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State v. Newman

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 7, 2019

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
Rakeem Deqwan Newman, Defendant Below, Petitioner

          Jefferson County CC-19-2017-F-13


         Petitioner Rakeem Deqwan Newman, along with three other individuals, met brothers Dylan and Ryan Mumaw in July of 2016, under the pretext that Mr. Newman and the others would purchase a pound of marijuana from the Mumaws.[1] Upon meeting, the parties abandoned the appointed place, and Mr. Newman's party redirected the Mumaws to an unplanned location. Eventually, the Ford Focus in which Mr. Newman was a passenger pulled next to the Mumaws' Toyota 4Runner on a public street, near a park, in mid-afternoon. Mr. Newman and one of his companions exited their car, went to either side of the Mumaw vehicle that Dylan drove, and pointed guns at the Mumaws. Dylan attempted to pull away, and the masked person standing next to the Mumaws' passenger side discharged his gun. Dylan drove from the gunfire as the shooter continued to fire at the Mumaw car. Dylan saw that Ryan was shot in the chest and pulled the car alongside the road. Good Samaritans aided Ryan and called paramedics, but Ryan Mumaw died before his brother reached the hospital to meet him.

         A witness recognized the driver of the Ford Focus that ambushed the Mumaws, and the juvenile driver quickly learned that officers were searching for him. By the following day, the juvenile and at least one other of the remaining two accomplices had appeared at a local police station. The juvenile entered into a plea agreement with the State. The State indicted Mr. Newman along with the other two men, Malakye Boyd (Mr. Newman's brother) and Tayjuhn Coble. Mr. Coble entered into a plea agreement, and Mr. Newman and Mr. Boyd were tried jointly and found guilty of felony murder in the first-degree, in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-2-1, and conspiracy to commit robbery in the first-degree, in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-10-31. Consequently, Mr. Newman, the petitioner in this appeal, is serving a term of life imprisonment, without mercy, in the West Virginia State Penitentiary for his role in the felony murder, and is subject to a consecutive five-year term of imprisonment for his role in the conspiracy.

         On appeal to this Court, Mr. Newman asserts three assignments of error: that the circuit court erred in not directing a verdict in his favor, that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for a new trial, and that the circuit court erred in permitting the State's use of recordings of telephone calls that were made while he and his accomplice were in the State's custody.

         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 order of the circuit court is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.[2]


         With respect to his first assignment of error, Mr. Newman states, without citation to the appendix record on appeal, that he "made a motion for a directed verdict at the close of the State's case and renewed that motion at the conclusion of the case."[3] The State does not dispute that the motion was made.

         The Court applies a de novo standard of review to the denial of a motion for judgment of acquittal based upon the sufficiency of the evidence. See State v. LaRock, 196 W.Va. 294, 304, 470 S.E.2d 613, 623 (1996). This Court has explained:

The 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 rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Syl. Pt. 1, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657');">194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163 (1995).


[a] criminal defendant challenging the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction takes on a heavy burden. An appellate court must review all the evidence, whether direct or circumstantial, in the light most favorable to the prosecution and must credit all inferences and credibility assessments that the jury might have drawn in favor of the prosecution. The evidence need not be inconsistent with every conclusion save that of guilt so long as the jury can find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Credibility determinations are for a jury and not an appellate court. Finally, a jury verdict should be set aside only when the record contains no evidence, regardless of how it is weighed, from which the jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id. at 663, 461 S.E.2d at 169, syl. pt. 3, in part. Mindful of these imperatives, we consider whether the evidence presented at trial supports Mr. Newman's convictions of conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree and felony murder.

         Mr. Newman was found guilty of conspiring to commit robbery. The oft-repeated criteria for a conspiracy conviction are settled:

"'"In order for the State to prove a conspiracy under W.Va.Code, 61-10-31(1), it must show that the defendant agreed with others to commit an offense against the State and that some overt act was taken by a member of the conspiracy to effect the object of that conspiracy." Syl. Pt. 4, State v. Less, 170 W.Va. 259, 294 S.E.2d 62 (1981).' Syl. Pt. 3, State v. Burd, 187 W.Va. 415, 419 S.E.2d 676 (1991)." Syllabus point 5, State v. Minigh, 224 W.Va. 112, 680 S.E.2d 127 (2009).

Syl. Pt. 10, State v. White, 228 W.Va. 530, 722 S.E.2d 566 (2011). In this case, the offense at the heart of the conspiracy is robbery, a crime prohibited by West Virginia Code § 61-2-12, but still recognized by the common law definition. "At common law, the definition of robbery was (1) the unlawful taking and carrying away, (2) of money or goods, (3) from the person of another or in his presence, (4) by force or putting him in fear, (5) with intent to steal the money or goods." Syl. Pt.1, State v. Harless, 168 W.Va. 707, 285 S.E.2d 461 (1981).

         The State also obtained a conviction through the theory of felony murder, based on Mr. Newman's participation in a crime that led to Ryan Mumaw's death. The State, therefore, was not required to establish that Mr. Newman fired the murderous shot.

"'[T]he elements which the State is required to prove to obtain a conviction of felony murder are: (1) the commission of, or attempt to commit, one or more of the enumerated felonies; (2) the defendant's participation in such commission or attempt; and (3) the death of the victim as a result of injuries received during the course of such commission or attempt.' State v. Williams, 172 W.Va. 295, [310, ] 305 ...

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