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People v. Ericksen

April 15, 2010


Alpena Circuit Court LC No. 08-002029-FC.

Per curiam.



Defendant appeals as of right his jury trial conviction of assault with intent to murder, MCL 750.83. The trial court sentenced defendant as a fourth habitual offender, MCL 769.12, to serve a life sentence. Because the prosecutor presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could convict defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and defendant's claims of prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, and sentencing error are without merit, we affirm defendant's conviction and life sentence. We remand only for ministerial correction of defendant's judgment of sentence to include 282 days of jail credit.


Prior to being attacked, the victim, Ervin Ritthaler, Jr., had been involved in an altercation with the sister of one of defendant's friends. Defendant and two other men confronted the victim about the earlier incident. The confrontation soon became violent, and defendant stabbed Ritthaler multiple times in the back with a knife he had secreted on his person. The wounds resulted in a cascade of severe medical complications for Ritthaler, including multiple organ failures, cardiac arrest, brain injury, and, ultimately, amputation of both of his legs below the knee.


Defendant first argues on appeal that his conviction cannot stand because the prosecutor failed to present sufficient evidence at trial. We review de novo a challenge on appeal to the sufficiency of the evidence. People v Hawkins, 245 Mich App 439, 457; 628 NW2d 105 (2001). The elements of assault with intent to commit murder are, "(1) an assault, (2) with an actual intent to kill, (3) which, if successful, would make the killing murder." People v Brown, 267 Mich App 141, 147-148; 703 NW2d 230 (2005) (internal quotation and citation omitted). We examine the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, resolving all evidentiary conflicts in its favor, and determine whether a rational trier of fact could find that the essential elements of the crime were proven beyond reasonable doubt. Hawkins, 245 Mich App at 457; People v Terry, 224 Mich App 447, 452; 569 NW2d 641 (1997).

Defendant specifically asserts that because the prosecution's case rested extensively on circumstantial evidence, he could only be convicted if that evidence proved the prosecution's theory of guilt with "impelling certainty." This is a misstatement of the law. Circumstantial evidence and the reasonable inferences it engenders are sufficient to support a conviction, provided the prosecution meets its constitutionally based burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Nowack, 462 Mich 392, 400; 614 NW2d 78 (2000).

Defendant also argues that the prosecutor presented insufficient evidence to establish that he had the requisite specific intent. The evidence at trial established that defendant secreted a knife prior to leaving with his companions to confront Ritthaler. In addition, defendant told his companions that he had "stuck [Ritthaler] five times." A trier of fact could reasonably interpret this statement as an admission that he knowingly inflicted multiple stab wounds into the victim. The medical evidence showed that Ritthaler's right back sustained four knife wounds. Defendant's intent can be inferred from any facts in evidence including the nature, extent, and location of these wounds. People v Mills, 450 Mich 61, 71; 537 NW2d 909 (1995); People v Unger, 278 Mich App 210, 223, 231; 749 NW2d 272 (2008). This Court has consistently observed that "[b]ecause of the difficulty of proving an actor's state of mind, minimal circumstantial evidence is sufficient." People v McRunels, 237 Mich App 168, 181; 603 NW2d 95 (1999). Here, the evidence was more than minimal and clearly demonstrated that defendant acted with the requisite intent.

Defendant also challenges the credibility of the testimony of his companions and co-defendants arguing that they were not credible because each man received a favorable plea deal in exchange for his testimony. Both men, however, acknowledged their respective plea agreements during their testimony. Not only does this Court scrupulously leave questions of credibility to the trier of fact to resolve, People v Williams, 268 Mich App 416, 419; 707 NW2d 624 (2005), but the jury was also specifically instructed to "examine an accomplice's testimony closely and be very careful about accepting it," considering it "more cautiously than you would that of an ordinary witness." "It is well established that jurors are presumed to follow their instructions." People v Graves, 458 Mich 476, 486; 581 NW2d 229 (1998).

Defendant also highlights a statement the trial court made at sentencing to the effect that it did not appear that defendant intended the extent of the injury sustained by Ritthaler. The record reveals that the trial court actually stated that it was "guessing" that the injuries sustained were "more serious than [defendant] ever intended." The court's conjecture regarding defendant's motivation is, by its very nature, pure speculation, as opposed to the jury's determination of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

In sum, taken as a whole and viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the evidence presented below together with the reasonable inferences stemming from that evidence was sufficient to support ...

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