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State v. Adkins

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 11, 2018

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
v.
Mark Shane Adkins, Defendant Below, Petitioner

          Summers County 15-F-53

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Mark Shane Adkins, by counsel Richard M. Gunnoe, appeals the Circuit Court of Summers County's April 28, 2017, order denying his post-trial motion for judgment of acquittal and sentencing him following his conviction of voluntary manslaughter. Respondent State of West Virginia, by counsel Scott E. Johnson, filed a response. Petitioner filed a reply. On appeal, petitioner contends that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence to sustain his conviction.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         On November 17, 2015, petitioner was indicted on one count of first-degree murder. The jury trial commenced on February 28, 2017. The evidence at trial showed that on July 19, 2015, Thomas Mathewson, petitioner's next door neighbor, heard petitioner and petitioner's brother, Choya Adkins ("the victim"), bickering and laughing through the day as they worked on a red truck in petitioner's yard. Mr. Mathewson saw one of the brothers enter the residence and remain inside for five to ten minutes. When the person returned, he saw him walk around the truck and immediately heard a gunshot followed by the sound of something heavy landing in the bed of the truck. Mr. Mathewson did not hear any voices or other noise from the yard. After the gunshot, Mr. Mathewson saw a person sit down in the front seat of the red truck. A few minutes passed and a neighborhood boy rode his bike down to the vehicle. Mr. Mathewson heard the boy ask what happened to the victim and heard petitioner respond that the victim had shot himself. Mr. Mathewson immediately went to the home of Mr. Fleshman, petitioner's step-father and neighbor, where he called the police.

         At trial, Mr. Fleshman testified that he did not remember seeing Mr. Mathewson that day. However, he remembered receiving a phone call from petitioner, during which petitioner called and asked to speak to his mother, but she was not there. Petitioner told Mr. Fleshman that the victim killed himself and that he intended to leave. Mr. Fleshman advised petitioner to stay until law enforcement arrived.

         The first law enforcement officer on the scene was Patrolman Timmy Adkins. Patrolman Adkins testified that when he arrived he saw petitioner and an unidentified female positioned around the body of the victim, which was motionless on the ground. Patrolman Adkins ordered petitioner to move away from the body. Petitioner was shirtless and had facial wounds, a bruised lip, and a large cut above his eye. Patrolman Adkins handcuffed petitioner for officer safety and searched him. He found petitioner's shirt in his back pocket, which was spotted with blood. Petitioner told the patrolman that his brother shot himself. However, with no gun within sight of the body, Patrolman Adkins began to search the area. Eventually, he found a shotgun and a spent cartridge "strategically placed" in the bed of the red truck and with blood smeared along the barrel.

         Patrolman Adkins began photographing the scene and collecting evidence. The front seat of the red truck and other items in the truck were bloodied. Blood drops were found on the back of the red truck that led to the front driver's side door. Another vehicle at the residence, a blue truck, was sprayed with blood and displayed a pattern consistent with a body sliding down its frame through the blood. Patrolman Adkins also noticed several empty beer cans in the yard and the bed of the red truck. Sergeant T.J. Cochran arrived on the scene and swabbed petitioner's and the victim's hands for gunshot residue.

         Petitioner was transported to the emergency room in police custody and treated for his facial injuries. The emergency room doctor testified that the cut over petitioner's left eye required several sutures to repair. Further, the doctor was concerned that petitioner may have suffered a concussion. Petitioner told the doctor that he was in an altercation with his brother and that his brother shot himself. The doctor testified that petitioner's blood alcohol level at the time of his admission was .275, which is considered a toxic level.

         At trial, multiple experts testified regarding evidence found at the scene. The doctor who performed the autopsy opined that the victim was at least three to four feet away from the shotgun when it discharged but that the victim's arm was only two and a half feet long. The doctor also testified regarding a scalloping pattern around the wound that indicated the pellets inside the shotgun shell had begun to disperse as they entered the victim's body. When asked if there was any possible way that the victim could have shot himself, the doctor opined there was no possible way for the wound to be self-inflicted and to have the same characteristics. In addition to the gunshot wound, the victim had a bruised lip and an elevated blood alcohol level. A DNA analyst determined the blood on petitioner's shirt and on the items found inside the cab of the red truck belonged to petitioner. Petitioner's blood was also found on the barrel of the shotgun. A latent fingerprint expert testified that no fingerprints were recovered from the shotgun or the shells. Finally, a trace evidence expert testified that gunshot residue was found on petitioner's hands, but no residue was found on the victim's hands.

         Petitioner moved for a judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case-in-chief; the trial court denied that motion. On March 2, 2017, the jury found petitioner guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder. On March 8, 2017, petitioner moved for entry of a judgment of acquittal arguing that the State presented insufficient evidence to sustain the conviction. On March 27, 2017, the parties appeared for a hearing on petitioner's post-trial motion. Upon finding that sufficient evidence was presented to convict petitioner, the circuit court denied petitioner's motion by order entered on March 31, 2017. Thereafter, the circuit court sentenced petitioner to a determinate sentence of fifteen years of incarceration. Petitioner now appeals the April 28, 2017, sentencing order.

         This Court applies a de novo standard of review to appeals from rulings on a motion for judgment of acquittal:

The trial court's disposition of a motion for judgment of acquittal is subject to our de novo review; therefore, this Court, like the trial court, must scrutinize the evidence in the light most compatible with the verdict, resolve all credibility disputes in the verdict's favor, and then reach a judgment about whether a rational jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

State v. LaRock, 196 W.Va. 294, 304, 470 S.E.2d 613, 623 (1996). Regarding a claim that the evidence at trial was insufficient to convict, this Court has stated that

[t]he function of an appellate court when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is to examine the evidence admitted at trial to determine whether such evidence, if believed, is sufficient to convince a reasonable person of the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the relevant inquiry is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any ...

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