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State v. Baker

Court of Appeals of Idaho

October 18, 2016

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
JEFFERY ALAN BAKER, Defendant-Appellant.

         2016 Opinion No. 65

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Patrick H. Owen, District Judge.

         Judgment of conviction and unified sentence of life, with a minimum period of confinement of fifteen years, for murder in the first degree, affirmed.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, Interim State Appellate Public Defender; Elizabeth A. Allred and Reed P. Anderson, Deputy Appellate Public Defenders, Boise, for appellant. Reed P. Anderson argued.

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

          HUSKEY, Judge

         Jeffery Alan Baker appeals from the judgment of conviction for first degree murder of his eleven-week-old daughter, G.B. Baker raises the following issues on appeal: (1) the district court erred in failing to provide the jury with a unanimity instruction; (2) the district court erred in admitting into evidence a video animation of a child being violently shaken; (3) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during its closing argument; and (4) the accumulation of errors violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law by depriving Baker of his right to a fair trial. We hold the district court did not err when it did not provide a unanimity instruction to the jury; the district court did not err in admitting into evidence a video animation of a shaken child; the State did not commit prosecutorial misconduct; and Baker's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process was not violated. Therefore, we affirm.

         I.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Baker was charged with one count of first degree murder in connection with the death of his eleven-week-old daughter, G.B. It was alleged that Baker killed G.B. by committing an aggravated battery on G.B., either by shaking her or by causing blunt force trauma to her head which resulted in an injury to G.B.'s brain. At trial, the jury found Baker guilty of first degree murder and the district court sentenced him to a unified life sentence, with fifteen years determinate.

         G.B. stopped breathing while under the care of Baker. Paramedics and firefighters responded to a 911 call and found G.B. pale and unconscious. After initial treatment at the scene, G.B. was transported to St. Luke's Hospital to receive further medical care. Additional care proved unsuccessful; G.B. was removed from life support and died several days later.

         Baker's first trial resulted in a mistrial after a witness admitted she met with Baker while he was on parole. During the second trial, the State and Baker each presented expert testimony as to the cause of G.B.'s death. It was undisputed that G.B. stopped breathing while in Baker's care, yet the parties differed in their explanations as to why G.B. stopped breathing. The State called six medical experts to testify that G.B. died as a result of an aggravated battery, either from violent shaking or abusive head trauma.

         Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams, a neuropathologist who reviewed the medical records, autopsy report, tissue samples, police reports, and reports of other experts in the case, testified that abusive head trauma caused G.B.'s death. Dr. Rorke-Adams explained that the damage to the veins and the nature of the brain injury indicated a violent shaking occurred, causing a loss of consciousness. Dr. Rorke-Adams described how after G.B. was injured, she was propped up in a sitting position, which obstructed her airway and was a "secondary interference" with G.B.'s ability to take in oxygen. As a result of the head trauma, the unconsciousness, and the sitting position, G.B. suffered global ischemic encephalopathy, which is a fatal deprivation of oxygen in the brain.

         The State also called Dr. Michael Sexton, a pediatrician, who testified that G.B. died as a result of being violently shaken. Dr. Sexton treated G.B. when she was in the hospital and noticed bleeding between the skull and the brain, as well as the broken blood vessels in her eyes. Dr. Sexton testified the brain injury was caused by a sudden rotational force, which then caused G.B. to stop breathing and her heart to stop beating.

         Baker called two physicians who testified that G.B. did not die as a result of being shaken, but instead, from natural causes. According to Baker's experts, the death was a result of cerebral venous thrombrosis (a clotting of the brain's blood vessels) which caused a seizure or respiratory arrest. The jury found Baker guilty of first degree murder and the district court imposed a unified life sentence, with fifteen years determinate.

         II.

         ANALYSIS

         Baker makes four arguments on appeal: (1) the district court erred in failing to provide the jury with a unanimity instruction; (2) the district court erred by admitting a video animation of a child being violently shaken into evidence; (3) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during its closing argument; and (4) the accumulation of errors violated Baker's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law by depriving him of his right to a fair trial.

         A. The District Court Did Not Err When it Failed to Provide a Unanimity Instruction

         On appeal, Baker argues the district court erred because it failed to give a unanimity instruction to the jury regarding the cause of G.B.'s death. One of the State's experts, Dr. Rorke-Adams, testified that as part of the on-going sequence of events on the afternoon G.B. suffered head trauma and thereafter, Baker propped G.B. in a sitting position. Due to the head trauma and the resulting unconscious state, G.B.'s airway was blocked, which contributed to a lack of oxygen to her brain, causing her death. Baker argues the jury should have been required to reach a unanimous decision on the cause of death because the State introduced evidence the death occurred in one of three ways. Baker asserts the State presented evidence of death by violent shaking, blunt force trauma, and an obstructed airway. Baker concedes no unanimity instruction was required to determine whether G.B.'s death was caused by either shaking or blunt force trauma. But, Baker argues if G.B.'s death was caused by Baker propping her on the pillows and placing her in such a position that her airway was obstructed, he did not commit an aggravated battery, but instead committed involuntary manslaughter. Since this is a separate crime with a different mens rea element, he was essentially charged with causing G.B.'s death in one of two separate and distinctive ways--either an aggravated battery or an involuntary manslaughter. Because the jury could have found him guilty of either of the two distinct crimes, Baker argues a unanimity instruction was necessary to determine in which way he caused G.B.'s death. In response, the State argues only one crime occurred--an aggravated battery. Further, if G.B. died as a result of an obstructed airway, that circumstance arose as a result of being rendered unconscious by the aggravated battery and, thus, is a secondary cause of death for which no unanimity instruction was required.

         1.Standard of review for unanimity ...


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