men, Young and Terrell Harvey, went into the restaurant to get money from Rice. While they were inside, two other men, Diamond White and Trent Anderson, entered the parking lot in another vehicle and blocked in Young's vehicle.

         White had previously been in an intimate relationship with Jerome Hawkins-Shaw and believed that Hawkins-Shaw had cheated on him with Young. When White exited his parked vehicle, he hit Young's vehicle with a crowbar. Then, after Hawkins-Shaw emerged from Young's vehicle, White chased him around the parking lot with the crowbar. Eventually, Young and Harvey came back out of the restaurant and all the men but Rice, who remained inside on duty at work, left the Burger King parking lot in their two separate vehicles. The group of six men in Young's vehicle drove to where Tyrone Evans lived, at the Partridge Place Apartments in the Walnut Park neighborhood of North St. Louis City. White and Anderson did not follow.

         Later that night, or during the early morning hours of August 30, 2016, however, White and Anderson drove to the Partridge Place Apartments and Anderson slashed the tires on Young's vehicle. During this time, as well, White and Hawkins-Shaw and Anderson and Harvey placed telephone calls and exchanged numerous text and Facebook messages threatening one another. Anderson and Harvey had been feuding for three or four years.

         Around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., White drove with Anderson back to the Burger King and picked up Rice from work. Rice did not know Anderson but was friends with White. While the men rode around in White's vehicle, Rice learned about the earlier confrontation in the Burger King parking lot and about the subsequent slashing of Young's tires at Partridge Place Apartments by Anderson. The three men discussed that White should have a fistfight with Hawkins-Shaw, and that Anderson should have a fistfight with Harvey. Rice testified that he was not going to fight anyone.

         When White and Anderson told Hawkins-Shaw and Harvey in calls and messages that they were going to come over to the Partridge Place Apartments to have the two proposed fistfights, Harvey threatened to kill them if they tried. Rice's group knew Harvey possessed a handgun because they had seen him flaunt it in photographs on Facebook. They also believed that Harvey had his handgun with him at the apartment. Nevertheless, the men decided to travel from South St. Louis City to the Partridge Place Apartments in North St. Louis City to engage in the fistfights.

         Before they made the trip, however, they drove to the residence in South St. Louis City of Diamond White's drug dealer, whom the men knew only by the nickname "Mook." When they arrived they found Mook in the company of two other men. White and Rice told Mook about the ongoing feuds and the plan to drive to Partridge Place Apartments for White and Anderson to have fistfights with Hawkins-Shaw and Harvey. They also told Mook about Harvey's threat to shoot them if they came over, and Mook and the two other men, all of whom were carrying firearms, agreed to accompany White, Rice, and Anderson in a separate vehicle, to serve as armed backup.

         This cohort of six drove to Partridge Place Apartments with White, Anderson, and Rice riding in White's vehicle, and Mook and the two other men following in their own. Once both vehicles were parked outside the apartment building, White told Rice he was too intoxicated to be driving, as he had been drinking earlier. Rice agreed to take the driver's seat and White climbed into the back seat. According to Rice's testimony at trial, at some point while the men were parked, he also told Mook that they were preparing to have the fistfights and that he should shoot into the air to scare the other men if they came out with a firearm. Then White or Anderson called Evans and said that they were outside and wanted to fight.

         The group of six men came out of the apartment building. Harvey was carrying a handgun, Hawkins-Shaw had a bat, and Young held a glass bottle. Anderson began to exit White's vehicle to fight, but White alerted him that Harvey had a gun, so Anderson remained in the vehicle. White then yelled for Rice to drive away. As Rice began to drive, he and Anderson heard a single shot fired, followed by many more in rapid succession. Twenty shell casings from three different firearms, including two handguns and an automatic rifle, were found outside the apartment building afterward.

         At some point while Rice was driving away, White was shot in the back. It was later determined that during the fusillade, a single bullet entered White's vehicle through the passenger-side taillight, traveled through the trunk, and struck him in the back seat. White perished at the hospital later that day.

         The State charged Rice with three offenses: second-degree murder under a theory of felony murder, armed criminal action, and unlawful use of a weapon. All three charges were based on allegations that Rice was an accomplice in the commission of those offenses by an "unknown person," who the evidence showed was one of the men from Mook's vehicle. At trial, Rice requested that the jury be instructed on self-defense and defense of a third person, on the grounds that the person who shot White was using lawful force and Rice should get the benefit of those instructions since his liability was solely as an accomplice. The trial court refused to instruct on those special negative defenses.

         The jury acquitted Rice of second-degree murder but found him guilty as an accomplice of the lesser included offense of first-degree involuntary manslaughter, the associated armed criminal action count, and one count of unlawful use of a weapon. Rice was sentenced to seven years in prison for first-degree involuntary manslaughter and three years for armed criminal action, to run concurrently, and two years ...


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