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Charboneau v. State

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 26, 2017

JAIMI DEAN CHARBONEAU, Petitioner-Respondent,
STATE OF IDAHO, Defendant-Appellant.

         2017 Opinion No. 49

         Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Jerome County. Hon. Robert J. Elgee, District Judge.

         The judgment of the district court is reversed.

          Kenneth K. Jorgensen, Deputy Attorney General, Boise, argued for appellant.

          Erik R. Lehtinen, Deputy State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, argued for respondent.

          EISMANN, Justice.

         This is an appeal out of Jerome County from a judgment in a post-conviction proceeding granting the petitioner a new trial in his criminal case. We reverse the judgment of the district court.


         Factual Background.

         Jaimi Dean Charboneau murdered his ex-wife, Marilyn Arbaugh, on July 1, 1984. Her two daughters, Tiffnie and Tira, were present when he murdered their mother, and they both testified during his trial. The facts surrounding the murder were as follows:

On June 21, 1984, Jaimi went to the cafe where Marilyn worked. They left in Marilyn's car. There is some dispute whether Marilyn went with Jaimi voluntarily. The next day Marilyn reported to the police that Jaimi had kidnapped and raped her and had stolen her car. There is evidence that Jaimi travelled to Nevada after June 21. The burned remains of Marilyn's car were found in southern Idaho in late June 1984. On June 25, 1984, Jaimi was charged in Jerome County, Idaho with first degree kidnapping of Marilyn and grand theft of her car.
On June 28, 1984, Jaimi purchased a .22 caliber rifle from a hardware store in Gooding, Idaho. About mid-morning on Sunday, July 1, 1984, Marilyn returned to her residence on a ranch near Jerome, after being gone since the evening before. Some time after 11:00 o'clock that morning Marilyn went out to check some horses in a corral near her home. Shortly after that Marilyn's daughter Tiffnie heard shots outside, grabbed Marilyn's .22 pistol, and went to see what had happened. She found her mother sitting on the ground in the barn with blood on her. Jaimi was standing close to Marilyn with a .22 caliber rifle pointed at Marilyn. Tiffnie asked Jaimi to leave and told him she was going to call the police. Jaimi told Tiffnie that he would take Marilyn to the doctor. Both Marilyn and Jaimi told Tiffnie to leave.
At 11:38 that morning Tiffnie called the Jerome County Sheriff's office and said that Jaimi had shot her mother. Tiffnie then told her sister Tira about the shooting, and they both got dressed. They heard more shots and ran outside where they hid behind a sheep wagon and called to their mother. Tiffnie had her mother's .22 caliber pistol with her, and it accidentally discharged behind her. She ran into the house, hid the gun, returned to the sheep wagon, and then ran to the barn. Tira followed close behind. Marilyn was lying on her back with her arms over her head. The girls ran back to call for an ambulance. At 11:42 a.m. Tira telephoned for assistance and reached the Jerome County Sheriff's office. She told them to get an ambulance and that her mother was dying. When the sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene, they found Marilyn's body in the barn and located Jaimi in a field near the barn with a .22 caliber rifle lying nearby. Jaimi was arrested and charged with first degree murder. At the time of his arrest, Jaimi acknowledged that he had shot Marilyn, although he stated that he did so because she was going to shoot him.

State v. Charboneau, 116 Idaho 129, 133, 774 P.2d 299, 303 (1989).

         On June 15, 2011, Charboneau filed his fifth petition for post-conviction relief, contending that on March 18, 2011, he learned of evidence of a Brady violation and an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. In his supporting affidavit, he contended that on March 18, 2011, a correctional officer where Charboneau was incarcerated brought him a large envelope containing various documents upon which this post-conviction petition is based. The significant documents are described below.

         Tira letter and envelope.

         The large envelope contained a photocopy of a letter written by Tira to Judge Becker ("Tira Letter"), who presided over Charboneau's criminal trial, and a photocopy of the envelope in which it was allegedly mailed to Judge Becker. In the letter, she claimed that she had been pressured by the prosecutor and a detective to testify falsely at Charboneau's trial and that it was Tiffnie, not Charboneau, who fired the fatal shot killing their mother. Tiffnie apparently could not be located with respect to these proceedings. The envelope bore a postmark from Bruneau, Idaho, dated September 7, 1989, and a return address of 622 Highland Rd., Jerome, Idaho.

         However, the letter and envelope were photocopies, not the originals. Who made the photocopies is unknown, and is it not known when those photocopies were made or who provided them. Charboneau's expert testified that "all photocopies can be manipulated in some fashion." The expert was not asked whether the letter and envelope were the first-generation photocopies of the originals, but she testified that the forged Orville Balzer statement discussed below was about a tenth-generation photocopy.

