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State v. McNeil

Court of Appeals of Idaho

November 8, 2013

STATE Of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
Lloyd Hardin McNEIL, Defendant-Appellant.

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Sara B. Thomas, State Appellate Public Defender; Spencer J. Hahn, Deputy Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Spencer J. Hahn argued.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Russell J. Spencer, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Russell J. Spencer argued.

SCHWARTZMAN, Judge Pro Tem.

Lloyd Hardin McNeil appeals from the judgment of conviction and sentence entered upon jury verdicts finding him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, Idaho Code § 18-4006(1); first degree arson, I.C. § 18-802; and grand theft, I.C. §§ 18-2403(1), 18-2407(1)(b). We affirm.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 5, 2011, firefighters responded to a residential fire in a Boise neighborhood. The firefighters determined that the fire was confined to a mattress and box spring located in a bedroom. After removing the mattress from the house, firefighters found the body of Natalie Davis lying on top of the box spring. Following an investigation, firefighters concluded that the fire was intentional and human caused. This conclusion was supported by subsequent reconstructed tests of the scenario.

Pursuant to an investigation, police officers discovered that Davis' car was missing, along with her two dogs. Later, the dogs were located in a " no kill" shelter in Dillon, Montana and McNeil was identified as the individual who dropped the dogs off. Thereafter, McNeil was located in Seattle, Washington and arrested on a fugitive warrant.

McNeil was charged with second degree murder, first degree arson, and grand theft. Following a jury trial, he was acquitted of second degree murder and convicted of the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. He was also convicted of first degree arson and grand theft. The district court imposed consecutive terms of fifteen years determinate for the voluntary manslaughter conviction, twenty-five years indeterminate with ten years determinate for the first degree arson conviction, and fourteen years indeterminate for the grand theft conviction, resulting in a unified sentence of fifty-four years with twenty-five years determinate. McNeil filed an Idaho Criminal Rule 35 motion for reconsideration of his sentence, which the district court denied.

II.

ANALYSIS

McNeil claims that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction for voluntary manslaughter; (2) his constitutional rights were violated when the State committed unobjected-to misconduct in its closing

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argument; (3) the district court abused its discretion when it imposed an excessive sentence; and (4) the district court abused its discretion when it denied his Rule 35 motion.

A. Sufficiency of Evidence

McNeil contends that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction of voluntary manslaughter.[1] Appellate review of the sufficiency of the evidence is limited in scope. A finding of guilt will not be overturned on appeal where there is substantial evidence upon which a reasonable trier of fact could have found that the prosecution sustained its burden of proving the essential elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Herrera-Brito, 131 Idaho 383, 385, 957 P.2d 1099, 1101 (Ct.App.1998); State v. Knutson, 121 Idaho 101, 104, 822 P.2d 998, 1001 (Ct.App.1991). We will not substitute our view for that of the trier of fact as to the credibility of the witnesses, the weight to be given to the testimony, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence. Knutson, 121 Idaho at 104, 822 P.2d at 1001; State v. Decker, 108 Idaho 683, 684, 701 P.2d 303, 304 (Ct.App.1985). Moreover, we will consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Herrera-Brito, 131 Idaho at 385, 957 P.2d at 1101; Knutson, 121 Idaho at 104, 822 P.2d at 1001.

In the instant case, McNeil was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which is defined as " the unlawful killing of a human being ... without malice" and " upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion." I.C. § 18-4006(1). McNeil argues that the State failed to present substantial and competent evidence with respect to two elements: (1) that McNeil committed a criminal act that caused Davis' death; and (2) that the death resulted from a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.

At trial, evidence was admitted that depicted the stormy relationship between McNeil and Davis. A Montana detective testified that, approximately eight months prior to her death, Davis went to the Bozeman police station and reported that McNeil struck her with a flashlight, grabbed her, and was verbally abusive. As a result, the State of Montana charged McNeil with felony assault with a weapon and misdemeanor partner or family member assault. McNeil was released on bail and, as a condition of his bail, was ordered to have no contact with Davis. Davis met several times with a victim coordinator, and the coordinator stated that, although Davis did not want anything bad to happen to McNeil, she was willing to testify in the case against him. While the case was pending, Davis moved to Boise and McNeil remained in Montana. Approximately one month prior to Davis' death, McNeil boarded a bus to Boise, where he met a Ms. Pluard. He told Pluard about his " tumultuous" and " difficult" relationship with Davis, including that he was being charged with a crime and that he had a no contact order. He also told her that he was concerned about seeing Davis due to the no contact order, but that he thought there would be repercussions with his pending criminal charges if he did not see her. After arriving in Boise, McNeil and Pluard kept in contact by email and telephone. Two weeks prior to Davis' death, McNeil told Pluard that he would be returning to Montana soon, that he was in possession of an antique ring " appraised high," that his " plan worked," and that he thought Davis would " be in jail soon."

Davis' brother testified that he lived with Davis and slept in a bedroom in the basement of the house. On the day of her death, he was awakened at 6:30 a.m. by the sound of McNeil and Davis arguing. He then heard " some loud noises, banging, like the sound of stomping feet, or maybe somebody slamming a door repeatedly." The brother noted that the loud noises were " like bang, bang, and then bang, bang." Following the noises, the arguing stopped. Minutes later, the brother's alarm went off and he went upstairs to use the bathroom. He then ...


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