Stephen J. Markman, Chief Justice, Brian K. Zahra, Bridget M.
McCormack, David F. Viviano, Richard H. Bernstein, Kurtis T.
Wilder, Elizabeth T. Clement, Justices.
December 7, 2017, the Court heard oral argument on the
application for leave to appeal the August 23, 2016 judgment
of the Court of Appeals. On order of the Court, the
application is again considered. MCR 7.305(H)(1). In lieu of
granting leave to appeal, we REVERSE the judgment of the
Court of Appeals and REINSTATE the defendant's
convictions and sentences.
convictions arose from the robbery of a Family Dollar store
in Dearborn and the shooting deaths of two store employees,
Joseph Orlando and Brenna Machus. Orlando's body was
found in the store. He had been shot in the head. Two days
after Orlando was found dead, Machus's body was recovered
from a nearby freeway service drive. She had also been shot.
The police determined that both victims were killed with the
same gun. Defendant, a former store employee, was soon
identified as a suspect and subsequently charged with the
robbery and murders.
prosecution's theory at trial was that defendant
committed the robbery, shot Orlando in the store, and
abducted and sexually assaulted Machus before also shooting
her. To prove its case, the prosecution successfully moved to
admit other-acts evidence against defendant under MRE 404(b).
This included past convictions for criminal sexual conduct in
the second degree and assault with intent to do great bodily
harm to a prostitute, evidence of an arrest for violating the
Sex Offenders Registration Act, MCL 28.721 et seq.,
testimony evincing sexual harassment of prior Family Dollar
coworkers, and additional testimony indicating the sexual
harassment of a 7-Eleven store employee.
prosecution argued that the other-acts evidence would
demonstrate motive and intent, and provide the jury with
assuming the Court of Appeals correctly held that this
evidence was admitted in violation of MRE 404(b), we disagree
with the Court of Appeals insofar as it concluded that the
admission of such evidence was harmful.
previously made it clear that a defendant has the burden of
showing that an error entitles him to a new trial. People
v Lukity, 460 Mich. 484, 495 (1999). To meet this
burden, a defendant must demonstrate that " 'it is
more probable than not that the error was outcome
determinative.' " People v Lyles, 501 Mich.
107, 117-118 (2017), quoting Lukity, 460 Mich. at
496. A reviewing court must " 'focus on the nature
of the error and assess its effect in light of the weight
and strength of the untainted evidence' " when
conducting this analysis. Lukity, 460 Mich. at 495,
quoting People v Mateo, 453 Mich. 203, 215 (1996).
Under this standard, an error is considered harmless if there
is "overwhelming evidence of a defendant's guilt . .
. ." People v Dumas, 454 Mich. 390, 409 (1997);
see also Mateo, 453 Mich. at 220-221.
case, the evidence of defendant's guilt was undoubtedly
overwhelming. He was linked to the robbery and murders by
identification testimony, as well as by physical and
circumstantial evidence. A significant number of witnesses
identified him as the individual seen in a surveillance video
leaving the store with Machus on the evening in question.
Testimony also made it clear that defendant had been
previously terminated as a store employee, giving him a
motive. His DNA was found on a towel in the store, with no
innocent explanation for its presence months after his
dismissal. Fibers recovered from his car were similar to
those from Machus's pants, and fibers on Machus's
clothing were also comparable to those later found in
defendant's vehicle. In the days after the crime, the
police observed defendant disposing of trash bags, buying
cleaning supplies, washing his car, and inquiring about
having the interior of his vehicle professionally detailed
despite having already cleaned it. This evidence strongly
implies that defendant was trying to cover up a recent
wrongdoing. Additionally, defendant was arrested in
possession of a quantity of small-denomination bills similar
to those taken from the Family Dollar store, circumstantially
connecting him to the robbery.
in its entirety, proof of defendant's guilt was so great
as to render the erroneous admission of other-acts evidence
harmless. In coming to the opposite conclusion, the Court of
Appeals found that the inadmissible evidence "was
overwhelming and worked to deprive defendant of a fair
trial." This conclusion was not the product of the
correct legal standard, and the Court of Appeals erred by
concluding that the ...