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People v. Walker

Court of Appeals of Michigan

November 14, 2019

DALLAS DAVID WALKER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Grand Traverse Circuit Court LC No. 17-012823-FC

          Before: Stephens, P.J., and Servitto and Ronayne Krause, JJ.

          Ronayne Krause, J.

         Defendant, who was charged with open murder, [1] MCL 767.71, appeals as of right his jury convictions of second-degree murder, MCL 750.317, and concealing or tampering with evidence, MCL 750.483a(5)(a). The trial court sentenced defendant to 25 to 50 years' in prison for the murder conviction and 11 months in jail for the tampering with evidence conviction, to be served concurrently. We affirm.

         I. FACTS

         Defendant was convicted of killing the victim, defendant's next-door neighbor, in the victim's home and then concealing or tampering with evidence related to the killing. There is no dispute that defendant killed the victim; rather, at issue in this case is the circumstances of the killing. The prosecution's theory was that defendant assaulted and killed the victim because defendant was angry that the victim's friendship and alcohol consumption with defendant's father had caused significant tension in defendant's parents' marriage. Defendant's theory of defense was that, after a night of drinking, the victim sexually assaulted him, causing defendant to react by striking the victim in the head in self-defense.

         The prosecution presented evidence that the victim often socialized with defendant's father, and that the two frequently consumed alcohol together. The victim was disabled from working because of a series of strokes, and witnesses described him as weak and slow. Defendant testified on his own behalf that the victim invited defendant over in the early morning. Defendant accepted the invitation, and after watching television for some time, the victim physically attacked defendant, held defendant down, attempted to pull defendant's pants and underwear off, and threatened to get a knife. Defendant testified that he punched the victim once, whereupon the victim fell to the floor, and defendant "instinctively" punched the victim two or three more times. Expert medical testimony established that the victim died from blunt-force injuries, including at least eight definitive areas of blunt-force trauma to his head.

         After assaulting the victim, defendant returned to his home, changed clothes, and took a shower. Later that morning, the police found a garbage bag near the front door of defendant's home that contained a pair of shorts that appeared to have been stained with blood. In another garbage bag in defendant's bedroom the police found a sock that appeared to have been stained with blood and a sandal that matched another sandal that was found inside the victim's home. The blood on defendant's clothing matched the victim's DNA. As noted, the trial court's instructions to the jury included instructions on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter.


         We review a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence de novo. People v. Harverson, 291 Mich.App. 171, 175; 804 N.W.2d 757 (2010). We must review the evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution to determine whether the jury could have found each element of the charged crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Reese, 491 Mich. 127, 139; 815 N.W.2d 85 (2012). "Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences arising therefrom may constitute proof of the elements of [a] crime," People v. Bennett, 290 Mich.App. 465, 472; 802 N.W.2d 627 (2010), and "it does not matter that the evidence gives rise to multiple inferences or that an inference gives rise to further inferences." People v. Hardiman, 466 Mich. 417, 428, 646 N.W.2d 158 (2002). "[A] reviewing court is required to draw all reasonable inferences and make credibility determinations in support of the jury verdict." People v. Nowack, 462 Mich. 392, 400; 614 N.W.2d 78 (2000).


         Defendant first argues that he is entitled to a new trial because there was insufficient evidence to submit the charge of first-degree premeditated murder to the jury. Defendant further argues that even though the jury convicted him of only second-degree murder, the erroneous submission of the greater charge was not harmless because it likely caused the jury to compromise on a verdict of second-degree murder. We disagree.

         First-degree premeditated murder is defined as "[m]urder perpetrated by means of poison, lying in wait, or any other willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing." MCL 750.316(1)(a). Defendant argues that there was insufficient evidence that he committed a deliberate and premeditated killing to submit the first-degree murder charge to the jury. We disagree.

         At common law, a killing constituted murder if it was done with malice aforethought. See People v. Mesik (On Reconsideration), 285 Mich.App. 535, 543-546; 775 N.W.2d 857 (2009). Common law murder evolved into statutory second-degree murder. See People v. Hansen, 368 Mich. 344, 350-351; 118 N.W.2d 422 (1962). First-degree premeditated murder is only distinguished from second-degree murder by the element of premeditation. People v. Carter, 395 Mich. 434, 437-438; 236 N.W.2d 500 (1975). Premeditation is not statutorily defined and cannot be evaluated in "a rigid and mechanical" manner. People v. Oros, 502 Mich. 229, 240-244; 917 N.W.2d 559 (2018); see also People v. Tilley, 405 Mich. 38, 44-46; 273 N.W.2d 471 (1979). Premeditation cannot be found where a defendant acts "on a sudden impulse." Tilley, 405 Mich. at 44 (quotation omitted). The brutality and violence of a killing does not, by itself, show premeditation. People v. Hoffmeister, 394 Mich. 155, 159-160; 229 N.W.2d 305 (1975). However, premeditation may be established by circumstantial evidence tending to show that a defendant had an opportunity to think about, evaluate, or take a "second look" at their actions. Oros, 502 Mich. at 240-244. The opportunity must be adequate, but it need not be long. Id. "Premeditation may be established ...

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