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State v. Godwin

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 14, 2019

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
JASON ANDREW GODWIN, SR., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Second Judicial District, State of Idaho, Idaho County. Hon. Gregory FitzMaurice, District Judge.

         Conviction for second degree murder, affirmed.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for appellant. Jenevieve C. Swinford, Deputy Appellate Public Defender argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Idaho Attorney General, Boise, for respondent. Kenneth K. Jorgensen, Deputy Attorney General argued.

          BURDICK, Chief Justice.

         Jason Andrew Godwin, Sr., appeals the judgment of conviction entered against him in Idaho County district court for second degree murder. Godwin was convicted in February 2016, for the killing of Kyle A. Anderson on June 9, 2014. In his appeal, Godwin asserts that the district court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence of statements he made to police. Godwin also contends that the district court erred by requiring him to show personal knowledge of Anderson's violent or aggressive character before allowing him to present evidence of that character. Godwin also asserts that the district court failed to properly instruct the jury on justifiable homicide under section 18-4009 of the Idaho Code. Godwin further argues that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by impermissibly vouching for evidence and witnesses in closing arguments. Lastly, Godwin asserts the complained-of errors in his case, even if harmless individually, amount to a due process violation when viewed cumulatively. We affirm.


         Around 10:00 p.m. on June 9, 2014, Godwin shot and killed Anderson at a motor-vehicle pullout off of Toll Road just outside Kooskia, Idaho. On February 26, 2016, after a five-day trial, a jury delivered a guilty verdict against Godwin on the charge of second degree murder.

         The day before Anderson was fatally shot, Godwin attended a barbeque with Phyllis "Carla" Griner, James Robinette, and Ernest "Ernie" Ruiz at which Robinette informed Godwin that he suspected that Anderson had stolen some guns from him. The next morning, Godwin, Ruiz, Brandy Lilly, and Beau Lynch, traveling in the same vehicle, went to look for the guns underneath an overturned boat in a nearby canyon but were unable to find them. Afterwards, Godwin dropped off the passengers and ran a few errands around Kooskia. Eventually, he picked up Lynch and the pair drove to Robinette's property to go shooting.

         At Robinette's property, Godwin and Lynch met up with Robinette, Ruiz, and a few others. The group again discussed their belief that Anderson was in possession of Robinette's stolen firearms. At some point, either Robinette, Griner, or both, informed Godwin that Robinette's father was offering a $500 reward for the recovery of the guns. Godwin agreed to take Ruiz to retrieve the guns from Anderson.

         At that time, Anderson lived with his girlfriend, Amanda Jones, in a large motorhome parked on a pullout along the Clearwater River about a half mile outside of Kooskia. Anderson also had a small Geo car parked on the pullout. That night, Anderson's son, Joseph Anderson, was also staying at the trailer.

         After leaving Robinette's property, Godwin ran a few other errands, but then drove towards the pullout. In his vehicle, Griner sat in the passenger seat, Ruiz sat behind Griner in the back passenger seat, and Lynch sat behind Godwin in the driver's side backseat. Seeing that Anderson's car was parked by the motorhome, Godwin passed the pullout without stopping. He drove back to town until eventually circling back to the pullout and pulling up to Anderson's motorhome.

         The events that followed were contested at trial. A balance of the testimony showed that Godwin pulled up while Anderson and Jones were outside and Joseph was inside the motorhome. At some point thereafter, Godwin shot Anderson through the neck underneath his chin from a distance of six inches to two feet. The bullet passed into Anderson's spinal cord, impacted the back of the vertebral column completely transecting the spinal cord and immediately causing Anderson to drop. An autopsy would later show abrasions over Anderson's back and right shoulder consistent with someone having dragged him by his feet. Eventually, however, Anderson's body came to rest on the gravel next to his motorhome.

         Many things happened after the shot was fired. Lynch darted from the car and made his way along the highway back to Kooskia. Jones alleged that Godwin aimed his gun at her and demanded to know where the guns were located; however, she was able to break away and lock herself in the motorhome with Joseph. After Anderson's gun was obtained by either Godwin or Ruiz, Godwin then drove his car, with Griner and Ruiz inside, back towards Kooskia. Almost immediately after getting back on Toll Road, they passed the on-duty Deputy Keith Olson of the Idaho County Sheriff's Department driving a Sheriff's Department truck featuring a large logo on the side. No one in Godwin's vehicle attempted to flag down Deputy Olson's vehicle.

         Deputy Olson then passed Jones who was driving Anderson's small car as he patrolled up Toll Road. Seeing that Jones had both hands out the window in an attempt to flag him down, Olson stopped to speak with her. He then called for an ambulance and followed her to the pullout. Upon arrival, Deputy Olson discovered Anderson's body, cancelled the ambulance, radioed dispatch for additional officers, and secured the crime scene.

