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State v. Randle

Supreme Court of South Dakota

August 1, 2018

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
DAVID LEONARD RANDLE, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS MAY 21, 2018

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA, THE HONORABLE BRADLEY G. ZELL Judge.

          AUSTIN J. VOS MARK KADI of Minnehaha County Office of the Public Advocate Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General, JOHN M. STROHMAN Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota, Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          JENSEN, JUSTICE.

         [¶1.] David Leonard Randle, Jr. appeals his convictions for first-degree manslaughter, unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance, and possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. Randle asserts the circuit court erred in denying two motions for mistrial and rejecting a proposed jury instruction on first-degree manslaughter. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for a new trial.

         Background

         [¶2.] On October 24, 2015, a group of young adults attended a party at a Sioux Falls condominium leased by Mason Mitzel. There was evidence that the partygoers were drinking and using marijuana and other illegal substances.

         [¶3.] At some point during the evening, an AK-47 owned by Mitzel was brought out amongst the partygoers. There was testimony that different individuals handled the AK-47. Several witnesses stated that Randle began handling the AK-47 and that Randle had the gun sitting on his lap for an extended time. More than one person stated Randle was "playing" with the gun and at times, pointed it in different directions as others sat in the room. Several witnesses recognized that the clip was in the gun and testified that they were nervous with how Randle was handling the AK-47. Witnesses testified that several people in the room asked Randle to put the gun away, but Randle stated he could handle it. Witnesses also testified that at one point, Mitzel took the gun from Randle, but that Randle picked up the AK-47 again and continued handling it.

         [¶4.] While Randle was sitting in the living room next to his friend Mikael Ashame the gun discharged. Three witnesses, who were in the living room when the AK-47 fired, testified that Randle had the gun when it discharged. These witnesses testified that they did not believe Mitzel was in the living room when the gun discharged. The bullet struck Ashame, traveled through his left hand and right forearm, and penetrated the femoral artery in his groin.

         [¶5.] The jury heard Randle's version of the shooting from a recorded phone call with his girlfriend made while he was in custody at the Minnehaha County Jail. During the call, Randle told his girlfriend that Mitzel put the gun on his lap and that Randle's chair, which had rollers, began to slide backward. As the chair slid back, Randle claimed the gun began to slide off his lap. Randle stated that he grabbed the gun to prevent it from falling and that the gun discharged. Randle claimed that after the gun went off, Ashame looked at him and said, "You shot me," then went limp.

         [¶6.] The partygoers immediately reacted to the gunshot. Mitzel, who was under suspicion for drug dealing, stuffed black duffel bags full of narcotics and other contraband, threw them in the trunk of his car, and fled the scene. Randle and another friend Desmond Henderson attempted to carry Ashame to a vehicle in the driveway to take him to the emergency room. The pair placed Ashame on the lawn and attempted to start the nearest vehicle. The vehicle would not start because of a dead battery, so they brought Ashame back into Mitzel's home.

         [¶7.] The remaining partygoers hurriedly placed the AK-47 and another gun in the back of a van and left the scene. Henderson and Randle continued to attend to Ashame. Randle applied pressure to Ashame's wound and told Henderson to call 911. Several minutes later, law enforcement arrived and found Randle still tending to Ashame's wound. The wound had stopped bleeding, but law enforcement immediately requested emergency medical personnel. Ashame was taken by ambulance to Sanford Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Minnehaha County Coroner Dr. Kenneth Snell stated Ashame's cause of death was a gunshot wound to the femoral region.

         [¶8.] Back at Mitzel's residence, police officers began to investigate the incident. Officers observed marijuana shake and drug paraphernalia in the family room, a trail of blood leading outside the home, and a pool of blood in the grass. They found a blue bag on the front porch that was full of narcotics and contraband, and an empty shell casing on the family room floor. The officers interviewed Randle, who told them a masked intruder had broken into Mitzel's home to steal money. Randle claimed the burglar accidently shot Ashame and fled the residence.

         [¶9.] Meanwhile, the partygoers who had left the scene began to call Sanford Hospital to ask about Ashame's condition. Law enforcement followed up on these calls and obtained the statements of several of the individuals. Police ascertained that there was no attempted burglary and that Randle had been holding the AK-47 when it fired. They also learned that a group had left the party in a van and had discarded the AK-47 in a wooded area behind a Sioux Falls trailer park. The group had also disposed of their bloody clothes, narcotics, and drug paraphernalia. Police recovered the discarded items.

         [¶10.] Police arrested Randle, secured a search warrant, and collected his DNA and a urinalysis (UA). Randle's UA revealed he had carboxyl, THC, benzoylecgonine, MDMA, and codeine in his system at the time of the incident. Randle was charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, unauthorized ingestion of a controlled substance, and possession of two ounces or less of marijuana. A trial was held September 12-16, 2016.

         [¶11.] At the start of trial, the circuit court ordered that the witnesses be sequestered per SDCL 19-19-615. The State subpoenaed Abbygail Thomas to testify on the first day of trial. Thomas arrived at the courthouse early and sat in the courtroom during the testimony of one police officer. After learning that Thomas had been in the courtroom before testifying, Randle's trial counsel moved for a mistrial. After a brief hearing, the circuit court held that a violation of the sequestration order had occurred but denied the motion. Thomas later testified.

         [¶12.] During the direct examination of Detective Timothy Bakke, the prosecutor asked whether Randle had requested to consult counsel during an interview after the incident. Randle's counsel objected to the question before any answer was given. Following a bench conference, the prosecutor moved on to a different topic and the question was never answered. Randle's counsel moved for a mistrial. The circuit court denied the motion.

         [¶13.] Randle proposed a jury instruction for excusable homicide for the first-degree manslaughter charge. The instruction was designed to support Randle's theory of defense that Ashame's death was accidental. The circuit court rejected the proposed instruction.

         [¶14.] Randle was convicted by the jury on all counts. He appeals those convictions asserting the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the circuit court erred by denying Randle's motion for mistrial after a state witness violated the ...

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