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Severson v. State

Court of Appeals of Idaho

October 10, 2014

LARRY SEVERSON, Petitioner-Appellant,
STATE OF IDAHO, Respondent.

2014 Opinion No. 85

Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Elmore County. Hon. Lynn G. Norton, District Judge.

Order of district court granting summary dismissal on the ground of res judicata, reversed and case remanded.

Nevin, Benjamin, McKay & Bartlett, LLP, Boise, for appellant. Deborah A. Whipple argued.

Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General; Jessica M. Lorello, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Jessica M. Lorello argued.


Larry Severson was convicted of one count of first degree murder and one count of poisoning food or medicine. He took a direct appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court wherein he contended, inter alia, that certain unobjected-to statements in the State's closing arguments amounted to prosecutorial misconduct. This claim was denied over a two-justice dissent that would have concluded that these and other statements did amount to reversible error. After his first appeal had been adjudicated, Severson filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the district court. Amongst other claims, he argued that his attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel when they failed to object to allegedly improper statements during closing arguments. The district court held that this claim was barred by res judicata. Severson appeals.



Severson has only appealed the district court's dismissal of his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Accordingly, we limit our discussion of the record to those facts and proceedings that are relevant to this claim.

A. Trial Proceedings

The Idaho Supreme Court summarized the relevant factual background when adjudicating the direct appeal:

Larry and Mary Severson[1] met in Colorado in 1995. After dating for a little over one year, the couple married and moved to Mountain Home, Idaho. By 2001, Severson and Mary began experiencing marital problems. Then, in August 2001, the couple separated after Mary learned that Severson was having an affair with a younger woman. Upon learning of the affair, Mary left Severson and returned to Colorado to stay with her mother.
Initially, Mary and Severson planned on getting an uncontested divorce. Less than four months after the couple separated, however, Mary changed her mind. Instead of going forward with the divorce, Mary decided to return to Idaho and work on her marriage. In the meantime, Severson continued to see his younger girlfriend, Jennifer Watkins. Severson told Watkins that he and Mary were still getting divorced and even asked Watkins to marry him. Watkins initially accepted Severson's proposal but ended up breaking off the relationship before Mary returned to Idaho.
Mary arrived back in Idaho in December 2001. Once she returned, she and Severson went to the local GNC store so she could purchase some Hydroxycut pills. Mary had started taking Hydroxycut while she was in Colorado in order to help her lose weight. During that time, the pills did not cause her to suffer any adverse side effects. Shortly after Mary began taking the pills she purchased with Severson, however, she started experiencing stomach pain and vomiting blood. This prompted Mary to inspect the pills and, upon doing so, she noticed that they were discolored and warm to the touch. Mary immediately quit taking the pills and scheduled an appointment with her doctor. At the doctor's office, Mary was diagnosed with an ulcer and given a prescription for Prevacid. During a follow-up examination, she also received a prescription for the sleep aid Ambien.
On February 14, 2002, Severson called Mary's doctor and requested a refill of Mary's Ambien prescription. The doctor authorized the refill and Severson picked up the prescription later that same night. The next morning, at approximately 3:00 a.m., Severson purportedly discovered Mary lying on the couch not breathing. Upon finding his wife, Severson called his son and daughter-in-law, Mike and Nora, who immediately rushed to Severson's house. Once there, Nora called 911 and Mike began performing CPR on Mary. Before long, the paramedics arrived and transported Mary to the hospital. Efforts to resuscitate Mary continued in the ambulance and at the hospital, but were ultimately unsuccessful. Mary was pronounced dead at the hospital at approximately 4:15 a.m. that same morning. An autopsy revealed that Mary had ingested significant amounts of the sleep aids Ambien and Unisom, however, her cause of death was listed as "undetermined."
Less than one day passed before the police began investigating Severson's role in Mary's death. Searches of Severson's home and workplace revealed several pieces of evidence including a cardboard tray with broken pieces of Hydroxycut capsules, a pharmacy receipt for Ambien, Ambien pills under a couch cushion where Mary was discovered, a plastic baggie containing Unisom pills that was hidden inside a hat with the word "dad" printed on it, Unisom tablets in Mary's bathroom and car, and an empty Ambien prescription bottle. Additionally, ...

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