         Later, Corporal Randy Long, Detective Brian Hewson, Lieutenant Doug Ulmer, and Lieutenant Jerry Johnson arrived on the scene. While Detective Hewson investigated the crime scene, Lieutenant Johnson took Jones and Joseph to the Kooskia Sheriff's Office for interviews. After identifying some people of interest, Lieutenant Ulmer went to Godwin's unoccupied trailer. There, he noticed the trailer had been left in disarray. Rifles and an overturned gallon of milk had been left outside the front door and a plastic grocery bag of prescription pills lay in the middle of the lawn. After receiving Godwin's phone number from dispatch, Lieutenant Ulmer called Godwin at around 3:00 a.m. on the morning of June 10. When Godwin answered, Lieutenant Ulmer asked him where he was. Godwin said he was at home. Lieutenant Ulmer advised Godwin that he was at Godwin's trailer home. Godwin then informed Lieutenant Ulmer that he was in Dudley, Idaho, and had left the Kooskia area around noon the day before. Lieutenant Ulmer told Godwin that he wished to talk to him in person, asked him to get in touch with the sheriff's office, and ended the call.

         At about 8:00 a.m. on the morning of June 10, Godwin called Lieutenant Ulmer and informed him that he was on his way back to Kooskia and wanted to know where he could meet with him. Lieutenant Ulmer told Godwin to meet him at the Kooskia Sheriff's Office. Instead of Lieutenant Ulmer, however, Detective Hewson met Godwin when he arrived and the two went to a conference room for an interview.

         Upon initial questioning, Godwin told Detective Hewson that he had been up in Dudley, Idaho, the previous day. Detective Hewson asked Godwin if he knew why they wanted to talk to him. Godwin replied that Lieutenant Johnson had told him that Anderson had been murdered, but claimed he didn't know who Anderson was. After Hewson told Godwin that people had seen him in the Kooskia area past the time Godwin said he left, the following exchange occurred:

Q. Okay. Well, there's people that definitely saw you here at 7:00 last night.
A. (Inaudible). No, wasn't here at 7:00.
Q. There's people that saw you at the trailer at 7:00, Jason. That's what I'm talking about.
A. (Inaudible).
Q. I'm not trying to ride you, please.
A. Okay.
Q. Okay. I don't like treating people like that, but you got to kind of understand what I am-
A. They're trying to accuse me of shooting this guy or (inaudible)?
Q. They are saying that, yes, something happened between you and him, and it was more or less an accident. And that's all we're trying to get cleared up. If something happened between you guys and it was an accident, I wish that you would talk to us about it.
A. Fine. Pulled up there and-
Q. What time?
A. - the guy pointed a gun at me, and I grabbed my gun and shot him.
Q. Okay.
A. And then I left.[1]

         Hewson asked follow-up questions, prompting Godwin to reveal more details about the shooting during which Godwin reaffirmed the shooting was in self-defense. Godwin also informed Hewson that he had taken the gun Anderson threatened him with and hid it in his trailer along with the firearm Godwin had used to shoot Anderson. Detective Hewson then decided to read Godwin his Miranda rights prompting the following exchange:

A. I know I ain't supposed to say nothing. I put vows to not say nothing to him, but, you know, like I told everybody, it was self-defense. I told Carla. They seen him pull a gun out.
Q. Yeah. Well, have you ever had your rights read to you, your Miranda rights? Because I'm going to do that anyway.
A. Are you going to arrest me?
Q. I don't make those kind of decisions, okay. I probably won't arrest you. That doesn't mean that somebody else like Jerry or somebody might, but I'm just telling you right out of the gate that it looked or sounded to me like a scenario that happened-
A. (Inaudible) drug dealer, and Ernie was going to rip him off. That's all I know.
Q. It sounded like a scenario to me that happened; that it wasn't meant to happen. Somebody didn't go out there just to kill a man, you know. That's what it looked like to me, okay.
A. Well, he pointed the gun at me, and that's when I shot a guy - shot. That's all there is to it.
Q. Yeah. Let me see if he has a rights waiver. You should know your rights.
A. (Inaudible) my rights?
Q. Pardon me?
A. (Inaudible) waive my rights?
Q. No. I'm going to read you your rights. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to see if one of these guys has-
A. You shouldn't be reading it to me after I already said something.
Q. I didn't have to read them to you to begin with, and I still don't, because I would have to read you your rights if you were under arrest and then I questioned you. You weren't under arrest or detained at the time I- that we started talking. I just want to make sure that you know-do you have a rights waiver, just a Miranda warning?
SPEAKER: Yeah, yeah. Let me go grab it.
Q. (By Mr. Hewson) All right. Thank you.
A. Yeah, I screwed up, but self-defense. That's all there is to it.

         After a few more questions, Detective Hewson read Godwin his Miranda rights:

Q. . . . Miranda warning is what this is. I want to make sure you know what your rights are. You have a right to know, right. If I can read it.
A. I'm sorry, Augie (phonetic), but I ain't an attorney.
Q. I get it, and I knew you did, okay. That's why I wanted to keep giving you-but let's try again. I'm going to read this.
A. (Inaudible) my life.
Q. Pardon me?
A. I never had-did anything like in any point in my life, and he's pointing the gun right at my head, pretty close.
Q. Let me read this to you, okay. You have the right to remain silent when questioned. That's pretty self-explanatory, right? If you choose to answer questions, statements you make can be used against you in a court of law. I said, they can be. You have the right to an attorney before and/or during questioning. If you are unable to afford a lawyer and if you need one, one will be appointed to you by the Court. And he's a good lawyer. I know him. Do you understand those? And you can stop talking to me, Jason, anytime you want, okay?
A. I may have to.
Q. But as-as like we started out, you didn't start down a good-
A. (Inaudible). A guy gets hisself (sic) in a situation. I really didn't mean to get in that situation.

