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McDonough v. Weber

Supreme Court of South Dakota

January 21, 2015

CHASKE MCDONOUGH, Petitioner and Appellant,
DOUGLAS WEBER, Warden of the South Dakota State Penitentiary, Respondent and Appellee

Argued October 7, 2014

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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MANUEL J. DE CASTRO, JR., Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Attorney for petitioner and appellant.

MARTY J. JACKLEY, Attorney General, PAUL S. SWEDLUND, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for respondent and appellee.

GILBERTSON, Chief Justice. KONENKAMP, ZINTER, SEVERSON, and WILBUR, Justices, concur. KERN, Justice, not having been a member of the Court at the time this action was assigned to the Court, did not participate.


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GILBERTSON, Chief Justice

[¶1] Petitioner, Chaske McDonough, appeals the First Judicial Circuit Court's denial of his amended petition for writ of habeas corpus. McDonough argues the record did not present a clear factual basis upon which the sentencing court could have accepted his plea of guilty to first-degree manslaughter. McDonough also argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because defense counsel did not move to suppress certain incriminating statements McDonough made and because defense counsel failed to properly advise McDonough on his right to appeal the sentencing court's decision. McDonough asks this Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus and to vacate his guilty plea, the sentencing court's subsequent judgment, and its sentence. We deny McDonough's request and affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] On August 11, 2002, after consuming several beers with his friends in Vermillion, South Dakota, Chaske McDonough threw a beer bottle that broke a window in a mobile home belonging to the victim, Mark Paulson. Paulson's body was discovered in his home two days later, beaten and stabbed twice in the neck. McDonough soon interacted with several law enforcement officers, including Special Agent Todd Rodig of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation. First, Agent Rodig briefly interviewed McDonough near the crime scene on August 15, 2002. The next day, Agent Rodig interviewed McDonough a second time at the Vermillion Public Safety Center[1] (the Center). On both occasions, McDonough denied any involvement in Paulson's death. Agent Rodig did not consider McDonough to be in custody at any point during these interviews and did not read a Miranda warning to McDonough.

[¶3] Later in the day, on August 16, 2002, Detective Lowell Oswald of the Vermillion

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Police Department located McDonough and requested that he return to the Center for additional questioning. McDonough reluctantly agreed, and Detective Oswald drove McDonough to the Center in an unmarked automobile. The vehicle did not have a detention cage, Detective Oswald was dressed in plain clothing, McDonough was not hand-cuffed, and he rode in the front seat with Detective Oswald.

[¶4] At the Center, Deputy Sheriff Andy Howe, who considered McDonough to be a suspect, conducted the interview. The interview room door was closed and unlocked, although McDonough was not aware that it was unlocked. Although Deputy Howe did not initially read a Miranda warning to McDonough, he did tell him that he appreciated him coming to the Center and that he was free to leave at any time. Deputy Howe also assured McDonough that he could go home at the conclusion of the interview, but did not promise that he would never be arrested in connection with Paulson's death. At one point, McDonough asked Deputy Howe, " You think I should have, like, my attorney here?" Deputy Howe told McDonough that he would have to make that choice for himself.

[¶5] During the interview, McDonough told Deputy Howe two different versions of what occurred on the night of August 11, 2002. At first, McDonough said Paulson reacted by coming out of his house and asking who had thrown the bottle. McDonough initially denied any involvement, but soon confessed after one of his associates indicated to Paulson that McDonough threw the bottle. According to McDonough, Paulson asked why he threw the bottle and simply requested that McDonough not make any further attempts at throwing bottles over the home. Paulson appeared " nice" and " quiet" and acted " reasonable" by not swearing at McDonough and his associates. Afterward, McDonough went home, shut his door, and went to bed. McDonough claimed that he did not see who was last with Paulson, implying that Paulson was still alive when McDonough left.

[¶6] The second version that McDonough told Deputy Howe is not as pleasant. In the second version, Paulson was " pissed" that McDonough hit his trailer. He exited his home, shirtless, reeking of alcohol, and hurled profanities at McDonough and his associates. McDonough told Paulson that he had not seen anything break and then suggested they enter the home to search for damage. After they discovered a broken window, McDonough offered to pay for the damage and exited the home. Paulson asked McDonough to reenter his home and, after McDonough did so, Paulson gave him a beer. After the two engaged in conversation for a short time, Paulson abruptly became upset again and told McDonough to leave. Paulson apparently attempted to shove McDonough out the door, but then remembered the matter of his broken window and instead asked McDonough to take a seat and have another beer. After another brief conversation, Paulson suddenly grabbed McDonough by the shirt and held him down where he was sitting. McDonough struck Paulson in the head, broke free, and then struck him four more times in the temple. Paulson attempted to choke McDonough, who struck Paulson and knocked him down. Fearing for his life, McDonough grabbed a small knife from a lamp stand and stabbed Paulson twice in the neck as the man attempted to stand up. McDonough checked his pulse, paced throughout the trailer, threw away the beer cans, threw the knife in some neighboring woods, and later threw away the shoes he was wearing during the confrontation.