         Tira had married Charboneau's half-brother on October 13, 1988, when she was eighteen years of age, and she had passed away on September 24, 1998. The letter stated, "I am in Bruneau Idaho for a cowboy benefit street dance where the Pinto Bennetts band is providing the music" and "I will be back in Jerome early next week." The street dance did not occur until ten days after the date of the letter. Tira's husband testified that in September of 1989 he and Tira were living on a ranch in Wells, Nevada; that he was working on the ranch and she usually worked with him; that they did not have a car; that he had never been to a street dance in Bruneau; that during their marriage he and Tira had never spent the night apart except for one week during Christmas of 1989; that she signed the letter with her maiden name, which she had not used as long as he had known her; and that by September 1989 they had a child. The district court wrote, "For a variety of reasons, the Court does not accept (and in fact rejects) his testimony, " but the court did not state what those reasons were.

         The statements in the Tira Letter contradict Charboneau's testimony in key respects, and the forensic evidence contradicts both of their versions.

         Tira was fourteen years of age when her mother was killed, and her sister Tiffnie was sixteen years of age. At Charboneau's criminal trial, Tira testified that on the day of her murder, Marilyn had taken a bath and gone out to make a telephone call to her mother and father. They did not have a telephone in their house. The telephone was in the nearby shop that was used by the man who farmed the land. Tiffnie was on her bed reading, and Tira was going to bathe after her mother. As Tira was running the bath water, her mother came back into the house and asked Tira if she had put the horses in a different corral. Tira stated that she had not, and her mother went back outside. The water was still running, Tira heard a yell, and then heard Tiffnie jump off her bed onto the floor. Tira continued bathing, and a short while later Tiffnie came into the bathroom and said really fast in a scared, shaky tone of voice: "Tira, Jaimi's outside and he shot Mom. Get out of the bathtub and hurry up."

         Tira ran into her room and hurriedly put a pair of pants and a shirt, which were too big for her because they belonged to Tiffnie's boyfriend, Bart, who lived with them. She then put on his boots that were also too big. She testified that Tiffnie grabbed their mother's .22 caliber pistol while Tira was dressing, although she did not actually see Tiffnie grab the pistol. Tira stated that the pistol was kept behind the radio on their mother's bedstead and that she had seen it there the night before.

         Tira then testified:

A. Well, we ran out behind the sheep wagon. Tiffy told me not to go past it, and we were yelling but-
Q. What were you yelling?
A. We were just-well, I just-we couldn't really hear anything or nothing. And Tiffy was kind of in front of me, and I was off to the side. My dog was sitting right next to me, and Tiffy was shaking really bad and she fired a shot, scared me, and it just went, almost hit my dog. And I heard the gravel hit the side of the barn and everything and Tiffy was really nervous, so we went back into the house. We went back into the house.
Q. Let me interrupt you. Before you went back into the house, what were you yelling as you were standing out by the sheep wagon?
A. We were just yelling to Mom. We were kind of being quiet, but we was yelling to mom. We was, you know, but we wasn't getting any reply, you know. We wasn't getting nothing.
Q. No reply?
A. Yeah.

         On cross-examination, Tira gave more information regarding the shot fired by Tiffnie:

Q. And did Tiffy have the pistol in her possession at that time [when they went outside the first time]?
A. Yes.
Q. What did she do with it?
A. She just carried it out there.
Q. And is that when the shot went off the first time you when [sic] [went] to the sheep wagon?
A. Yes. We was behind the sheep wagon. Her hands were behind her back and she shot once.
Q. They you went back into the house?
A. Yes. We was scared. So we went back into the house.

         When they went back into the house, Tira changed into her own clothing. She testified that while doing so, she heard more shots.

Q. Okay. Did anything else happen while you were in the house changing clothes?
A. Well, yes. Right when I was putting my leg in my pants we heard several more shots, about five or so, five.
Q. You would say it's about five shots?
A. Yes.
Q. It would have been more or less?
A. Yes.
Q. Are you certain, you're not certain of the number?
A. No. I was too scared to be counting them.

         Tira testified that she and Tiffnie ran back out of the house to the alleyway in the horse barn, where they found their mother lying on the ground. Tira was behind Tiffnie, so Tiffnie was the first one into the barn. Tira testified what she saw as follows:

Q. Where was Tiffy?
A. Tiffy had my mom in her arms, and Tiffy pulled up her shirt or something, and we could see a lot of blood and stuff on her chest. And I just brushed my hand across her ...

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