Harrison County 17-F-178-3
Daniel Claude Amsler, by counsel Perry B. Jones and Bryan D.
Church, appeals the order of the Circuit Court of Harrison
County, entered on September 19, 2018, sentencing him to a
term of imprisonment for life, without mercy, upon his
conviction of first-degree felony murder, and a consecutive
term of imprisonment for one to five years upon his
conviction of conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery.
Respondent State of West Virginia appears by counsel Patrick
Morrisey and Thomas T. Lampman.
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.
Claude Amsler, his girlfriend Elizabeth Ladybird Jenkins, and
Keyairy Wilson briefly lived together in late March of 2017,
at the Amsler/Jenkins residence while Ms. Wilson sold illegal
drugs. Ms. Wilson's father contacted the Clarksburg
Police Department to report that she was missing, and that he
had been told that there was an incident involving a
motorcycle and a gunshot at the home where she was living.
When police arrived at the Amsler/Jenkins residence, Ms.
Jenkins denied that Ms. Wilson lived in the home, and told
officers that she had last seen Ms. Wilson a few days earlier
in the parking lot of a local bar with a man Ms. Jenkins did
not know. Officers asked Ms. Jenkins if anyone had visited
the Amsler/Jenkins home on a motorcycle, and Ms. Jenkins
named Warren Kip Hall. Officers spoke with Mr. Hall multiple
times, and he implicated Mr. Amsler and Ms. Jenkins in the
disappearance and death of Ms. Wilson. Barbour County
Sheriff's Department found Ms. Wilson's body in a
remote area soon after.
Jenkins and Mr. Amsler, at the invitation of officers, went
to the local police station to give statements. Mr. Amsler
told police that Ms. Jenkins shot Ms. Wilson in anger because
she believed that Mr. Amsler and Ms. Wilson had been sexually
intimate. Ms. Jenkins' initial statement described a plan
that the parties devised to take money or drugs from Ms.
Wilson, during which Ms. Jenkins accidentally shot Ms.
Wilson. Ms. Jenkins reported that she cut Ms. Wilson's
throat and wrists and, with Mr. Amsler's assistance,
disposed of Ms. Wilson's body in the wooded area where
the body was found.
Amsler, Ms. Jenkins, and Mr. Hall were indicted on charges of
murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery. Mr.
Hall entered into an agreement with the State to plead guilty
to first-degree robbery and conspiracy to commit first-degree
robbery. Mr. Amsler and Ms. Jenkins were tried separately
and, relevant to this appeal, the jury found Mr. Amsler
guilty of first-degree felony murder, for which he was
sentenced to a term of imprisonment for life, without mercy,
and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery.
appeal, petitioner asserts four assignments of error: first,
that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for
judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence
to support a felony murder conviction; second, that the
circuit court erred in denying his motion for judgment of
acquittal because there was insufficient evidence to support
a murder conviction; third, that the circuit court erred in
denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because there
was insufficient evidence to support a conspiracy conviction;
and, fourth, that the circuit court erred in denying
petitioner's motion for a new trial on the ground that
the State was allowed to present hearsay testimony from an
first three assignments of error attack the circuit
court's denial of the motion for a judgment of acquittal
that he made at the close of the State's case-in-chief.
The Court applies a de novo standard of review to such a
charge. See State v. LaRock, 196 W.Va. 294, 304, 470
S.E.2d 613, 623 (1996). In doing so, we are mindful 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 rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime proved beyond a reasonable
Syl. Pt. 1, State v. Guthrie, 194 W.Va. 657, 461
S.E.2d 163 (1995).
stated above, Mr. Amsler was convicted of first-degree murder
under the felony murder doctrine, which "does not
require proof of the elements of malice, premeditation or
specific intent to kill. It is deemed sufficient if the
homicide occurs accidentally during the commission of, or the
attempt to commit, one of the enumerated felonies[, ]"
including robbery. Syl. Pt. 7, in part, State v.
Sims, 162 W.Va. 212, 248 S.E.2d 834 (1978). Thus, for
purposes of Mr. Amsler's assignments of error concerning
the sufficiency of the State's evidence, we must
determine whether the evidence could convince a reasonable
person of Mr. Amsler's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
due to his participation in a robbery scheme that ended in
Ms. Wilson's death. Mr. Hall's trial testimony is key
in this evaluation.
Hall testified that he and Mr. Amsler had been
"partying" friends for about five years. On the
morning of Ms. Wilson's murder, Mr. Amsler asked Mr. Hall
to meet him at "the fishing hole." When Mr. Hall
arrived, he found Mr. Amsler and Ms. Jenkins smoking crack
cocaine and joined them. Mr. Hall testified that Mr. Amsler
began talking about stealing from Ms. Wilson's boyfriend
who, it appears, was not residing at the Amsler/Jenkins
residence but was involved with Ms. Wilson's illegal
activity. During that discussion, Ms. Jenkins accused Mr.
Amsler of having sexual relations with Ms. Wilson, and the
two argued. Mr. Hall testified that the trio decided that
they would "go back and eventually rob" Ms. Wilson
and her boyfriend "[f]or the dope and money,"
though there was no specific plan discussed among the three
to use a weapon or otherwise threaten the victim when
confronting her. Mr. Hall testified that he returned to the
Amsler/Jenkins house first, with hopes of "messing
around" with Ms. Wilson, and Mr. Amsler and Ms. Jenkins
followed. While Mr. Hall sat at the kitchen table smoking
cigarettes with Ms. Wilson, according to his testimony, Ms.
Jenkins ran into the kitchen, pointed a pistol at Ms. Wilson
and began yelling about Ms. Wilson's relationship with
Mr. Amsler. Mr. Amsler remained in the living room during the
fracas, and Mr. Hall testified that he joined Mr. Amsler in
the living room. When he did so, he heard a gunshot from the
Amsler characterizes the plan made at the fishing hole as one
to commit larceny, not robbery-to, as Mr. Hall explained in
his testimony, "take her stuff." He stresses that
he was not present at the time of the shooting, and that Ms.
Jenkins was angry about her belief that he and Ms. Wilson had
engaged in sexual relations, suggesting that Ms. Jenkins'
shooting of Ms. Wilson was not done in the commission of
robbery, but instead was borne of her personal animosity
toward the victim. But Mr. Hall's further testimony
decries that theory. Mr. Hall explained: "[Mr. Amsler]
went in and got the crack off the table. And then he put
plastic-garbage bags were laying there, he put a couple bags
around her. I believe to keep blood. But he brung [Ms.
Wilson's] crack back in the living room."
emphasize that the enumerated felony underlying this murder
conviction is not conspiracy, but is robbery itself. The
statute, West Virginia Code § 61-2-12(a), does not
actually define robbery. See State v. Harless, 168
W.Va. 707, 710, 285 S.E.2d 461, 464 (1981); State ex rel.
Vandal v. Adams, 145 W.Va. 566, 569, 115 S.E.2d 489, 490
(1960). Rather, "[t]he elements of robbery, unaffected
by the statute, are ...