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[¶7] The interview lasted about one and one-half hours with several short breaks. Although Deputy Howe employed some interrogation tactics, he never raised his voice to McDonough or appeared physically threatening, and McDonough appeared mostly relaxed throughout the interview. Deputy Howe did not give a Miranda warning to McDonough until after he finished recounting the second version of events. After informing McDonough of his rights, Deputy Howe asked McDonough to write a statement detailing his involvement in the killing. Despite acknowledging his rights outlined in the Miranda warning, McDonough proceeded to write a statement detailing his earlier admissions and also verbally repeated many of the same. When the interview concluded, Deputy Howe returned McDonough to his home, but McDonough was taken into custody later that evening. McDonough denied any knowledge of Paulson's sexual preferences--or the possibility of a sexual motive--during the interview.

[¶8] The next day, Deputy Howe again interviewed McDonough, who further varied the details of Paulson's killing. This time, McDonough described Paulson lying face down on the floor, head turned to the left. McDonough was on top of Paulson, repeatedly punching him in the back of the head. McDonough then turned around to grab the knife from a table with his right hand and, with the blade protruding outward from his thumb and index finger, reached across Paulson to stab him in the neck, twice. This account is consistent with both the autopsy, which revealed injuries to the back of Paulson's head, and forensic evidence indicating Paulson was on the floor, or very near it, when he was stabbed. McDonough repeated his insistence, first expressed the previous day, that there was no sexual element to this encounter.

[¶9] McDonough told yet another version of this story at his change of plea hearing. In this version, Paulson exited his home after McDonough struck it with a beer bottle and an argument ensued. Paulson asked McDonough to enter the home and investigate for damage. The two discovered that the bottle had broken a window, and McDonough offered to pay for the damage. Paulson said he did not want McDonough to pay for the window. The two conversed for a short time, Paulson offered McDonough a beer, and then they continued to talk about sports. The two exited the home, and Paulson asked, " [W]hat are we going to do about the window?" Paulson then went back inside, and McDonough followed, hoping he would not have to pay for the window. McDonough then asked to use Paulson's restroom, but, according to McDonough, Paulson refused and instead asked to watch McDonough urinate outside. Despite claiming that he felt like Paulson was propositioning him, McDonough stayed to finish his beer. Paulson again asked about the window, McDonough repeated his offer to pay, and Paulson told him he did not want money. Paulson put a hand on McDonough, who responded by hitting Paulson. McDonough tried to leave, Paulson grabbed him, and then McDonough knocked Paulson down and stabbed him. Evidence was introduced that McDonough was abused physically and sexually as a child. He was also diagnosed as having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of this abuse. McDonough now claims that Paulson triggered his PTSD by propositioning and touching him.

[¶10] On August 29, 2002, a Clay County Grand Jury indicted McDonough for second-degree murder in violation of SDCL 22-16-7 and SDCL 22-16-9 (repealed 2006). McDonough pleaded not guilty on August 30, 2002. McDonough's court-appointed defense counsel, Phil Peterson,

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retained a private investigator to explore the possibility of a self-defense claim. The investigator did not give Peterson a written report, but concluded that self-defense was not likely. Peterson also concluded that self-defense was not a viable claim because Paulson did not have a weapon within reach, McDonough had given several differing accounts of what occurred, McDonough had no defensive injuries to support his claim, McDonough had " cleaned up" the crime scene, and McDonough disposed of evidence immediately after stabbing Paulson. Nevertheless, Peterson testified that he intended to assert a claim of self-defense if the case had gone to trial.

[¶11] Due to his past experience, Peterson was convinced that the State was not likely to offer a favorable plea agreement if he attempted a suppression motion. The State did offer to dismiss the murder charge in exchange for McDonough pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Given the mandatory life sentence that McDonough faced with a conviction of murder, and considering the weakness of McDonough's self-defense claim, Peterson recommended that McDonough accept the offer and plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Although Peterson also told McDonough about the possibility of getting a jury instruction on second-degree manslaughter as a lesser-included offense to second-degree murder, McDonough appeared before the sentencing court on November 24, 2002, and pleaded guilty to violating SDCL 22-16-15(3) by committing manslaughter in the first degree. On ...

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