(Harrison County 17-F-205-3).
Elizabeth Ladybird Jenkins, by counsel David Mirhoseini,
appeals the order of the Circuit Court of Harrison County,
entered on March 14, 2018, sentencing her to a term of life
imprisonment, without mercy, upon her conviction of
first-degree felony murder, and a consecutive term of one to
five years of imprisonment upon her conviction of conspiracy
to commit first-degree robbery. Respondent State of West
Virginia appears by counsel Patrick Morrisey and Caleb A.
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.
Jenkins quickly became a person of interest in the
disappearance of a young woman, Keyairy Wilson, who briefly
stayed in the home Ms. Jenkins shared with her boyfriend,
Daniel Claude Amsler, in March of 2017. When Ms. Wilson's
father reported Ms. Wilson missing, Ms. Jenkins initially
denied knowing her whereabouts. When police found Ms.
Wilson's body a few days later, however, Ms. Jenkins gave
officers a statement describing a plot hatched between her,
Mr. Amsler, and their friend Warren Kip Hall to steal Ms.
Wilson's illegal drugs. Ms. Jenkins explained to officers
that after devising the plan, she and Mr. Amsler arrived at
their home, where Mr. Hall was already waiting with Ms.
Wilson. She said,
I had the gun. . . . And I went to lay it down, and it-and I
picked it up, and it went off. And I-then I thought,
"Oh, s-t." I was like, "Oh, now look what
you"-and I did call her a b---h, because I was like,
freaking out. I was high. And I was like, "Oh, my G-d.
Look what you made me do now." And then I started
yelling at Danny. And I put the gun down and Danny took the
gun. And then we just started cleaning up the mess.
Jenkins, Mr. Amsler, and Mr. Hall all were indicted on
charges of murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree
robbery. Mr. Hall entered into a plea agreement with the
State. The trials of Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Amsler were severed.
Relevant to this appeal, Ms. Jenkins was found guilty of
first-degree felony murder and conspiracy to commit
first-degree robbery following a jury trial, and she was
sentenced to a term of imprisonment for life, without mercy
for the murder conviction and a term of one to five years in
prison for her conspiracy conviction.
appeal, Ms. Jenkins asserts six assignments of error. She
argues that: (1) the circuit court erred in admitting the
statement that Ms. Jenkins gave to police; (2) the circuit
court failed to adequately instruct the jury on felony
murder; (3) there was insufficient evidence to convict her of
felony murder; (4) the circuit court erred in admitting
"highly inflammatory gruesome photographs" of the
victim; (5) the circuit court erred in permitting into
evidence her and Mr. Amsler's out-of-court statements;
and (6) she was prejudiced by cumulative error. Due to
petitioner's failure to lodge objections below, a number
of Ms. Jenkins' assignments of error require that we
proceed with consideration of the "plain error"
doctrine. "To trigger application of the 'plain
error' doctrine, there must be (1) an error; (2) that is
plain; (3) that affects substantial rights; and (4) seriously
affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the
judicial proceedings." Syl. Pt. 7, State v.
Miller, 194 W.Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995). We note
other standards of review below.
not surprising that Ms. Jenkins' first assignment of
error seeks the invalidation of the statement she gave to the
police implicating herself beyond question in the shooting of
Ms. Wilson. Ms. Jenkins did not file a motion to
suppress the statement, but objected to its use at trial
during the pretrial hearing, and the circuit court heard
evidence about the circumstances surrounding Ms. Jenkins'
statement. Ms. Jenkins testified that she was impaired from
the days-long use of methamphetamines, crack cocaine, Xanax,
other pills, and alcohol when she spoke with police.
Detective Mike Walsh, an investigating officer with the
Clarksburg Police Department who was present when Ms. Jenkins
gave her statement, testified that she was coherent and
capably conversant when she gave the statement, and that,
when asked, she denied being under the influence of drugs.
The circuit court found that Ms. Jenkins' hearing
testimony was not credible, and ruled that her confession was
voluntarily given. Ms. Jenkins urges us to apply the plain
error doctrine and find that the court erred. Ordinarily, if
reviewing a properly-filed motion to suppress, we would
construe all facts in the light most favorable to the State,
as it was the prevailing party below. Because of the highly
fact-specific nature of a motion to suppress, particular
deference is given to the findings of the circuit court
because it had the opportunity to observe the witnesses and
to hear testimony on the issues. Therefore, the circuit
court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error.
Syl. Pt. 1, in part, State v. Lacy, 196 W.Va. 104,
468 S.E.2d 719 (1996). The question before the circuit court
was whether Ms. Jenkins was too incapacitated to voluntarily
give her self-incriminating statement to Detective Walsh.
This inquiry is highly determinative from witness
observations and credibility. The circuit court found
Detective Walsh's assessment of Ms. Jenkins' acuity
credible, and we have no need to look behind the circuit
court's determination. Accordingly, we find no clear
respect to Ms. Jenkins' second assignment of error, she
argues that the circuit court failed to instruct the jury
that it was necessary that Ms. Wilson's death occur
"during the course of the commission" of the crime
(robbery) supporting the felony murder charge, thus relieving
the jury of the burden of considering whether the robbery and
the murder were connected. We agree with the State that Ms.
Jenkins failed to preserve this assignment of error with a
timely objection to the jury charge, and "[t]he general
rule is that a party may not assign as error the giving of an
instruction unless he objects, stating distinctly the matters
to which he objects and the grounds of his objection."
Syl. Pt. 8, State v. Garrett, 195 W.Va. 630, 466
S.E.2d 481 (1995) (citation omitted). Nevertheless, we find
that "the charge, reviewed as a whole, sufficiently
instructed the jury so they understood the issues involved
and were not mislead by the law." Syl. Pt. 3, in part,
State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461 S.E.2d 163
(1995). We specifically note that the circuit court
instructed the jury, in part, that felony murder "is
committed if a homicide occurs accidentally or otherwise as a
result of injuries received in the commission of the attempt
to commit" an enumerated felony. There is no error.
third assignment of error, Ms. Jenkins argues that there was
insufficient evidence to support the felony murder verdict.
Specifically, she argues that Ms. Wilson was alive "long
after the robbery had been fully completed," and that
Ms. Wilson's death was actually the result of the
intervening cause of either Ms. Jenkins' or Mr.
Amsler's slashing her throat.
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
Id. at 663, 461 S.E.2d at 169, syl. pt. 1. With no
reservation, and with no need for protracted explanation, we
find that the reasonable person could easily infer Ms.
Wilson's guilt beyond all reasonable doubt where the
evidence shows that she participated in a plan to rob the
victim, admitted to pulling the trigger of the gun that shot
the victim, took the victim's crack cocaine while the
victim bled nearby, cleansed the kitchen in which she shot
the victim of visible signs of violence, engaged her paramour
to assist in driving the victim-albeit while alive-to a
remote location where her body would not be quickly found,
slashed the victim's wrists and throat, and then returned
to the scene of the shooting to riffle through the
victim's purse and remove the last vestiges of the dead
woman's possessions. There was no intervening cause
relieving Ms. Jenkins of the responsibility for this heinous
death. There was simply an ...