         After more questioning, the interview was paused for Hewson to speak with his supervisor and Godwin took a cigarette break. Godwin also gave his consent to search his trailer to recover his gun and the gun taken from Anderson. The entire interview lasted a little less than an hour. Elsewhere, at the same time of Godwin's interview, Lieutenant Ulmer conducted a photo identification line-up with Jones in which Jones was unable to positively identify Godwin as the shooter. At the end of Godwin's interview, Detective Hewson spoke with Lieutenant Ulmer and a county prosecutor and, at the conclusion of the discussion, the decision was made to arrest Godwin and place him in handcuffs. Later the following day, upon the issuing of a warrant, the guns were recovered from a storage space under the bed in Godwin's trailer.

         On June 24, 2014, the State filed an information against Godwin alleging murder in the second degree. Godwin pleaded not guilty and filed a pretrial motion to suppress his statements to Detective Hewson. Godwin argued that the statements were involuntary and he had invoked his right to counsel and refused to waive his Miranda rights. The State objected. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion.

         A few weeks prior to trial, on February 10, 2016, the State filed a motion in limine seeking to have the court prohibit two proposed defense witnesses from testifying about "specific instances of conduct showing that [Anderson] was violent and aggressive." Both witnesses were expected to testify that Anderson had pointed a gun at them on prior occasions. The court did not hear argument on the motions until the afternoon of the second day of trial-after jury selection and voir dire, but before opening statements. In argument, the defense acknowledged that binding case law did not support their position, but argued that the court should nevertheless admit the testimony about the specific acts and overrule the contrary authority. The defense pointed to significant similarities between the proposed testimony and Anderson's alleged conduct on the night of the shooting. Unpersuaded, the court orally ruled that specific instances of conduct were inadmissible for the defense's proposed purpose but also commented that the defense may produce reputation or opinion testimony with proper foundation. The following morning, the court filed a written order granting the State's motion on the specific-act evidence. The order noted that reputation or opinion evidence would be allowed, but did not impose a foundational requirement.

         During its case-in-chief, the State called Jones, who testified as follows. Anderson was putting license plates on the motorhome as Godwin pulled up. While doing so, Anderson had a firearm holstered in a special pocket stitched into the back of his vest. Godwin already had his gun aimed out of the vehicle's window before it stopped two to three feet away from Anderson and Jones. Then Godwin began screaming at them while pointing the gun at Anderson. After Godwin ceased yelling, Anderson asked what was going on, and, at that moment, Godwin shot him. Jones stated the whole interaction lasted no longer than a minute and a half and during that time, Anderson's hands were empty. Although, at other times, she testified he had a license plate or a screwdriver in his hands.

         Lynch also testified that Godwin had his gun pointed at Anderson as they pulled up and he did not see Anderson with a gun. He stated that Godwin said something to the effect of "Don't do it" to Anderson during the interaction. Ruiz also claimed at trial that he did not see a gun nor see Anderson reach for a gun. He added that after the shooting Godwin had dragged Anderson to the car and wanted to "get rid of him." Two other witnesses testified that while Godwin was in jail, he had initially claimed the killing was in self-defense, but, when pressed, admitted that he had killed Anderson after Anderson claimed he didn't know anything about the guns. The State introduced numerous pieces of evidence from the scene of the crime and played an audio recording of Godwin's interview with Detective Hewson.

         The defense impeached Lynch and Ruiz with prior interviews they had given to police in which Lynch stated that Anderson had brandished a gun and Ruiz said that Godwin stated to Anderson right after the shooting, "you pulled a gun on me. . . . I told you not to move." Godwin testified in his defense to the following sequence of events: Upon his arrival at Anderson's motorhome, Anderson and Jones were standing next to the Geo car and "started . . . after" Godwin's vehicle by "walking real fast towards" them. Anderson then pulled a gun out of his waistband. Upon seeing this, Godwin grabbed his pistol, took it out of its holster, and yelled at Anderson "don't, don't" and "[d]rop the gun, don't, don't pull the gun." Godwin said he shot Anderson only after Anderson aimed the gun at him and cocked the hammer. After the shot was fired, Godwin testified that he thought Anderson was still alive so he tried to get Anderson into his car to get him medical attention, but was unable to do so. Godwin further claimed that he did not realize they had taken Anderson's gun until they had returned to Godwin's trailer and he noticed that Ruiz was wiping the gun down with a t-shirt. Godwin took the gun from Ruiz, wrapped in the t-shirt, and placed it under his bed.

         After a little over two and a half hours, the jury returned a verdict of guilty to second degree murder. The district court sentenced Godwin to twenty-five ...

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